The Nyayo Tea Zone estate perched between the Mau and Olpusimoru forests will be cleared in the ongoing second phase of restoring the Mau Forest Complex, Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya has said.
Mr Natembeya, speaking in Nakuru, said the tea estate had encroached on the water towers and started farming in gazetted forests.
“There is this issue of the Nyayo Tea Zone, with people talking about the cutline and boundaries. Now the position is that [zone]was planted when there was a lot of encroachment on Olpusimoru forest, a national government forest,” he said.
When people were moved out, he said, the tea was only planted to show the boundary and it was not meant to show that the Maasai Mau forest was now available for settlement
“Even when you go to the ground now, both the canopies for Maasai Mau and Olpusimoru forests are the same. So we are saying that if indeed we were to plant tea, actually it is supposed to benefit the people who were there before the ballooning of the group ranches into the forest. Those are the people who are supposed to benefit from the Nyayo Tea Zone as they protect the Maasai Mau Forest,” he said.
He wondered how a tea farm can be in the middle of two government forests, adding that they are determined to correct past mistakes.
“When you put a Nyayo Tea Zone between two forests, whom is it supposed to serve. These are some of the things that happened in the past to prove that some of people holding senior government positions can do some things using their positions that end up embarrassing the government they serve,” he said.
Although the Mau Forest Complex has been damaged, he said, officials are determined to make amends to ensure a better forest cover in the future.
“You ask somebody to explain why they put a Nyayo Tea Zone between two government forests and they cannot even explain. But for us, we are determined to correct all those things because we know if we don’t do it now, then posterity will judge us very harshly. It is for us as government officers at this point in time to do the right thing,” he added.
The administrator noted that after the end of the second phase of the Mau forest restoration, the recovered forest land will be fenced and beacons erected to map the boundary.
“We had only eight beacons that were erected after the first phase of the evictions in 2015 and the government is contemplating putting up more beacons after this ongoing restoration. We want to add these beacon after every 100 metres so that they will be easily assessed,” he said.
Security around the water catchment area will be beefed up and people will no longer be allowed into the forest without providing valid and good reasons.
“We shall restrict movement to and from the forest. People seeking to go to the forest will undergo thorough interrogation by forest rangers and other officers before they are allowed to access the forest,” Mr Natembeya said.
He noted that the earlier boundary between the Maasai Mau and Olpusimoru forests was fake. “There was no boundary there.”
The mainstay of the multimillion-shilling tea zone has been a thorny issue in the Mau forest saga.
In August last year, Environment CS Keriako Tobiko ordered the Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation to cease any activities in the 25km buffer zone separating the Maasai Mau and the Olpusimoru forests.
He had accused the Nyayo Tea Zones of expanding the cutline by cutting down trees without the consent of the Kenya Forest Service.