Montane forest ecosystems deliver numerous valuable ecosystem services. These include food, feed, fiber, bioenergy and water. The services are necessary for the livelihoods and development of communities living adjacent to forests and in neighboring rural areas and urban centers. In Kenya and Uganda, these forested mountains are referred to as 'water towers'. These water towers face intense pressures. Deforestation and conversion to other land uses, charcoal burning and encroachment for settlement have undermined the ability of these forested landscapes to provide critical ecosystem services. Moreover, the potential for conflict has increased as was evident during the drought of 2009 when communities facing severe water shortages downstream of the Mau threatened to evict those living upstream.
This project aims to address the issues in two water towers by focusing on reversing and/or minimizing land degradation and attaining more productive and equitable management of natural resources. As a result of this project, it is anticipated that at least 78,000 hectares of tropical forest will be managed more equitably and in ways that enhance land productivity. The project also incorporates a strong gender component. CIFOR anticipates that community forestry and water associations in the Mau and Mt. Elgon ecosystems will increase the proportion of women in leadership positions to between 30–50%.