A major contributor to global warming and climate change, deforestation is a significant environmental concern for Kenya. Two of the main causes of the massive deforestation the nation has experienced during the last 50 years have been demand for arable land for farming and the unsustainable exploitation of forest resources and products, such as wood for fuel and animal meat for food.
The Mau Eburu forest represented 40% of forest cover in Kenya in the 1960s, but has since shrunk to represent less than 25%. The 8,715 hectare forest forms one of the largest water catchment areas in the country and supplies water to many of the lakes that support life across the Rift Valley. It is also a haven for wildlife. The forest is home to a diverse multitude of bird species and over 40 mammal species, including the critically endangered mountain bongo antelope. Mau Eburu forest is one of the most pristine, important and rich forest ecosystems in Kenya, but it is also extremely vulnerable. The forest is surrounded on all sides by settlements and the inevitable human encroachment through plantations, excisions and logging (the illegal charcoal trade, in particular) has taken its toll.
As part of a comprehensive plan to protect the imperiled Mau Eburu forest, the M-PESA Foundation has provided funding for the construction of a 50 kilometre perimeter fence around the defenseless ‘island’ of biodiversity. The electrified fence is being constructed in partnership with the Rhino Ark Trust. The fencing allows the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to manage access to the forest through specific gates, enabling the KFS to generate important revenue for conservation activities by collecting the prescribed fees for activities like livestock grazing and firewood harvesting, as well as reducing the negative impact of unsupervised access and human-wildlife conflict.
The comprehensive plan also includes promoting alternative energy sources and economic activities to the communities that live around the forest. Part of the long-term answer is to reduce the dependence of local communities on fuel wood extracted from the forest and one innovative solution is the energy-efficient jiko stove. It not only uses up to 50% less fuel, but can also run on any woody biomass, including farm waste like maize cobs. Another solution has been to expose local communities to beekeeping and honey production as an alternative source of income to burning wood to create charcoal. Tree nurseries have also been established within local communities and members have been taught how to plant and manage sustainable woodlets. Funds have also been used to develop educational learning materials to teach youngsters at local Eburu schools the importance of conservation and protecting the forest.