Implications of Land Use Change on Kenya’s Mountain Forest Ecosystem in the 21st Century
Land use change is one of the major challenges currently facing the worlds many forests and a major threat to the availability of ecosystem services and sustainable development. These land uses include changing forested lands to agricultural land. Most of the indigenous forests in Kenya are located on mountains. These forests include: Elgon, Kenya, Aberdares, Cherangani and the Mau. The forests provide the country with essential ecosystem services which include being a catchment to Kenya’s major rivers. The Kenya’s indigenous mountain forests are highly vulnerable to the impacts of unsustainable land use changes and this is evidenced by many disasters that have afflicted the forests and the local communities over the recent past. Demographic, institutional, economic and socio cultural factors play a critical role of being drivers of these land use changes. It is expected that land-use management should successfully address these challenges and ensure risk reduction. Unfortunately this is lacking. Drawing upon the available literature and field research, this paper synthesizes the factors responsible for the vulnerability of Kenya’s major forest resources and the impacts of land use change on ecosystem services in the 21st Century in Kenya. Achieving sustainable development in our environment will requires planned change to the way in which the land bordering the forest and forest resources are utilized.
Referred to as the ‘water towers of the world’, mountain forest ecosystems cover about twenty seven (27%) of the world’s land surface and directly support twenty two (22%) of the world’s population and provide the freshwater needs for more than half of humanity (Convention on Biological Diversity 2010). Most of the indigenous forests in Kenya are located on mountains. These forests include: Elgon, Kenya, Aberdares, Cherangani and the Mau. These forests are biologically diverse and contain numerous local endemic plant and animal species. Similarly Kenya's hydrology is characterized by four major rivers (the Tana, Mara, Yala and Nzoia river basins); all originating from these forested water towers.