MPs probe deal to export baobab trees to Georgia

Members of the Environmental committee in the National Assembly and their counterparts from the Kilifi County Assembly inspect Baobab trees ready for export at Bofa area in Kilifi town. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard]

National Assembly’s Committee on Environment is investigating a controversial deal between villagers in Kilifi County and a foreigner exporting baobab trees to Georgia.

Baringo South MP and committee chairman Charles Kamuren said the probe would inform the House on laws to enact to protect the tree although its not listed among endangered species.

“As the legislative arm, we will come up with legislation to save the properties of Kenyans. We shall give direction to the concerned departments on the way forward about the baobab exports,” he said.

The government lifted the ban on the export of eight baobab trees uprooted that have been lying at a jetty in the Bofa area of Kilifi.

Last November, the government banned the export after an outcry from Kenyans.

The trees were uprooted in Tezo and Majaoni villages in Kilifi North Sub County and taken to Shekvetili Dendrological Park Limited in Ureki Ozurgeti in Georgia.

The House committee and the Kilifi County Assembly held a joint session in Malindi on Tuesday before they visited Tezo and the jetty.

At Tezo village, Mr Macdonald Munga told the MPs that they sold a tree between Sh100,000 and Sh300,000.

“The Forest Department has failed over the years to enlighten us about the Baobab tree, hence we saw money when the buyer came, and the deal was too good to turn down,” he said.

“For every Baobab, we earned Sh100,000 and the reason we sold the trees is they occupy large spaces, and no other plant can grow near them,” he said.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, whose constituency Tezo falls, said no law prohibited the villagers from selling the trees as baobab was not an indigenous or endangered species.

“There is nowhere the Baobab has been categorised as an endangered species. I convinced Forestry officials and the Cabinet Secretary in-charge to allow the eight baobab trees to be exported,” he said.

But the matter was not taken lightly by the assembly led by Nominated MCA Betty Kache, who said the officers disregarded the economic and social value of the tree.

Ms Kache told the House that the Baobab tree had traditional importance to the Mijikenda people and should not be exported.

“The National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) revoked the export license last year, but they now it has approved the export. We want to know why,” she said.

Kilifi Women Rep Gertrude Mbeyu, a committee member, said they would have to travel to Georgia to unravel why the investor is keen to export the tree.

“Sadly, they paid our people Sh100,000, yet they sell it in Georgia at Sh3.5 million, and that is why we want to visit that country and press for compensation,” she said.

Nema Enforcement Officer Robert Orina said they knew about the deal on July 13 last year when the trees had been clamped, ready for export.

“We need to create more awareness of the economic value of the Baobab. A document from Kefri says that Baobab is a low marketable product,” he said.