Vihiga's plan to uproot eucalyptus unstoppable

Eucalyptus near Lake Ol' Bolossat in Nyandarua county. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A campaign to uproot eucalyptus trees from river banks and homesteads is causing discomfort among residents of Vihiga County. Many homes in the county including those neighbouring water catchment areas and rivers are dotted with eucalyptus.

John Chunza, a local farmer who has planted over 100 eucalyptus also known as blue gum is reluctant to cut down the trees. He has planted most of the trees along the boundary of his farm while others occupy space near river Ziria in West Sabatia.

Chunza is among hundreds of other farmers who are being targetted by the county government for growing eucalyptus near water catchment, road reserves, and riparian lands in Vihiga. Authorities insist that the trees must be cut down because they have a negative impact on the environment. Earlier, Governor Wilber Ottichilo's administration had announced that it will help in implementing the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) directive to get rid of the tree species near wet areas.

NEMA banned the planting of eucalyptus trees at riparian areas or shorelines within a radius of 30 metres.

The NEMA order stated: "The public is ordered to remove and prevent the growth of all eucalyptus trees along riverine and wetlands and shoreline areas to a distance of 30 metres from the highest ever recorded flood level and six metres from boundaries and roads in order to restore and conserve the environment."

A section of the targeted farmers interviewed by The Smart Harvest said Nema and the county administration are being unrealistic.

Like many other farmers, Chunza believes the directive by Nema could derail forestation efforts being championed by the county and national governments.

Forest restoration

"If you cut eucalyptus trees in Vihiga you won't have any trees left. You will have gone against the same directive that we should have over 30 percent of tree cover in the next ten years," said Chunza.

To combat the devastating impacts of climate change in Kenya, President William Ruto announced that his government will plant 15 billion trees by 2032. The government directed that a long-term and sustainable solution be put in place to curb climate change but the directive has not been received well by some farmers.

They claimed that apart from offering a green cover, eucalyptus trees have many other uses ranging from firewood, building materials and electricity transmission poles. In Vihiga county, a mature eucalyptus tree costs between Sh4,500 and Sh10,000 depending on the size.

"I sell these trees to help me pay bills including school fees and other expenses. Uprooting them will be a big blow to me and many other people depending on them for economic gains," he lamented.

He argued that Vihiga does not have huge tracts of land to allow residents to adhere to 30 metres distance when planting trees. On his part, Solomon Onyango from Mbale said the directive is good because it will help conserve the environment.

"People have uprooted indigenous trees in preference of the blue gum trees, the negative effects are visible because some rivers have dried up in this county. I support the move by the county government," said Onyango.

Environmental experts including governor Ottichilo have been warning about the dangers associated with planting eucalyptus trees near wetlands. The trees consume a lot of water causing the water masses to dry up.

Vihiga County Environment Chief Officer Dr Richard Boiyo said the county will sensitise farmers on negative impact of eucalyptus trees before embarking on uprooting.

"We will ensure we implement that directive. Any eucalyptus trees within 30 metres from the riverbanks will be removed in order to preserve water sources," said Boiyo.

"We urge the people to comply with the directive and uproot the eucalyptus trees," said Boiyo.

The county has been encouraging farmers to grow indigenous trees that are friendly to the environment.

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