Conserving forests safeguards the environment, boosts health

 Dr. Humphrey Agevi, researcher and lecturer at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST). [File, Standard]

Kenya’s current forest cover stands at 8.83 per cent while tree cover stands at 12.13 per cent, according to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) National Forest Assessment report of 2021 released on June 3, 2022.

The tree cover has surpassed the 10 pre cent target KFS had set for 2022 while the forest cover is 1.17 per cent shy from the 10 per cent cover stipulated in Kenyan Constitution.

This has been through joint efforts of the national government, county governments and other stakeholders who have championed for restoration activities in degraded parts of the forests as well as promoting sustainable forest management that recognises the role of the forest adjacent communities in their efforts to promote and support conservation initiatives.

At national level, President William Ruto is on the forefront too towards this initiative as he has already launched tree restoration programme aimed at planting 15 billion trees by 2032 in order to combat climate change.

Counties too are promoting initiatives to contribute to increasing forest cover in their counties. For example, the recently launched partnership programme between UNDP, county government of Kakamega and Vihiga county to fence Kakamega Forest is aimed at conserving the only tropical rainforest in the country in addition to promoting sustainable forest management in order to increase the provision of ecosystem goods and services to the forest adjacent communities. This will also enhance natural regeneration from the soil seed bank as there will be minimal disturbance of the forest ecosystem.

The current prevailing climatic conditions the world is experiencing are occasioned by a number of human activities which among them includes deforestation. Most of our major rivers have dried up, planting season patterns have changed, increased drought cases and flooding in most areas when it rains. All these are just but few of the incidences that indicate climate change effects are here with us. It is our responsibility as citizens to promote activities that will reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and reverse deforestation as mitigative approaches.

Forests when well conserved and managed will promote in the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals as they contribute to conservation of biodiversity, sequester excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere acting as a buffer against climate change, prevent soil erosion, provide home for much of the worlds diverse array of plants and animals and provide essential natural resources that are categorised as timber and non-timber forest products, increasing their livelihoods and reducing hunger.

Non-timber forest products include provision of raw materials for the manufacture of the medicines. This, in a way, promotes our healthy being. Most of the medicine we rely on today come from forests. Forests are good for our mental and physical well-being. For instance, research has shown that spending time around trees helps boost our immune system, lowers blood pressure and promotes relaxation.

-Dr Humphrey Agevi is a lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology