The Mau forest complex is one of the largest and important water catchment areas in Kenya. The forest complex also serves as a drainage basin for several rivers in East Africa. Among rivers that originate from the forest is the Mara river, Njoro River, Sondu River. These rivers, in turn, feed Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Natron. The forest forms a very important ecosystem that supports the Mara and the Lake basin. It also provides hydrological support that helps maintain ecological cycles that regulate the flow of water and soil formation.
Agricultural activities including the multinational tea estates and small-scale farming rely on water from the Mau forest. The agriculture-related activities support the livelihood of most people living in the rift valley. In addition, the forest is a source of food and a home of the Ogiek community.
As much as Mau forest complex holds an important place in Kenya and partly East Africa, the forest is rapidly declining due to pressure from the ever-increasing population and land transformation. This, it turns, out is a global phenomenon. A global forest assessment report compiled by FAO and featuring a 25 year period shows that there has been a significant drop in global forest cover. In 1990, global forest cover stood at 4,128 million hectares, an equivalent of 31.6% of land cover and this reduced to 3,999 million hectares or 30.6% of forest cover in 2015.
The growing threat of climate change, overreliance of forest products for livelihood, swelling population and demands for agricultural land contribute to the gradual encroachment and disappearance of the Mau forest. People living in and around the Mau forest complex rely on it for their livelihood and this has led to encroachment, illegal logging, and charcoal burning. For the last 15 years, illegal allocation of the forest land has opened up approximately 107,707 hectares for resettlement and farming.
The collective efforts to save Mau forest call for the participation of all the stakeholders including government, environmentalists, policymakers and the public. In addition, there is a need for vibrant laws and policies that reinforce forest conservation measures. Sustainable means of livelihood will enable the community to focus on alternative sources of income other than forest products.
Cultivating a conservation culture among the people living in and around the forest is vital. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is among agencies that have sought to promote sustainable livelihoods for people living around the Mau. In 2010, FAO started a project with the objective of transforming the livelihoods of those living around the Mau complex. The FAO-led project promoted activities that can enhance sustainable water and land management around the forest and also trained farmers equipping them with skills on sustainable livelihoods while conserving the forest.