Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya has announced that the famous Nyayo Tea Zone will be cleared in the ongoing efforts to reclaim Mau Forest.
Speaking in Nakuru, Natembeya said that the tea estate had encroached the forest around Olpusimoru forest, hence it would not be spared in the restoration efforts by the government.
“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,” said Natembeya.
The tea estate was planted during retired President Daniel Moi era as a border line between the Maasai Mau forest and the public settlements, but the people have since encroached the forest.
“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 added.
However, the tea estate was planted between two gazetted forests, the Maasai Mau Forest and Olpusimoru Forest, creating an easy avenue for settlers to encroach the forests. Natembeya termed it as a mistake, saying that the government was determined at correcting past mistakes.
“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.
After the recovery efforts, the government is set to fence the forest and erect beacons to mark the boundary, and restrict human movements into the forest.
At least 14,000 hectares of the forest are said to have been encroached by settlers, with some of the land being sold to unsuspecting persons.
The government through environment CS Keriako Tobiko has ruled out possibility of compensation for settlers, saying that they should instead pay for restoration costs.
“Based on the level of destruction that has been caused to the delicate ecosystem through cutting of trees and cultivation for personal benefits, these people should be required to pay for the restoration instead of them asking for compensation,” Mr Tobiko said.
The Directorate has been investigating the case and settlers could be prosecuted, if the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji gives a nod to cases where people bought land for as little as Ksh4,000.
Evictions will be done over a period of three months to allow candidates in 15 schools within the forest sit their national exams.