Taita Hills forest losing biodiversity hotpots at alarming rate, says Kefri researchers

The Taita Hills forest has lost at least 233 hectares of forest cover in the past 40 years, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) has said.

The county's forest cover currently stands at 4 per cent, which is far below the 10 per cent international threshold.

The institute has attributed the loss to uncontrolled and illegal human activities in the forests and hills that are home to various species of wildlife and serve as a major water catchment area.

“The forest cover in the five major fragments is changing over time. In the last 40 years, the Taita Hills forest has lost about 23.2 per cent of its cover, translating to 0.5 per cent every year,” said Chemuku Wekesa, who is in charge of the Kefri's Taita-Taveta Research Centre.

According to Dr Wekesa, Chawia, Ngangao, Mwambirwa, Fururu and Mbololo forests have so far lost at least 233 hectares since 1973.

Field day

Speaking during a farmers' field day at Mazoloa Primary School in Mwatate sub-county yesterday, Wekesa said Kefri had started repairing damaged sections of the forest.

He disclosed that Kefri was rehabilitating up to 20 hectares on the hills and was mobilising residents and schools to join in the efforts.

“We have recommended key indigenous tree species to be planted for land regeneration purposes,” he said

Wekesa said the forest and hills served as the main water tower for the region and their continued destruction would impact negatively on local communities. He warned that the destruction had seen a number of rivers dry up.

Mwatate sub-county Kenya Forest Service officer Rua Kalama pledged to support the rehabilitation plan.

“We fully support Kefri's help improve the state of local forests," he said.