Indeed, the health of our forests is our wealth. This is a fact that should never be lost on the 45 million Kenyans as we protect the forests that are approximately 7.2 per cent of Kenya’s land cover. As an environmentalist, concerted government and citizenry efforts that have underpinned this growth inspire me.
Among these efforts was the gazettement of an additional forest area of 239,628 hectares. In addition, the Government continues to recover illegally acquired forestland and stepping up community involvement in forest management.
The sustainable management of our forests should always be a non-partisan issue because the environment is not a respecter of parties. Forests that are managed sustainably will gift the entire society in the same way that deforestation will harm the entire society. According to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Kenya’s official Forestry sector employs 50,000 people directly and 600,000 indirectly.
Our forests are our wealth because in providing employment of 600,000 Kenyans, they ensure the well-being of the millions who depend on them. But more than that, our forests provide all the forty-five million Kenyans with water through the water towers that are distributed across the country. Indeed, it is because of that 7.2 per cent forest cover that we are able to access water in our taps and thrive in agriculture.
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Diverse and sustainable
We can create even more jobs and make more money from our forests if we increase our forest cover. Whereas reaching Costa Rica’s forest cover of more than fifty percent may be a challenge, we must aim for the recommended ten percent forest cover. This will leave us not just with the priceless ecosystem services that forests provide, but also with a deep mine of forest wealth to tap into.
Timber is often viewed as the primary way of making money from forests. But this is not the case since there are a lot more diverse and sustainable ways of making money from our forests. This was evidenced in a forest account report released last year by the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR) and the country’s Ministry of the Environment and Energy.
The report revealed that forests contribute about 2 per cent to Costa Rica’s economy, which was more than previously assumed. It further noted that, ‘viewing forests as a resource allows an appreciation of their value beyond simply being an input for the timber industry.’
Non-timber Forest Products like medicinal and culinary herbs offer direct access to green money. We need therefore to unveil a comprehensive inventory of such products so that we exploit their full economic potential. In addition, forests across the country should be consistently promoted as part of the country’s vibrant ecotourism and education circuit.
Apart from raising revenue as often happens at Karura Forest, this will ensure that Kenyans become intimately acquainted with our forests and the inherent wealth in them. We have no option but to think and act Green!
— The writer is the founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation www.isaackalua.com