By Caroline Chebet, Giants Club African Conservation Fellow, The Standard.
Published 28 December 2018.
Conservation of forests was the main highlight in the activities of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry this year.
The year started with a Government ban on logging in all public forests in February.
A task force was later formed to investigate the extent of depletion of forests and to suggest ways of restoring them.
It was on the basis of the report by the team, chaired by Green Belt Movement chairperson Marion Kamau, that the Government extended the logging ban by another six months.
In their report, titled Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya, Ms Kamau’s team, concluded that some forests were depleted many years ago and only existed on paper.
The ban on logging was extended to November this year amid protests from those who depend on timber for their livelihood.
Timber Manufacturers Association official Bernard Gitau said the ban had rendered many people jobless, especially after saw mills were closed down.
He also said many saw millers were struggling to service their loans. He said some had their properties auctioned by banks to recover their money.
However, Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko would hear none of it, and extended February’s three-month ban on logging in all public and community forests for another six months.
And on November 16, when loggers expected the Government to finally lift the ban, it was extended for another one year, silencing sounds of power saws in every forest, perhaps forever.
The task force revealed that forests have been depleted massively, at the rate of about 5,000 hectares per year. This was blamed on encroachment, degradation, corruption and abuse of Shamba system.
The Shamba system is where agricultural crops are grown together with forest tree species. The system has been popular in Kenya since the early 1900s.
When properly practised, the system allows sustained and optimum production of food crops along with forestry species from the same land.
Other than depleting forests, logging has also impacted water levels in rivers, leading to some drying up.
When he announced the latest extension of the ban, Keriako said it was meant to give the Government and other stakeholders enough time to restore and rehabilitate critical water catchment areas and natural forests currently estimated at 123,553 acres.
“The extension will allow replanting of trees in an estimated 76,603 acres with indigenous tree species,” said Tobiko.
He also said the ongoing National Tree Planting campaign is aimed at achieving the United Nations recommended 10 per cent forest cover for a county by 2022.
Kenya’s current forest cover us estimated 7.2 per cent.
However, the logging ban welcomed by conservationists who said it will give them room plant more trees and restore degraded forests.
Kamau’s report released in April also showed people have settled on Kitalale, Manzoni and Matuma blocks of Turbo Forests even though they are still gazetted as forests.
It showed Kenya’s main water tower, Mau Complex, is the most affected by illegal settlements and destruction of trees.
“The Mau Forest Complex has been particularly hard hit by forest excisions, illegal settlements and intense illegal abstraction of forests resources,” the report stated.
In 2001, forest excision within Mau Complex alone affected 61,587 hectares, especially in Eastern Mau Forest Reserve, South Western Mau Forest Reserve and Molo Forest Reserve.
At least 2,436 hectares within the Mau have illegally been allocated to public utilities such as schools and police stations. Churches and private developers have also taken portions of forest land.
“The land allocated for these public institutions and private developments is still gazetted as forest reserve,” the report says further.
Plantation Establishment Livelihood Improvement Scheme (Pelis), also known as Shamba system, was said to be one the most abused programmes within the forest sector and in the end had negatively affected indigenous forests.
In the Pelis scheme, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) allows communities adjacent to forests to cultivate agricultural crops within forests, especially during the early stages of trees. However, the task force revealed the scheme has led to loss of forest land to individuals.
“The Shamba system has led to considerable abuse and loss of forestland. Many other illegal practices are camouflaged under its umbrella, including encroachment into the indigenous forest through plantations,” the report states.
Indigenous trees have been recently destroyed in some areas within Mount Kenya and Aberdare forests under the guise of the Shamba system.
The same has been replicated in Mount Elgon ecosystem in Trans Nzoia County where indigenous trees have completely been destroyed.
Tobiko said his ministry had drawn a budget of Sh18 billion to address challenges facing forests over the next five years.
The KFS Strategic Plan for 2018-2022 they plan to increase the forest cover by 1.15 per cent during the plan period.KFS also hopes to rehabilitate 500,000 hectares of degraded natural forest areas, develop and conserve all public natural forests.
The agency also wants to increase forest cover outside public forest areas by 380,000 hectares.
Read the full story here. This story is reproduced here as part of the Giants Club African Conservation Journalism Fellowships, a Space for Giants programme to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in the four countries where we work.