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Forestry CS revokes licences to uproot baobab trees for export

 Cabinet Secretary (CS) for the Environment and Forestry, Roselinda Soipan Tuya after swearing in at State House on October 27, 2022. [File, Standard]

Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry Soipan Tuya has revoked licenses and permits that allowed a private company to uproot baobab trees for export.

Tuya rescinded the decision by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and National Environment Management Agency (Nema) to facilitate uprooting of eight baobab trees by Ariba SeaWeed International in Mtondia and Tezo in Kilifi County for export to Georgia in the US for botanical purposes.

"I am in possession of a letter from Nema cancelling the EIA license that they used to uproot the said trees. Consequently, I have, with immediate effect; instructed KFS to cancel the Movement Permit that allowed for the transportation of the baobab trees, pending a comprehensive assessment of this case," said Tuya.

Her statement came after President William Ruto directed the ministry to investigate the uprooting exercise of the trees saying that it must it conform to the existing regulations including the Convention on Biodiversity and the Nagoya Protocol.

President Ruto also noted that the program must benefit Kenyans as well as be in line with the country's agenda of planting 15 billion trees in the next 10 years.

"There must be adequate authorisation and an equitable benefit-sharing formula for Kenyans. Further, the exercise must be in line with the Government's agenda of planting 15 billion trees in the next 10 years," said Ruto.

KFS gave the company the permit to cut the baobab trees for export on November 1 on assertion that the baobab is not a protected tree species in Kenya.

The forest service gave the greenlight following Nema's approval through an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report.

In her statement, the CS said that the private company and communities in Kilifi entered into an agreement to uproot eight Baobab trees for export from Tezo location in Kilifi County to Georgia.

The company consequently applied for an access permit from Nema on October 28, 2022 and before it could acquire the permit, it went ahead and started uprooting the said trees, irregularly.

"Seemingly undeterred, the private company obtained a Nema EIA license, irregularly issued by the County Director of Environment in Kilifi Count," said Tuya.

According to the CS, Kenya is a signatory to the international Convention on Biodiversity (1994) as well as the Nagoya Protocol to the CBD.

The Convention for Biodiversity advocates for conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of components and fair and equitable use of the benefits arising from genetic resources.

The CS noted that baobab trees are unique species and part of Kenya's natural heritage protected under the Constitution. She said that the process of uprooting the trees needed adequate authorisation and a clear and transparent benefit sharing formula for the community.

"Administrative action will be taken against government officers within the ministries' agencies that did not follow due process. I have consulted the Transport Cabinet Secretary, and we have agreed that the trees should not be exported until the agreements between the parties are properly regularised."

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