, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 2 – The fate of five group ranches that sit on about 20,000 hectares of land in the Mau Forest will be known by the end of this month.
Speaking in Nairobi on Tuesday, Mau Interim Coordinating Secretariat Chairman Hassan Noor Hassan explained that a team of seven legal experts was finalising its findings on bonafide owners who were allocated land in 2001.
He added that the secretariat required Sh3 billion to compensate the said land owners. Already, 42 title deeds have been surrendered back to the government since the third phase started in January.
“We are dealing with Kenyans who are holding titles to this land. Some of them unknowingly acquired the land while others deliberately falsified documents to go and get land there. We have been battling with the data collection for the groups that are here,” he said.
He also said that the secretariat had set up a 65-member Ogiek Council of Elders that would coordinate the re-settlement of indigenous land occupiers.
Mr Hassan who explained that an estimated 7,000 families might require government compensation, however pointed out that the number could drop once illegal occupiers were identified.
“Some of these people thought there would be free land from the government so they put down their names but many of them do not deserve to be on that list,” he said.
He further observed that an estimated 107,707 hectares of land had been encroached on through forest excision over the last 15 years.
“In 2001 only 61,586 hectares was converted into settlement land and it is estimated that an additional 46,122 hectares of indigenous forest land has been invaded. This poses a serious threat to sustaining the Mau environment,” he said.
In addition, the Mau Joint Enforcement Unit has been set up to contain the destruction of the vast water tower. The joint task force, with 182 rangers, claimed that it had succeeded in reducing the movement of illegally extracted forest resources by 70 percent.
The head of the unit Jacob Wanjala explained that so far 34,654 bags of illegal harvested charcoal had been destroyed and another 9,144 bags impounded between 2008 and 2009.
Mr Wanjala added that 327 charcoal kilns had also been discovered and destroyed by the rangers with over 700 people being arrested and prosecuted in connection to the illegal logging.
“You may ask us why we destroy so much timber but our excuse is that the terrain in the Mau is very rough and where we feel we might not be able to move the timber to safety, we have to cut it to pieces so that we can also deny the loggers an opportunity to benefit,” he said.
Mr Hassan further explained that the marking of boundaries for four forest blocks was set to come to an end.
“The survey of the boundaries of the Transmara, Olpomosimoru, Maasai Mau and South Western Mau forest blocks would also be completed,” he said.
He added that his task force had also identified the biodiversity hot spots that were threatened by encroachment and logging.
Mr Hassan also called on the government and donors to offer monetary support to the rehabilitation efforts. He asked them to continue adopting the forest’s land for reforestation.
Phase IV of the Mau rehabilitation is set to kick off in January 2011.