Public forest plantations cover 150,000 ha and comprise six per cent of Kenya’s 2.49 million Ha. gazetted forest estate.
They are comprised of cypress, pine, and eucalyptus exotic tree species. Management of plantations is provided for in the Forest Conservation and Management Act no. 34 of 2016 under sections 43, 44, 45, 47, 57, 59, and 60. Plantation forests have a rotation period (economic life cycle) of 25-30 years for pines and cypress and 15-20 years for eucalyptus depending on the product.
The lifting of the ban on logging in gazetted public plantation forests was informed by an inventory of forest plantations which was undertaken by a Multi–Agency Taskforce between 2020 to 2022, which revealed 26,000 Ha of mature and over–mature forest plantation stocks. These materials, if not removed, would eventually die and rot with the attendant colossal loss in revenue, which would otherwise be used in the restoration of degraded public forest areas.
By resuming logging operations, the government seeks to create job opportunities, spur economic growth in rural areas, and improve the livelihoods of millions of individuals and communities that depend on forests. The Multi–Agency Taskforce also oversaw the e-registration of saw millers, leading to the prequalification of applicants into various categories based on respective capacities.
Forest–adjacent communities, as social fences and friends of forests, have been incorporated into the plantation forest harvesting arrangements to ensure they also draw significant benefits.
While the licensees harvest the tree, the licensees are only allowed to take away the main log, while the community takes away the tops and branches for domestic fuel wood or sale as firewood. The communities are also allowed to farm in areas where trees have been harvested as part of plantation establishment programme. Besides, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) engages CFAs in seedling production, planting, weeding and silvicultural operations that include pruning and thinning.
KFS uses felling plans that define the ‘allowable cutting levels’. The principle of allowable cut dictates that the number of trees to be removed annually should be equal to the number of trees to be planted annually. This is achieved through the implementation of the felling and work plans as well as other forest management protocols.
The government has only authorised the harvesting of 5,000 hectares. This is in compliance with the guidance from the Auditor General, as well as, the established sustainable harvesting and replanting capacity of KFS. It also enables forest-adjacent communities to engage in non-residential food production as they assist in the re-establishment of plantation-tree crops.
All payments to KFS have been automated to ensure compliance with government tax regulations. All payments must be made before the licensee embarks on harvesting. A detailed harvesting security plan on access, control, and supervision of actual harvesting, and reporting is now in place. As part of the plan, an Entry Certificate is presented to the Forest Station Manager before the removal of any plantation forest material.
During the felling process, the Forest Manager has responsibility to ensure that licensees adhere to the provisions of his/her licence. Upon completion of the felling activity, the Forest Manager issues an Exit Certificate as evidence of compliance with the harvesting protocol. As part of the chain of custody, the Forest Manager marks each harvested log before it exits the forest. The mark is specific to the station where the logs have been harvested.
Execution of penalties in case of flouting these protocols are swift and punitive to all parties that may be involved, including KFS officials who fail to enforce established procedures. Public forest plantations supply 31.4 million cubic metresof timber annually, while the demand for timber in the country is 47 million cubic metres. By enabling plantation forest harvesting, the government aims to meet the growing demand for timber while ensuring sustainable practices are in place.
-Ms Soipan is Environment, Climate Change and Forestry Cabinet Secretary