Imagine Seychelles. Smooth sandy beaches, exotic islands, tasty sea food, eternal ocean breeze… Do you get the picture? Now delete all those pictures and replace them with a forest covering the entire archipelago. The new picture in your mind is Nyeri County in Kenya, whose forest cover of 126,883 hectares is three times the size of Seychelles!
This is miles ahead of Kenya’s gazetted forest cover percentage. According to the Kenya Indigenous Forest Conservation Programme (KIFCON), the country’s forests span nearly two million hectares, which is a paltry 3.28 percent.
A report by the Kenya Water Towers Agency however clarifies that unfortunately, parts of the gazetted forests have been cleared for human settlements while some forests exist outside the gazetted zones. All the same, Kenya is still a long way from the desirable ten percent forest cover and should follow in the footsteps of Nyeri County.
Large portions of Mt Kenya Forest and Aberdare Forest Reserves, two of Kenya’s eighteen water towers are in Nyeri County. The Aberdares range traverses four other Counties and covers an area of 104,078 hectares.
Out of Kenya’s largest seven rivers, four flow from Aberdare. These rivers provide much of the hydroelectricity that powers Kenya. They also provide water most of the water for at last seven urban centers, including Nairobi.
On its part, Mt Kenya Forest supplies water to River Ewaso Nyiro and River Tana, Kenya’s longest river. Tana already has an installed hydropower capacity of 480 MW. Millions of Kenyans are therefore able to switch on their lights thanks to this river, whose water comes from the bosom of Mt Kenya.
Apart from electrifying the country, the forest ecosystem services of Mt Kenya and Aberdare and other water towers greatly nourish the Kenyan economy especially in agriculture and tourism.
However, not even Nyeri, Kenya’s most forested county is immune to the debilitating effects of climate change. A UNEP report entitled, ‘Kenya: Atlas of Our Changing Environment’ provided graphic details concerning Mt Kenya’s melting glaciers. Consequently, rivers like Naromoru are becoming seasonal. Even more dire are domino effects that will negatively impact the ecosystem services of the Mt Kenya Forest.
As one of the Counties that hosts Mt Kenya Forest and Aberdare range, Nyeri has a key role to play in protecting the forests that cover 38 percent of its total area.