Logging ban leaves timber traders high and dry

Logs of wood [Courtesy]

The ban on logging in public forests three years ago has had mixed results, environmentalists say.

The Environment Ministry in 2018 imposed a nationwide ban on timber harvesting in all public and community forests to allow reassessment and rationalisation of the entire forest sector in the country following calls to save the main water towers.

But while it has helped improve forest cover, it has also seen the prices of timber more than double as traders cash in on increased demand amid a biting shortage.

According to Earth Journalism Network, an Internews and Internews Europe project, more than 100,000 hectares of the Mau Forest had been destroyed as of the year 2000.

And according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 107,000 hectares of the Mau Forest Complex’s 416,000 hectares were destroyed between 1990 and 2001.

Environmentalists also claim the initiative has not done much in boosting forest cover but has instead created a shortage that has, in turn, led to unchecked cutting down of trees in private farmlands to fill the gap.

Initially, the State had planned to improve forest cover by 10 per cent by 2022, a target that now seems out of reach.

The Environment Ministry last year said Sh48 billion is needed to implement the strategy, with Environment and Forestry Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo lamenting the lack of financial support from the National Treasury. 

Other stakeholders say the ban has nearly doubled the demand for timber products, making Kenya a net importer of wood from countries such as Malawi, Uganda, Congo and Tanzania.

Kinoro David, a Nairobi-based timber trader who imports timber from Malawi through Tanzania, said it takes him over one week to get the cargo into the country.

“There is high demand for timber driven by the construction sector and furniture business. It is, however, a struggle to get the product following the ban; local private farms which provided an option cannot meet the demand, forcing us to rely on imports from neighbouring countries,” said Mr Kinoro.

“Before the 2018 ban, we sold a board foot (bf) for Sh40, but the price has more than doubled to Sh100. The time taken to get the product to the Kenyan market is another issue, making the business cumbersome.”  

Most of the imported timber includes pine, cypress and mahogany. Uganda, Malawi, and Tanzania are the key source markets for pine and cypress, while mahogany is mainly sourced from Congo.

The National Alliance of Community Forest Association Secretary Gerald Ngatia noted that since the implementation of the logging ban, tea factories, schools and other institutions dependent on public forests for wood products have been affected greatly.

“Public forests produce the bulk of wood used locally. We are seeing massive harvesting of trees going on in private farms to fill the supply gap, which is still not enough,” said Mr Ngatia.

“Saw millers, who depended on public forests, are facing the auctioneers’ hammer.”

The government imposed a moratorium on logging in public and community forests in 2018.

The ministry of environment has implemented the ban in phases. Initially, it started as a three-month ban before it was increased to six months and later one year.

Last November, Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko partially lifted the logging ban in public and community forests.

The move was to allow for harvesting and disposal of mature and over-mature forest plantations for an area not exceeding 5,000 hectares.

“Having considered the recommendations of both the Board of Management of Kenya Forest Service..., the government has decided that the moratorium on logging in public and community forests shall continue but varied and or modified to allow for harvesting and disposal of mature forest plantations,” said Tobiko.

He said the harvesting and disposal would be oversighted by a multi-agency team.

Despite the partial lifting of the ban, Timber Manufacturers Association (TMA) say the industry is still bleeding from the government’s directive, with many saw millers forced to close shop amid piling debts.

TMA Communications Secretary Clement Nyoro said the industry directly employs 50,000 people and relies on government forests for timber.

He said the move had left mature trees set for harvest to rot away.

He added that the industry injected close to Sh500 million annually into the economies of such towns as Njoro, Elburgon, Molo and Timboroa, which have now been left desolate.

Kenya has a forest cover of 7.4 per cent of its land area compared to 12 per cent 50 years ago.

The ban restricted the extraction of timber from the forests to give KFS more time to implement measures to protect forests.

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