It's another public holiday as state pushes tree planting agenda

President William Ruto planting a tree in Kiu Wetland, Makueni County, during a past exercise. [PCS, Standard]

The government has handed Kenyans another public holiday to plant trees to mitigate the effects of climate change in the country.

President William Ruto declared Friday, May 10, a public holiday to honour victims of floods.

"This Friday, all Kenyans, remembering all the challenges we have had with climate change…let’s unite to plant trees. We all know how important tree planting is," he said.

He appealed to each Kenyan to plant at least 50 trees to achieve the target of the 5 billion tree-planting initiative.

The government has tasked state officials to oversee the exercise across the country.

This is the second tree-planting holiday although it will be different from the previous one conducted in 2023.

In an interview with The Standard, Forestry Principal Secretary Gitonga Mugambi said this time round individuals will be forced to buy tree seedlings, unlike last year when the government provided free seedlings.

“Last year we gave free seedlings but this time round it will cost Sh10 because when you buy the seedling then there is more likelihood of you taking care of it than when it’s just being given for free,” Mugambi said.

“As much as we condole with the bereaved families, one of the things we need to do is plant trees because they will assist in mitigating such effects (floods) in the future by cleaning carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and many more benefits," he added.

The PS not only sees this as an ecosystem restoration initiative but job creation.

He said that when one buys a seedling then he/she will be motivating the farmers to do more.

Amidst the ongoing rains and floods, one would ask where the government intends to plant the trees.

“We have come up with 11 intervention areas in which we have identified the type of trees that can be grown in such areas,” the PS said.

Mugambi said that the Cabinet has approved the suitable areas for planting trees urging people staying in urban areas to come out in large numbers to get directives on the location.

Forestry Principal Secretary Gitonga Mugambi. [Courtesy]

The reason why citizens should stick to seedlings provided by the Ministry is to avoid planting trees that are not suitable for certain environments.

For instance, trees like white cedar, black gum, and bald cypress among others are likely to soak up water when planted, and precipitate drought.

Besides the tree-growing initiative, the government is also involved in other ecosystem restoration activities like creating gullies, and gabions to minimise erosion.

“In Kenya, we have 38 million hectares that have been degraded in the country in different areas and all need to be restored. In the plan, out of the degraded hectares, we have targeted around 10.6 million hectares which are severely degraded and we believe can give an immediate result,” he said.

He explained that one of the ways that the government plans to minimise landslides in the country is by planting trees with roots that can penetrate deep to prevent the soil from sliding.

Even though some countries like Japan have ventured into anchoring the soil by having metal bars deeply dug into the ground to hold the soil, the PS thinks this is expensive.

He argued that with enough tree cover then the water will sink into the ground preventing landslides.

The PS noted that as much as the ministry contributes 3.6 per cent of the national GDP, it still has the potential to increase this to 15 per cent.

“If we incorporate the private sector into forestry and open industries then we will solve unemployment and even grow the economy,” he said.

Currently, the planting initiative is estimated to cost Sh.1.3 billion but the ministry anticipates that after 15 years, the trees will be valued at 150 billion.

Kenya banned the logging of indigenous trees through various legislations and presidential decrees since 1964.

Still, the logging issue poses a threat to the indigenous plantation, especially considering the lifting of the moratorium by the president in 2023.

“Forest and plantation are grown to be harvested at some point, that’s why we have indigenous forests at 95 per cent and plantations at 5 per cent which constitutes 150,000 hectares out of 2.6 million hectares of total forest cover,” Mugambi said.

He explained that with the supervision of the Kenya Forest Service, the community take care of the trees for a minimum of three years and once the number of surviving trees meets the demands then they are assigned to another location.

On whether the existence of commercial forests and national plantations side by side would fuel logging activities, the ministry has assured that the “national plantation now acts as a buffer to the forests.”

Despite all the perceived risks, the ministry still encourages tree planting to protect water catchment areas to avoid flooding.

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