By Gloria Makau

The rich and fertile Mara river basin hosts some of the largest wildlife populations in Africa. This includes those in the Serengeti National Park, which is arguably the most popular wildlife sanctuary on the planet. The basin is one of the most complex ecosystems on earth, which has in recent decades been under pressure due to poaching, expanding agricultural development, population growth and other factors. According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem relies on Mara River to sustain its stunning wildlife, among other socioeconomic activities in Kenya and Tanzania. The Mara-Serengeti and the thousands of animals it supports are, however, threatened. For these reasons, the 8th Mara Day celebrations were held at Sokoine Sports Grounds in Mugumu, Serengeti, Tanzania on September 15, 2019.

The celebrations are an annual event, whose aim is to increase the visibility of the Mara ecosystem, its natural resources and impact on the livelihoods and economies of the entire East African Community.

According to WWF, the Mara River has its source in the South Western Mau forests of Kenya draining into Lake Victoria at Musoma in Tanzania. The Mara River Basin is about 13,750 km2, of which 65 percent is located in Kenya and 35 percent in Tanzania. The River runs through the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the latter being a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. Users of the Mara River Basin are increasingly faced with water shortages, poor water quality and environmental degradation. The management of the Mara River is, therefore, critical in poverty alleviation, and improving health and food security. It is also significant in sustainable economic development and for the conservation of the natural resources in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

Threats to the Mara River Basin include loss of forest cover in the upper catchment and along the river’s tributaries and unsustainable agricultural expansion and intensification, including irrigation. Population growth, poorly planned tourist facilities, water pollution and unregulated water abstraction by urban settlements, large-scale commercial farming, industrial activities coupled with failures of local, national and regional legislation and institutional structures have worsened the situation.

Both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments have shown tremendous commitment to conserving the Mara basin and ecosystem, as the river is a regional shared resource for sustainable economic development of Lake Victoria Basin.

Speaking during the celebrations, the Tanzanian Minister for Water, Prof. Makame Mbarawa, noted that as a shared resource, the Mara River has important significance and the 2 countries have, therefore, a responsibility to ensure sustainable use of resources.

Mara Day Seminars

NETFUND participated in various build up activities for the Mara Day.  These included the presentation of evidence-based seminar papers in four thematic areas, emphasizing the current state of the Mara ecosystem and action-oriented recommendations for the sustainable water resources, biodiversity and livelihoods in Mara River Basin. The seminar, which was held on  September 14, 2019, aimed at informing current and future interventions, at decision-making (regional and national), community and grassroots levels. The thematic areas of the seminar were: Environment and Ecosystem of Mara River Basin, Socio-economic Issues and Livelihood in Mara River Basin, Importance of Mara River Water to the Community and the Role of Key Players in Mara River Basin for Sustainability and Improved Livelihoods.

 The Mara Day Celebrations were guided by three inter-woven objectives: to create awareness among key stakeholders of the importance of Mara River Basin and its resources; to recognize and involve the contribution of different public and private actors in management of Mara River resources and; to promote public-private partnerships as a pathway towards sustainable management of Mara River Waters and biodiversity. The venues for the Mara Day celebrations are rotational between Kenya and Tanzania. In 2020, the Mara Day celebrations will be held in Bomet County. In 2018, the celebrations were held in Narok County, Kenya.