Saving Nandi’s age-old forests

Friday May 2 2014

Tinderet Forest surrounded by tea plantation. Photo/Rupi Mangat

Tinderet Forest surrounded by tea plantation. Photo/Rupi Mangat 

By RUPI MANGAT

“That is the highest peak of Tinderet,” said Mary Mbenge of Kapsabet-based Nature Kenya.

We’re standing at the edge of a tea plantation that surrounds the dense forest. “It looks easy to get into the forest but it’s not. There are too many deep gorges and valleys making the walk into the forest quite a challenge.”

Tinderet Forest is a relic of the old world, an eastern extension of the Mau Forest but higher in altitude and a hop across from Nandi Hills.

Fossils from the nearby prehistoric sites like Songhor and Fort Ternan show that extinct species of rhino, apes and hominids roamed the vast forest millions of years ago. Now, only remnants of forests like Tinderet and South Nandi remain, high on the hills, as people encroach on them.

Tinderet Forest is an important site for biodiversity and is home to regionally threatened bird species.

Mbenge talks about the wildlife found in the forest — the Jackson’s forest lizard; the Northern clawed frog and the Angolan river frog, which are aquatic, and completely dependent on the forest’s ecosystem as a water catchment area.

South Nandi too was once part of the equatorial belt that stretched from West Africa. Today, the 24,600-hectare forest houses remains of biodiversity.

“The 1913 maps show that Kakamega Forest, South Nandi and North Nandi were all one forest until 1958, when gold was discovered in Kakamega Forest,” said Gibson Kitsao of Nature Kenya.

With the influx of miners came the need for opening up the forest and to build the Kisumu-Kapsabet highway that cuts across the indigenous forest and divides it into two: South and North Nandi Forest. North Nandi at 11,800 hectares, is warmer than its “big brother” but its biodiversity is richer.

Standing on the brow of Kabujoi near Bonjoge National Reserve, the waters of Lake Victoria spread like a thin sheet in the far distance. It is Africa’s largest lake and the world’s second largest freshwater lake. The South Nandi Forest injects fresh water into the lake.

Two rivers — the Kimondi and Sirua — merge in the forest to form the Yala, which flows into Lake Victoria through a series of swamps and glades that are equally important for fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and people.

“These forests are 50 per cent in good shape,” said Charles Koech, a research scientist with the Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kefri).

The institute’s work is to rehabilitate forest patches, remove exotic trees and research. “When the community forest association was not there,” he says, “there was a lot more destruction of the forest.”

In 2013, the Kenya Forest Service and the Community Forest Association signed a management agreement. “The Forest Act 2005 was a breakthrough,” said Eluid Murgor, chairman of Kabujoi Forest Association near Nandi South.

“It stressed the importance of community involvement in forest management.

“Much of the conflict is over control of resources,” said Mr Kitsao. “Offering alternative livelihoods like bee-keeping, ecotourism, farm forestry and energy conserving projects puts less pressure on the indigenous forests.”