Elgeyo Marakwet County, which borders Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu to the West, Kerio Valley to the East and West Pokot to the North, has a forest cover 37 percent; second in the country. The gazetted forest covers approximately 93,000 hectares and the forest reserve is administered through ten forest stations, namely, Cherangani, Cheptongei, Kapyego, Chesoi, Elgeyo, Kessup, Sabor, Kaptagat, Penon and Kipkabus.
The Kaptagat Forest Block is located on the southern part of Elgeyo Maraket County and constitutes five forest reserves. These are Kaptagat, Penon, Sabor, Kessup and Kipkabus. The five stations consist of 9,387ha of plantation, 8,283.48ha of natural indigenous forest, 710.6ha of grassland, 1,944.9ha of bushland and 165.4ha of bamboo vegetation, making a total forest area of 20,491.38 hectares.
The conservation and management of the Kaptagat ecosystem is critical, as it is one of the major water towers in Kenya, providing diverse livelihood services and goods to humanity in the region and surrounding areas.
The Kaptagat ecosystem serves as an important catchment area for water sources for downstream communities and also supplies water to Eldoret and Iten towns. It offers an opportunity to the local communities to cultivate forests through an initiative known as the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS). This benefits close to 5,000 community members in the region. Additionally, communities are depended on the ecosystem for firewood from dead and fallen trees.
Forest-adjacent communities have benefitted more on zoned grazing areas for their livestock, as they observe the carrying capacity of the given ecosystem. Also, they are being encouraged to practise zero-grazing to avoid forest degradation.
Under traditional benefits, the communities are able to utilise the special areas set aside in the forests for cultural practices like circumcision and traditional prayers. Herbalists have also not been left behind as they exploit traditional plants for medicinal purposes, but in a sustainable manner.
The general air purification by trees offers a conducive environment for locals.
Moreover, owing to region’s high altitude, it has become a favourable environment for athletics training. Consequently, the county is home to two training camps – Global Village and Rosa – which have attracted national and international sporting personalities.
The forest-adjacent communities constitute the largest beneficiaries of the ecosystem and have formed Community Forest Associations (CFAs) as per the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016, providing an enabling environment for partnership support and engagement with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in conservation activities.
The current membership after reorganisation of CFAs stands at 7,935persons, who are actively engaged in the conservation and management of forests in the greater Kaptagat ecosystem.
In 2019, all the CFAs signed Participatory Forest Management Plans (PFMPs) and Forest Management Agreements (FMAs), which are currently being implemented.
The engagement with the CFAs opens diverse opportunities within the ecosystem for the benefit of the immediate communities through forest user rights such as ecotourism, PELIS, nature-based enterprises, beekeeping, water abstraction, mushroom farming, among others.
Economically, it provides a base for industrial materials for the timber industry and improving local livelihoods within the larger Kaptagat Community.
The Kaptagat Annual Tree Planting event was initiated in 2017 in Sabor Forest Station, a noble idea borne by the current Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Dr Chris Kiptoo, who is the event patron. The event is organised under the umbrella of Kaptagat Integrated Conservation Programme and has embraced a multi-sectoral approach, attracting national and county government agencies, community forest associations, community based organisations, individuals and other stakeholders. The event has grown to a major annual function attracting stakeholders and partners from Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet counties, and beyond.
Speaking at this year’s annual event held on July 23, 2021, Dr Chris Kiptoo stated: “The programme aims at addressing environmental challenges being experienced in the reserves by collaborating with other stakeholders to undertake rehabilitation and restoration of degraded forest and riparian areas within the ecosystem. It will eventually raise public awareness and inculcate a culture of tree growing in the region.”
Dr Kipoo added that “mobilising stakeholders in the region is key in escalating the government’s efforts of increasing the current national tree cover to 10 percent as envisaged in the Vision 2030, by 2022”.
The past four editions of the Kaptagat tree planting event have achieved a total of 210 hectares and distributed 12,000 avocado tree seedlings to the forest-adjacent communities of Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet counties. The fifth edition targets to rehabilitate 225 hectares with support from different stakeholders in the region. Over half a million of assorted indigenous seedlings have been planted, and the survival rate is more than 80 percent in the five forest stations.
In efforts to foster partnerships in the restoration of Kaptagat Forest, KFS has embraced partnership and collaboration with other agencies.
NETFUND launched a programme to train and support community forest associations and private nurseries to strengthen their capacities to produce 2.5 million assorted indigenous seedlings for rehabilitating the ecosystem. They have so far provided equipment and materials worth Ksh4 million for production purposes. This is also seen as an empowerment engagement to promote livelihoods in the community.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a conservation organisation, is involved in post-maintenance activities, such as spot weeding, protection and beating up to ensure high survivals and healthy growth. Recently, WWF signed a grant agreement with KFS to a tune of Ksh1.5 million to fulfil this noble goal. In addition, it has been spearheading the development of Cherangany-Elgeyo Hills Master Plan that aims at escalating interventions in the larger ecosystem.
The government has set out various targets under the current forest programmes. They include the National Climate Change Action Plan, The Green Economy Strategy and internationally, the Forest Landscape Target of 5.1 millionhectares. The government has also set mitigation and adaptation commitments under Nationally Determined Contributions within the Paris Agreement.
Working with development partners such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the government is revising the National Forestry Policy 2016 to provide a direction in the management and sustainable utilisation of forest resources.
In addition, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, with support from UNDP, is facilitating the development of the County Model Bill and Policy, through the Council of Governors. The policy will be domesticated by counties to address forestry conservation, protection, and management in Kenya. The support to counties also facilitated the development of the Elgeyo Marakwet Forest Policy, which was launched at the 4th Edition of the Kapatagat Tree planting ceremony in 2020 by Governor Alex Tolgos and the UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya, Walid Badawi.
Partnerships with both state and non-state actors are key in enhancing the forest cover through tree planting and growing initiatives that aim to inculcate a tree growing culture among communities.
The participation of all stakeholders – government institutions, private organisations, the general public, local communities, women and youths – is necessary for the achievement the national forests goals.