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Banning logging easier said than done, look for sustainable ways

By The Standard | March 15th 2018

Efforts by the Ministry of Environment to stop the wanton destruction of forest cover across the country are laudable.

One must admire the energy and gusto with which Keriako Tobiko-a former Director of Public Prosecutions- now the Environment Cabinet Secretary has taken to his new docket, easily the most unglamorous in the Cabinet.

He has upset the old order with a purge to rid the Kenya Forestry Service of officials who looked the other way, as the tree cover was decimated. With a tree cover of 6 per cent of the country’s total land mass, Kenya is 4 per cent less than globally set standard.

Mr Tobiko has an opportunity to change the tide, but needs not reinvent the wheel. What he needs is to get the local communities living around forests on his side by convincing them that trees are good and if well-managed, they can support their livelihood. In fact, some towns like Molo, Njoro, Timbaroa, Eldama Ravine came up because of logging. This is a profitable enterprise that should be encouraged. A scattergun approach like blanket banning of logging discourages tree farming.

It is, however, commendable that the KFS has started a five-year campaign to plant at least 170 million trees to bring the tree cover to at least 15 per cent. To pull that off, KFS will need the support of everyone. The problem we face is more about a mismanaged resource than the appetite for charcoal and timber. It is implausible to imagine that after the 90-day moratorium, the trees will have been planted and matured for harvesting.

Most energy has been deployed on stopping the cutting of trees, rather on replenishing depleted cover, say, by adapting the “cut-one-plant-two” mantra of the past.

No doubt, man and nature must strike an equilibrium.  Governments enforce that equilibrium whenever it is upset.  So it is foolhardy to wholesomely criminalise logging that has supported livelihoods for many generations; it is short-sighted and doesn’t address the underlying issues.

This prescription for fixing our depleting tree cover has been tried and tested and evidently, it has not worked. In other words; banning logging is easier said than done. Efforts to stop the destruction of forests should be weighed against certain realities.

Rapid population growth and urbanisation and the execution of projects like roads and highways and the SGR has put pressure on land and increased the appetite for tree products in building and construction.

Moreover, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Besides a blanket ban of tree-logging, Mr Tobiko should take lessons from countries that have adopted sustainable ways of managing tree cover and apply them here.

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