Environmentalists have warned that reintroduction of the outlawed shamba system will deplete the already deteriorated forests.
Addressing mourners during the burial of Baringo deputy governor Charles Kipng’ok, on Saturday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua announced that the government will allow Kenyans to cultivate the forests to increase food production in the country.
Green Thinking Action Party leader, Dr Isaac Kalua, said Sunday the DP’s proposal - which he termed a matter of grave concern to the country, was not well-informed and could have serious repercussions if implemented.
“We welcome and appreciate governments’ efforts to increase food production and this can be done through smart agriculture. We have 80 per cent of land in Kenya available for various activities and for us to succeed, we do not have to introduce crops into our forests which only cover 10 per cent,” said Dr Kalua.
Dr Kalua said the proposal could be exploited by communities and outsiders moving into communities near forests for commercial agriculture.
“As leaders, every statement we make needs to be backed up by proper research, professional approach and communicated in a way that Kenyans may not mistake it to be an opportunity to abuse our country,” he said.
Dr Kalua explained that the lucrative nature of agriculture in forests has in the past seen people deliberately hinder the growth of tree seedlings either by adding salt to the soil or uprooting the seedlings immediately after they have been planted.
“I have witnessed areas of Kabaru in Mt Kenya where the shamba system cannot work. When the government plants trees, the community comes back to uproot them and return them so that it looks like the tree is not growing, which is not the case. In Mau, for example, they add salt so that the trees don’t grow,” he said.
Instead of opening the forests, Dr Kalua, urged the government to fence them to allow the regeneration of water towers.
“The grave food insecurity that we are experiencing in some parts of Kenya is caused by climate change but not because of involvement of shamba system or lack of it. We need to focus on the big issue,” he said.
In the 1980s and 90s, farmers were encouraged to cultivate primary crops like maize, bananas, beans, and cassava on previously cleared public forest land on the condition that they replant trees.
The shamba system was adopted in a bid to establish a symbiotic relationship, where the farmers have land to till and plant short-term crops, while at the same time, planting trees and they would leave the land once the trees grow.
During her tenure as assistant minister for Environment and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the late Prof Wangari Maathai said the shamba system had been abused by some farmers who corruptly turned large sections of indigenous forests into farmlands.
“We cannot sacrifice indigenous forests at the expense of exotic plantations. Plantations represent a monoculture of trees, but the forest is an ecology system,” Prof Maathai said.
Nominated MP John Mbadi said what farmers need is empowerment and lowered costs of agricultural production.
The announcement by Gachagua came after President William Ruto laid bare the severity of the climate change crisis in the world and called the need to revert the effects.