people reached
rainwater harvesting systems installed
more elephants on the reserve
In the middle of the desert in northern Kenya, the 16,000 hectares of the Marsabit forest are the county’s only permanent source of water. Safeguarding this treasure is essential for the entire region.

In this arid region in northern Kenya, it is even said that elephants make sure they leave the forest during the rainy season to allow it to regenerate. However, the dependence of local communities on firewood, grazing land for cattle and water has led to a serious degradation of the ecosystem. The tree regeneration cycle, which is disrupted by urbanization, sedentary agriculture and climate change, has led to the loss of 1.6 hectares of vegetation a year. The primary forest, which attracts the mist in the air every morning to supply its water reserves, is consequently gradually disappearing.

To protect this valuable resource, since 2012, AFD has been financing an integrated project to improve the management of the forest’s ecosystem led by Kenya Wildlife Service, in consultation with local communities. This project involves, for example, proposing alternative water access points for residents and their livestock, outside the forest. The same goes for wild animals and nomad pastoral societies along the migration corridors, which are essential to the survival of the ecosystem. Once the forest has been relieved of this pressure, it will be able to regenerate and continue to fulfil its function as the region’s water tower.

Marsabit, water, Kadandara
Marsabit, water, Paul, Kadandara
For Paul, “We can’t disobey nature”
Paul Wambi is Deputy Warden of the Marsabit Reserve. As a warden of Kenya Wildlife Service, he ensures the safety of wildlife, manages conflicts between users of the area (humans and wildlife) and deals with community issues related to the reserve. For Paul, the degradation of the forest is intrinsically linked to the communities living around it:

“Most of Marsabit County is a desert. And these trees, they are doing well, they are tall, in good health, so most residents live all around the forest. Their livelihood depends on it, in terms of grazing land, firewood and water for livestock and their households. But this overdependence has led to the degradation of this important site.”

This degradation directly threatens wild animals. But the action of the reserve’s services watches over them: “You can see Grevy’s zebras here. They are endangered animals which are endemic in northern Kenya and Marsabit is one of the last places where we can see them roam freely. This is thanks to our protection, but also thanks to support from communities.”

Because competition for access to water and grazing land leads to serious conflicts between humans and wildlife, which need to be managed: “During periods of drought especially, we have a number of cases of elephants invading farms [Editor’s Note: to access water]. They sometimes even kill people.”

One of the key aspects of the project to safeguard the site: “It is the construction of four rainwater harvesting dams, which will reduce the number of people who enter the forest to find water”, explains Paul. “They will also avoid the animal migration corridors.” For the Deputy Warden, it is necessary to work with communities, as the fates of all are interlinked: “We encourage schools, individuals, women’s groups – everyone needs to get involved, because if nothing is done, we will suffer the consequences of having disobeyed nature.”
Marsabit, Eau, Kadandara, Bernard
Bernard wants “to make the community’s problems go away”
Bernard Leitoro is an elder of the Samburu community of Kituruni, on the edge of the forest. He is responsible for the group’s water problems and shows us the place the community has chosen for the construction of a rainwater harvesting dam: “We usually come here to fetch water from this well. It’s a very important place for us, but there’s been a lack of water here for a long time.”

There is such a lack of spring water here that needs are prioritized: “When water arrives, people, children, first have to wait for the cows to drink before they are allowed to take some for themselves.”

So, Bernard hopes that the quantity of water available will increase, making the community’s problems go away: “What we expect from the project is for it to harvest rainwater. For us to have large quantities of water. No one will have any problems anymore when we start pumping water to the reservoirs. People will start irrigating and growing plants which they don’t have. We’ll be able to reduce famine because even the animals will have access to water on the other side.”

Indeed, the dam will be equipped with a system of basins where the water will be channeled. Wild animals and livestock will be able to drink there without contaminating the rainwater reservoir intended for humans.
 Marsabit, water, Kadandara
Jerusha: “Planting bananas to increase incomes”
Jerusha settled in Songa, a small village on the edge of the Marsabit forest, in 1990. When she arrived, she started farming, a practice which was still not very widespread at the time. “When I arrived here, I started planting kale, tomatoes, beans and maize.”

There is a pipe in her field which connects her to one of the forest springs, but access to water is regulated here: it is carefully rationed and Jerusha receives a supply of approximately one hour a day for her farm. The resource is so precious that other farmers sometimes divert her water supply if she has not been able to use it as soon as she receives it: “Sometimes, you don’t have anywhere to store the water, so you have to go over there and watch over the pipe so that people don’t open it.”

The project has allowed a water retention dyke to be dug in her field. The dyke retains rainwater which, without it, would flow away and rapidly be lost. It also allows her to store the water ration from the forest: “The dyke really helps me a lot, which is why I asked for it. When I don’t have anyone to help me when I watch over the pipe, I often throw the other end in there. I can then come and get water and use it for the farm.” With this new reserve, Jerusha intends to grow bananas: “They’re the best crops, because they have a high price.” This gives reason to hope for a better future.
 Marsabit, water, fence, Kadandara
A fence to ease tensions with wildlife

Wild animals are a crucial part of the forest ecosystem. When water resources are scarce, elephants, but also hyenas, can invade farms looking for water points. The project has identified these points of tension with communities living around the forest. 7.2 km of an electric fence designed to keep elephants away have been rehabilitated and 10 km built, making a total of 42 km. 

However, if animals do not migrate, it means that the forest will be overexploited and die. It was consequently necessary to respect the migration corridors followed by wildlife every year and not obstruct them. To help the animals, sand dams are placed along these migration corridors, towards other areas where animals live. This system retains water at the bottom of riverbeds, which tends to flow away too quickly as drought has made the soil so hard. Nomad populations from the surrounding desert also use these points to water their livestock.

When water collection serves to replant trees

Marsabit, Eau, Kadandara100 tanks have been distributed around the forest, some of which are combined with the construction of a gutter system to harvest rainwater. The objective: allow residents who have permanently settled to develop their own nurseries and plant their trees outside the forest, so that they are no longer dependent on it. A total of 200 tanks with a capacity of 5,000 liters will be installed and 4 community nurseries have already been created, producing 29,000 seedlings. 

Preserving trees, water… and culture
© Nyasha Kadandara / AFD
© Nyasha Kadandara / AFD

Women from the Borana Kubi Dibayu community have created a group to preserve their traditional culture. Here, houses, furniture, ornaments, everything comes from wood. They have been involved in the project and have received one of the tanks distributed to grow their own trees. In their culture, it is essential to preserve the forest… But the project also provides an opportunity which they intend to seize by contributing to running the cultural museum, another project component which is currently under construction and will be managed by Kenya Wildlife Service.

Working with the communities for a sustainable result

The project also comprises the distribution of 3,000 jikos with low wood consumption. These traditional cookers are widely used in households and reduce pressure on the wood needs of communities. 

500 latest-generation hives have also been distributed and 500 others will be distributed, as the residents, who have always been honey consumers, are seeking to develop production to market it. These hives replace the traditional use of dead wood, which involved a rudimentary harvest and the destruction of the hives after the harvest. Honey production is well on its way and communities, aware of the fact that honey depends on the forest, are all the more keen to help conserve it.

Finally, Kenya Wildlife Service is working with the Water Resource Users Association, a multi-community association involved in the implementation of a comprehensive basin management plan and the collection of data useful for maintaining the local ecosystem.