State signals return to shamba system to improve forest cover

A section of Kabaru forest that has been converted into a farmland in Kieni constituency, Nyeri County. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Communities living around forests will be allowed to cultivate in the ecosystem in a move likely to anger environmentalists and conservationists who have been against the shamba system.

The shamba system also known as Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (Pelis), which had been banned for two decades, involves farmers tending to trees in state-owned forests in return for being allowed to grow subsistence crops.

The government said it was lifting the ban since planting seedlings, nurturing the trees grow and maintaining forests is an expensive affair that requires a collective effort from other stakeholders.

Speaking in Nairobi during a media breakfast meeting on how to improve the ecosystem in the country acting Chief Conservator of Forest Alex Lemarkoko argued that Pelis is a non-residential and subsistence cultivation in forests that promotes food security for communities while establishing forest plantations.

Mr Lemarkoko estimated that about Sh200,000 is required in land preparation, staking, planting and maintaining a hectare of trees.

"It is not just about planting trees, those trees need taking care. It is an expensive exercise to maintain them. This will serve as a buffer of our natural resources," he said Lemarkoko, signaling intention to re-introduce the shamba system, which was abused by communities forcing government to impose a moratorium.

The Chief Conservator explained that the arrangement is a win-win situation which apart from increasing the forest cover, will boost food production and improve the relationship between Kenya Forest Service and families around forests.

However, he cautioned that the system requires proper supervision to keep away rogue farmers who sabotage the programme by suppressing growth of the trees to extend the period of cultivation.

Lemarkoko warned that no effort will be spared in protecting forests and an operation to stop illegal activities is ongoing in five counties.

Kenya Forestry Research Institute Director General Joshua Cheboiywo said the country continues losing the natural forest at an alarming rate which is negatively impacting climate change.

"Since 20213 to 2020, 80 per cent of the natural forest cover has been lost. This is equivalent to 458 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions," Dr Cheboiywo said. He said as part of the national climate change action plan, the government is reverting to the shamba system.