Several groups are working together to save the Cherangany water tower, which has been degraded by human activities.
The Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) has partnered with schools and individual farmers to help rehabilitate it.
KVDA has launched a two-pronged approach. It includes a one-year programme under which targeted schools and farmers will receive tree and fruit seedlings.
“We have over six million tree and fruit seedlings spread across our various nurseries and this is what we are supplying to the earmarked schools and farmers,” said KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos when he launched the programme at Kipsaos Primary School in Keiyo South sub-county.
“Initially, we had rehabilitated the gazetted forests with the Cherangany but we have realised grazing livestock destroys the seedlings, thus reversing the gains made.”
Locals, he said, will receive mango and avocado seedlings to empower them economically so that they do not depend entirely on the forest.
“In our approach we are focused at conserving the environment, which is sadly on the verge of extinction because of over-exploitation for charcoal, timber and other products now resulting in climate change. The fruit seedlings, besides conserving the environment, have economic value to the community,” he noted.
He cited a link between food insecurity and environmental destruction. An economically empowered community, he said, will result in protected forests.
The Cherangany water tower covers over 365,245 hectares (120,841ha of gazetted forest covers and another 244,404 ha under a buffer zone) and sprawls across West Pokot, Trans Nzoia and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.
It is a critical watershed area for the lakes Victoria and Turkana basins and is the source of the Nzoia, Turkwel and Kerio rivers, among others.
“Most of the rivers draining into the Kerio Valley emanate from the Cherangany ecosystem and having adequate water in the rivers means support for livelihoods. Over the years, the volumes of the water have been receding due to destruction [of the Cherangany ecosystem],” he said.
He said the ongoing Kerio Valley insecurity is resource-based and lack of adequate water aggravates the conflicts, and more water will encourage irrigation farming.
KVDA board chairman Mark Chesergon said their main mandate is environmental conservation in the Cherangany system and that is why there is a deliberate attempt to conserve it.
“The seedlings require attention to enable them to reach maturity without going to waste. In this way we are going to achieve the presidential directive of 10 per cent forest cover by the end of this year through unity as a country,” Mr Chesergon noted.
Mr David Kipsaina, a farmer who received avocado seedlings, said he has been relying on cabbage farming for sustenance and the fruits would boost his income.
“These avocado seedlings are of great benefit to us and will expand our income base and in the long run aid in environmental conservation. This is a good investment and I will encourage my children to plant more,” he said.
The Cherangany hills water tower has a series of indigenous forests and consists of 12 protected forest blocks that include Kapolet in Trans Nzoia.
The Kapkanyar and Lelan blocks are in West Pokot.
The Cheboyit, Chemurkoi, Embobut, Koisungur, Kerrer, Kipkunur, Kipteber, Sogoio and Toropket blocks are in Elgeyo Marakwet.
A Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA) policy brief shows that between 1990 and 2016, 13,003ha of forest cover was lost in the Cherangany ecosystem, equivalent to an annual loss of 500ha.
The KWTA reports that encroachment for agriculture and settlement, uncontrolled exploitation of endangered tree species, political interference, understaffing, limited financial resources and inadequate infrastructure are among the threats to the Cherangany water tower.