An multi-sectoral, interagency collaboration, the Kenya Water Tower Climate Change Resilience Program demonstrates the depth, versatility, and relevance of U.S. Forest Service expertise in watershed management and ecosystem services. The effort relies on the sustained engagement of multiple administrative tiers of the Government of Kenya and local communities from the watersheds of interest and touches on considerations of biodiversity, economic growth, food security and agriculture, and energy production.
Kenya’s five major forest “water towers”—Mau Forest Complex, Mt. Kenya, Aberdares, Cherangany Hills, and Mt. Elgon—provide an estimated 75 percent of the country’s water resources and are central to Kenya’s economic and social well-being. Water towers are forested, high elevation landscapes from which most of the country’s major rivers (e.g., Tana, Mara, and Ewaso Ng’iro) originate. Despite their critical importance, the water tower ecosystems have been seriously degraded and continue to be impacted by a number of activities, including irregular and ill-planned settlements, overgrazing, uncontrolled and illegal forest resource extraction, and the conversion of forest land to agriculture. The continued degradation of these forests contributes to a growing water crisis. Moreover, the loss of biodiversity and increased carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are exacerbated by climate change.
The Kenya Water Tower Climate Change Resilience program is a four-year effort funded by USAID Kenya and East Africa and implemented by the U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with key partners on behalf of Kenya’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, and Regional Development Authorities. The project goal is to support informed implementation of climate change adaptation and resilience activities in the Mau Forest Complex, Cherangany Hills, and Mt. Elgon water tower ecosystems through the development of improved data and capacities. Since its launch in March 2015, the program has completed an ecosystem services valuation and climate change vulnerability assessment for each of the three priority Water Tower ecosystems, developed a socio-ecological monitoring framework to streamline data collection across agencies and geographies, and a strategic framework for improved comanagement of the Water Tower ecosystems across multiple tiers of governance.