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Extend logging ban to protect endangered indigenous forests

By Elias Mokua | Published Wed, May 16th 2018 at 00:00, Updated May 15th 2018 at 19:47 GMT +3
An indigenous tree that was cut down buy Charcoal burners and illegal loggers at Kiptunga forest in Mau on March 7,2018. [File, Standard]

It is really gratifying to hear the chorus of condemnation on those few heartless Kenyans engaged in deforestation – or is it logging? – without thinking about the future of their children.

In the recent past, media has not only consistently reported, but also discussed the damage and risks facing us in the near future if the rate of forest destruction is not brought under control. Experts have aptly warned that Mother Nature is not taking the destructive human activity lightly. The analyses, with relevant statistics to back up claims, are convincingly presented.

ALSO READ: Report: Kenya Forest Services too corrupt to tame destruction

However, it is at the tail end of all the reports and discussions that we have a problem. While policy recommendations are often made, there is clearly a disconnect between them and implementation. We all seem to know the problem, but the number of us with guts to do something concrete is way too small.

First, teaching people to cut down a tree and plant two is completely illogical in terms of preserving forest cover. Most of those indigenous trees that support our ecosystem take anything from 10 to 20 years to start maturing. 

Natural forests have so much value - not just for human existence but also for all animals - that we cannot simply replace them with man-made forests.

Mother Nature

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Planting acres of the 'gum tree' (eucalyptus) after destroying the natural forests retains some semblance of green but ultimately weakens the ecosystem considerably. The result is that Mother Nature will act very unkindly with floods and drought when she decides.

Second, in 2040 or thereabouts, young people will have to make a very hard decision: the number of children each family will be allowed to have. The reason is simple.

Even if water scarcity will have been sorted by some technology that pumps water into homes, nothing will replace densely populated lands without substantial natural air to sustain life.

The population continues to increase, reforestation is by and large limited to the 'gum trees', fertile land reduces as population increases, and everyone is compelled to eat Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods.

ALSO READ: Why mango, avocado trees are fast disappearing in Central Kenya

Inevitably, the ageing generation at that time will have cleaned up all the indigenous trees and forests to the extent that students learning about pollination will only do it as part of history. The young trees planted today will have been used to burn charcoal and, of course, for domestic purposes.

Oh yes – and the logging will not end until the last solid tree standing is brought down!

That means water supply will be a nightmare for the future generation. At the moment, with the irony of deadly floods ravaging the country, many communities suffer severely from a shortage of water.

Accessing water – clean or not – is a serious problem, for instance, in northern Kenya. Animals and people fight each other to access water points. Yet some of the charcoal used in towns originates from the region. What a paradox!

Tallest building

Wangari Maathai (now deceased) had seen all this coming. For instance, she protected Uhuru Park from being grabbed for construction. We probably would have the tallest building in Africa today, but what is that compared to the lives sustained by nature and clean air?

Pope Francis, in his famous encyclical letter, 'Laudato Si', strongly reminds us that taking care of our environment is not an option. To sustain our own lives we must sustain the earth. We cannot irresponsibly destroy forests and then pray to God to help us – forget that kind of prayer!

ALSO READ: Partial relief for loggers

Proposal number one: For the next 10 years, at least, stop logging. Let us import trees and timber rather than pretending to engage in “licensed logging”. Let's be real. We are digging our own graves.

Proposal number two: Hard choices have to be made. Simply stop charcoal burning. The Government should find alternatives to support communities whose livelihoods depend on charcoal burning. Yes, laws are in place to stop it but no one is offering the people burning charcoal an alternative to managing their lives.

Without this alternative, any one of us could engage in the environmentally risky business. Plant trees, yes, but stop charcoal burning and logging for a decade.

Dr Mokua is the Executive Director, Jesuit Hakimani Centre


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