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Understanding issues affecting Kenya’s forest cover ahead of International Day

By Jackson Bambo | March 13th 2018
Environment Cabinet Secretary Tobiko (PHOTO: FILE)

NAIROBI, KENYA: In 2018, the International Day of Forests (IDF) will address the theme, 'Forests for sustainable cities,' and will focus on how forests and trees in urban areas regulate temperature and water flows, provide nutritious foods and shelter, cleanse the air and foster community cohesion and individual well-being, among other benefits.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed March 21 the International Day of Forests in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organise activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. The theme for each International Day of Forests is chosen by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests.

The journey to deforestation and diminishing forest cover in Kenya

According to the 2017 study report of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), it is estimated that about 795 million people worldwide go hungry every day. With the world population projected to exceed nine billion people by 2050, global agricultural output must expand by an estimated 60 percent to meet global food needs.

Yet, in many places, deforestation triggered by escalating demand for food, fibre and fuel is degrading ecosystems, diminishing water availability and limiting the collection of fuelwood. Natural forests are critical for the survival of forest-dwellers, including many indigenous peoples, and they help deliver clean water to agricultural lands by protecting catchments.

Kenya has continued to face the wrath of deforestation and forest degradation since independence. The effects of this are clear. Today, Kenya is among countries of the world with a forest cover of less than 10 percent of total land mass. But what are the factors, which have contributed to massive deforestation in Kenya?

Kenya’s rural population is concentrated in what are termed ‘high’ and ‘medium-potential’ agro-ecological zones in which rainfall levels are adequate to support agriculture. Predictably, these are also the places in which closed canopy forests, and the water towers are located.

In the same agro-ecological zones, population growth rates over the last four decades have been phenomenal and during the 70’s and even early 80’s, Kenya had one of the highest population growth rates in the world. The high population growth rate has interacted with other underlying drivers and the manifestation of that has taken the form of agricultural expansion, which is considered a major driver of forest cover loss in Kenya.

Based on earlier discussions at the national level, the principal drivers according to Kenya Forest Service study report 2010, were summarized in order of importance as clearance for agriculture that is linked to rural poverty and rapid population growth; unsustainable utilization (including timber harvesting, charcoal production, grazing in forests), and past governance and institutional failures in the forest sector. However, there was need to seek the views and opinions from various parts of the country and have a closer look at the possible underlying causes of deforestation.

Some of the causes

Over the years through population growth and the demand for cash crops to meet rural farmers unlimited needs, a significant portion of forest land area has been cleared to provide space for farming and living. This is pushed by the local administration who are at the forefront in allocation of these parcels of land to individuals who are not conservation minded thus leading to immense deforestation.

Politics cannot be ruled out and is a main factor that contributes to deforestation in Kenya. Our ‘polluted politics’ full of vested interested has seen a high level of destruction of our forests. For decades, politicians have used forest issues to gain political mileage at the expense of a suffering environment. They have allocated land to their allies either directly or indirectly in order to gain some political capital.

The agencies mandated with management of forests is understaffed and this impacts negatively on the patrols, monitoring and surveillance of forest areas. Human activities like logging, charcoal burning and encroachment of forest land continue to be carried out in areas where there is lack of forest guards and rangers.

Other causes are weak community participation in forest management, inadequate benefit sharing from forest resources (including revenue sharing), inadequate integration of the forest sector into the economy and national accounting, unclear tenure and access to forest resources through agricultural policies urging farmers to produce more cash crops for export, lack of inventory within County governments in order to understand the value of their forests, primary focus on gazetted forests leading to reduced attention on dry land woodlands and other types of forests including the coastal and riparian forests.  

Our stand

As Kenya Forests Working Group (KFWG), we do not support the government ban on logging as this goes against the principles of forest management and utilization. However, we recommend a raft of measures that includes fastrack implementation of the Forest (Conservation and Management) Act 2016 that include operationalisation of the tree planting week to increase the current forest cover from current 7.24 percent to 10 percent minimum forest cover required by UN, Develop Benefit Sharing Regulation and Operationalise Forests Conservation and Management Trust Fund.

Conduct country wide surveys to identify critical water catchment forests for demarcation, titling and gazettement and carrying out total economic valuation of all forest resources for planning and managements.

Increase financial allocation to enable Kenya Forest Service (KFS) develop sustainable Forest Management Plans and carry out nationwide recruitment of foresters and forest guards to man expansive forest areas and carry a country wide reshuffle of forest staff and forest guards to ensure enhanced enforcement and transparency.

Other key areas to be considered include forest resources management and Logging Taskforce should hold consultative forums with CSOs and Communities to enrich their report, train magistrates and Judges on the Forest (Conservation and Management) Act 2016 and especially on offences and convene a meeting of the National Climate Change Council to develop a work plan and allocate resources to County Governments on Climate Change issues.

Also enhance the capacity of communities on Mobile application monitoring of forest resources to cut costs on joint forest monitoring.

Jackson Bambo, National Coordinator, Kenya Forest Working Group (KFWG)

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