Degraded River Njoro ecosystem gets new lease of life

Egerton University VC Isaac Kibwage during a tour of the source of River Njoro in Entiyani, Narok.


What you need to know:

  • Prof Kibwage said Egerton University remains committed to offering technical support and expertise as well as identifying new sites for rehabilitation.
  • The emerging forest cover in  Entiyiani is changing the depleted face of the Eastern Mau Forest complex in Narok County.

When Egerton University students planted a tree at Entiyiani, the source of River Njoro in Narok North, the story could have ended there. But for community elder Joshua Lekato, it was just not the end of the ceremony.

He insisted on being given a chance to pray for the tree seedling. His wishes were granted. He prayed in the Maasai dialect for nearly a minute as the guests respectfully bowed their heads.

“The Maasai are known for their rich cultural values, which have sustained their livelihoods, and when we plant a tree we must bless it,” said Lekato. “Entiyiani is the source of River Njoro. If we don’t take care of it, our people downstream will have no water for domestic use. Their animals and Lake Nakuru will die.”

He added that a huge section of Mau Forest complex in Entiyiani area was destroyed by bush burning “ and we don’t want this to happen again as we want to preserve and grow trees that will help conserve our environment.” The critical water source stretches over 60km and passes through Neissuit, Mau-Chepalungu Settlement (Mauche), Ngata and Barut in Nakuru before emptying into Lake Nakuru, Kenya's first designated wetland of international importance

The ecosystem has faced many environmental conditions like drought, encroachment by the local population and pollutants from agricultural and industrial activities. Those factors have led to the low growth of trees along the riparian lands, threatening the future survival of Lake Nakuru.

However, all is not lost as Egerton University is transforming the source by rallying communities in Entiyiani and those living along River Njoro to rehabilitate the degraded source. “Rehabilitation of the source of River Njoro is an investment for the future generations to come. The river is critical as it supports the livelihoods of more than one million people. It recharges our groundwater aquifers and supports biodiversity,” said the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Isaac Kibwage.

According to Prof Kibwage, this initiative was born out of the urgent need to address the detrimental impacts of river degradation, which had severely hindered access to clean water and essential river-related services for riparian communities in Narok and Nakuru counties. “Mau Forest is sadly depleted and should not look the way it is now. We need to rehabilitate and conserve our environment,” said Prof Kibwage.

Mau Forest lost 19 per cent of its tree cover, around 533 square kilometres (205 square miles), between 2001 and 2022, according to satellite data from the monitoring platform Global Forest Watch.

“The rehabilitation of River Njoro was identified as a flagship project under our Vision 2030 blueprint at the institution alongside the Agro-science park, which is a special place in the university, and Chemeron Dry Land Research and Ecotourism Centre in Baringo.

“Recognising the severity of the threats facing the river including the destruction of riparian zones, charcoal burning and uncontrolled dumping of solid waste and water pollution; we divided Njoro River into six zones for targeted adaption and rehabilitation,” said the VC.

Prof Kibwage said Egerton University remains committed to offering technical support and expertise as well as identifying new sites for rehabilitation. The Njoro-based campus started conserving the ecosystem in 2012 and it has so far planted over 200,000 tree seedlings in collaboration with other partners.

The institution's passion for environmental conservation has paid off as two dumpsites that were an eyesore near the university have been fully rehabilitated.

The emerging forest cover in  Entiyiani is changing the depleted face of the Eastern Mau Forest complex in Narok County.

Nakuru County Environment Executive Maara Nelson urged the community to protect the source of River Njoro for the sake of Lake Nakuru. “Without protecting this source, it will mean a slow death of Lake Nakuru and this will be disastrous to the country as Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the biggest foreign earners for Kenya,” said Dr Maara.

Narok County Chief Officer for Water, Environment,and Natural Resources Willy Loigero said the devolved unit will support the rehabilitation efforts by Egerton University by erecting a fence around the source to reduce human-wildlife trespass incidents.

“Rehabilitation of Entiyiani source is in our County Integrated Development Plan for 2024/2025 and efforts by Egerton University will not be in vain,” said Mr Loigero.

The official said the county has about 500 water sources that need protection and urged the community not to start wildfires around the sources.

Environment, Climate Change and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya said the rehabilitation of Entiyiani source was critical in light of the triple environment crisis of pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss.

“We have prioritised a restoration campaign to restore 10.6 million hectares of the degraded ecosystem by taking a circular economic approach as well as improving our environmental governance and coordination framework,” said Ms Soipan.

The CS lauded Egerton University for being a leading example in environmental conservation by adopting various ecosystems to restore degraded lands in Kenya.

“This is critical to address pressing environmental challenges and to achieve national and global obligations in environment, climate change and biodiversity,” said Ms Soipan.

She called for a tight partnership between Nakuru and Narok County governments and other stakeholders to protect rehabilitated areas and continue rehabilitating the remaining parts of River Njoro.

Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika said her administration is ready to work with Egerton University and other like-minded stakeholders toward restoration, rehabilitation and protection of wetlands in the county.

She said the county assembly has passed laws that seek to protect the natural environment.

“The legal framework provided in the law is an effective tool towards protecting our biodiversity and my administration is undertaking civic education in environmental awareness among residents to enhance compliance and enforcement of conservation activities,” said Ms Kihika.

Governor Kihika said the collaboration was bearing fruits as it has drastically reduced encroachment of wetlands and other gazetted areas.