Montane forest ecosystems deliver numerous valuable ecosystem services. These services, which include food, feed, fiber, bioenergy and water, are necessary for the livelihoods and development of communities living adjacent to forests as well as in neighboring rural areas and urban centers. In particular, these forests are responsible for a large amount of water consumed in both rural and urban areas of Kenya and Uganda. Deforestation due to conversion to other land uses, charcoal burning and encroachment for settlement have undermined the ability of these forested landscapes to provide critical ecosystem services. In recognition of the water towers’ economic importance and of threats posed by their degradation, many actors in government, the private sector, NGOs and communities have designed efforts to address the urgent problem of conservation and restoration of montane forests. Legal and policy reforms in the forestry and water sectors have resulted in devolution and decentralization of management authority to county governments and local-level institutions in the form of in the form of Community Forest Associations (CFAs) and Water Resource User Associations (WRUAs). The effectiveness of these efforts and existing policies in achieving sustainable forest and water management needs evaluating.

The ‘Water towers’ project is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The project aims to identify and propose innovative practices and institutional strategies for strengthening linked forest and water resource governance to ensure that forests and water resources are managed jointly (as opposed to separately), and for equitably minimizing forest degradation and sustaining the delivery of water.

The project was informed by CIFOR’s work in the Mau forest complex in Kenya on quantifying the impact of land use on water quality and provisioning. The results indicated that conversion of forests to farming has reduced water flows, reduced access to human and livestock consumption, increased sediment loads and affected agricultural production. CIFOR is also engaging WRUAs through a citizen science approach to conduct water monitoring and mapping forest degradation and its drivers to make a connection between forest health and water supply. This multidisciplinary project combines biophysical monitoring with governance assessments to: generate evidence that will be used to identify policy and practice options; conduct local-level workshops for sharing and validating knowledge; and develop and implement capacity strengthening programs in forest and water monitoring, and resource governance. Doing so will ultimately improve resource governance, thereby minimizing or reversing forest degradation and sustaining the delivery of related ecosystem services such as water.

The work is organized in three work packages:

Work Package 1: Vulnerability analysis and exploration of measures to conserve forests and water:

This work package maps trends in change in forest health (area, biomass) and relate this to downstream water supply within the catchments. It will also determine drivers and impacts of forest/land-cover change.

Work Package 2: Analysis of institutions for the governance of forest and water resources

This work package establishes the effectiveness of institutional structures for forest and water governance in meeting the goals of resource conservation. It will involve data gathering and analysis at the community level.

Work Package 3: Capacity strengthening, outreach and dissemination

This work package is intended to: raise awareness among communities of the interactions between forest and water health as well as the condition of these resources vis-a-vis their governance; administer capacity development programs in order to build and/or strengthen community resource management; and foster experience-sharing and exchange of good practice in resource management among selected communities.

Project timeframe: January 2017 to December 2019

Countries: Kenya and Uganda

Funding: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

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