The European Union (EU) will allocate Sh160 million grant toward conservation of Maragoli Hills Forest in South Maragoli location of Vihiga County.
Vihiga County Governor Wilber Ottichilo made the revelation when he officially launched construction of an Administration Block at the forest on Thursday.
Dr Ottichilo said once completed the Administration Block, which is fully sponsored by the county administration, will serve as centre for coordinating various economic activities at the Maragoli Hills Forest.
“My administration has entered into a working partnership with the Kenya Forestry Services (KFS) with the main objective of not only conserving this forest, but more importantly to convert it to an economic hub for the county,” remarked Ottichilo.
According to Ottichilo the EU will disburse the Sh 160 grant in July 2020. He described the forest as a major water tower for Vihiga County which needs to be conserved .
“The donor fund will be used to initiate various activities aimed at conserving the forest as well as enable surrounding community boost sources of livelihoods, thus improve living standards,” noted Ottichilo.
Besides water harvesting, the governor said his government was keen at turning the forest into a tourist attraction.
“We will use part of the funds to establish a tourist attraction site in the forest which will help the county boost its revenue collection from both local and international tourists,” said the governor.
He disclosed his government and KFS had already drafted a development plan for proper management of the forest.
“We meanwhile want to embark on process of planting more trees in the forest to check the perennial problem of soil erosion and landslides that keep destabilising families around it,” said Ottichilo.
The governor further noted the department of water and environment has established a one acre tree nursery project for demonstration and production of variety of indigenous tree seedlings in the area to educate residents.
“The one acre tree nursery project will be used to educate our people on how to produce tree seedlings,” stated Ottichilo.
He encouraged the locals to exploit the opportunity and venture into what he termed as well paying tree seedlings production business.
“The Kenya Forestry Service will be your target market for the tree seedlings enterprise,” Ottichilo encouraged the locals, especially the youth.
He added the afforestation process will also ensure constant supply of rain water within the county’s major rivers that rely on the Maragoli Hills Forest.
“Water levels in our major rivers have been going down due to adverse human activity in the forest,” observed Ottichilo who cited uprooting of planted tree seedlings as one of the main challenges affecting growth and development of the forest.
The county boss said the administration block will be used by KFS officers to man the forest against such adverse human activities.
The county boss promised the families around the forest that the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) will extend distribution of electricity to the area.
Present at the groundbreaking ceremony included Deputy Governor Dr Patrick Saisi, County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for Water and Environment Marita Agufana and her Chief Officer Dr Richard Boyo.
By Maurice Aluda