Diverse forest ecosystems vital for conservation, climate checks

A settelment near Iyale forest, Taita hills, in Taita Taveta County. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Kenya's forest ecosystems range from montane rainforests, savannah woodlands, dry forests, coastal forests, and mangroves.

While forests are crucial in providing basic human needs and habitat for wildlife, biodiversity, and soil conservation, forests are also key in regulating water flows and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

From a climate change perspective, forests are known to be among the most effective sinks of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. They also enhance landscape resilience to climate change.

By 2018, the forest sector was estimated to contribute about Sh7 billion to the economy and employs more than 50,000 people directly and another 300,000 indirectly.

In addition, sustainable forest management promotes social resilience through diversification of revenue sources and product supplies, and capacity building of the relevant institutions. Forests are also known to play a key role in wind arresting.

The continued depletion of the country's forests can however result in water insecurity. This is not a new phenomenon as the degradation of Kenyan forests has been experienced before.

According to previous reports, between 2000 and 2010, the country lost 50,000ha of its water towers, translating to a depletion rate of about 5,000ha per annum.

A 2018 task force report on forests showed that encroachment and destruction of state and community forests have depleted some forests that currently exist only on paper.

The report titled 'Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya' cited forests, including Kitalale, Manzoni and Matuma blocks of Turbo that are decimated yet on paper they remain as gazetted forests.

Olpusimoru forest reserve totalled more than 20,000ha but has since been sub-divided, settled upon and titles issued to owners while Enoosopukia forest has lost 98 per cent of its original forest cover of 7,941ha in the 1980s to 183ha.

Marmanet forest which was initially 30,488ha in 1990 has reduced by more than 40 per cent of its entire forest cover by 2010.

Kitalale forest occupied 1,860ha while Manzoni and Mautuma blocks of Turbo orest occupied 2,862ha.

The report further says the Mau forest complex is hardest hit by forest excisions, illegal settlements, and intense illegal abstraction of forest resources.

"The Mau Forests Complex has been particularly hard hit by forest excisions, illegal settlements, and intense illegal abstraction of forests resources," the report said.

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