Environmental activists oppose Rachel Ruto's bid to adopt Kakamega forest

First Lady Mama Rachel Ruto planted a tree during the Kakamega forest tree planting exercise at Shikuse prison on June 8, 2023. [PCS, Standard]

Environmental activists are opposed to First Lady Rachel Ruto’s decision to adopt 200 hectares of Kakamega Forest land.

The Defenders Coalition is reading mischief in plans to adopt the forest and have it fenced in the guise of restoring the ecosystem.

Speaking at Kakamega Forest during tree planting, the group said that locals and Kenyans need more clarity on the adoption of the forest by the First Lady and renewed efforts to fence the forest ecosystem.

Last year the First Lady adopted about 500 acres of the forest and dismissed land-grabbing claims from a section of local politicians.

She would later clarify that adopting the forest land would guarantee her direct involvement in conserving it by planting more trees.

“We heard that our First Lady has adopted the forest, we need to know what are her intentions and what is she going to do with the forest. As an environmentalist and with the issue of climate change, I am starting to think maybe carbon trading could be her interest in adopting the forest which is dear to the community,” said Grace Oloo, environmental expert.

“As environmental activists, we want to look at this issue of adoption, whether it is a matter of going to Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and getting the go-ahead to adopt the forest. Can it be made more public and open to the community? The surrounding community benefits more from the forest by getting medicinal herbs and fruits, elders need to be consulted when adoption is happening to avoid things like secret mining of minerals and carbon trading,” she added.

Ms Oloo said there is a lot that needs to be done in a transparent manner before the adoption arrangement is concluded.

“We have the issue of carbon trading and exotic trees have a lot of value in terms of money. When doing carbon trading, we need to know how the community is going to benefit. We need a clear law that governs carbon trading so that people are sensitized to understand what is carbon trading before things get out of hand when they find out that part of the forest has been taken away from them,” she said.

Boniface Akath from the Peace and Justice Centre called for clarity on the issue to dispel fears by locals or communities living around forests.

“Yes we need to protect, conserve, and restore our forests against the effects of climate change by having deliberate measures like planting indigenous and fruit trees and we start getting more worried when we hear that the government is allowing the adoption of the forest. Does it mean that one is going to take care of our forests on our behalf and not as a collective responsibility?” Posed Oloo.

She opposed the ongoing fencing of the forest saying it could deny people and wild animals their freedom and incite the community against the efforts to conserve it.

“Human beings and animals depend on the forest for domestic purposes like food, medicinal herbs, and fruits, therefore, we do not need fencing because it amounts to restricting the freedom of animals and people, it should be stopped so that locals can take care of the forest through observing ecological justice,” said Oloo.

“Fencing will impact the ecosystem negatively because there are some animals that will be migrating and it might interfere with their movement, it will make the community feel like they are not part of the forest and compromise conservation efforts,” said Irene Aswaa from Ecological Justice.

The chairperson of the Environment and Climate Change committee at the Council of Governors (CoG) Wilbur Ottichilo said the carbon credit trading market standards are now being set to determine how one can participate in carbon trading.

“The field is not organised but laws and standards are being set, currently the global market price of one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) is $80 dollars but currently people are selling it at $40 dollars and that is why we need laws to regulate the market,” said Dr Ottichilo.

Kakamega county received Sh95 million recently to fence Kakamega forest from Safaricom and Mpesa Foundation which contributed Sh60 million while Kakamega and Vihiga counties contributed Sh25 million and Sh10 million respectively towards phase two of the project.

Governor Fernandes Barasa told The Standard that phase one of the forest fencing covered at least 15 kilometers out of the total 117 kilometers targeted and gobbled Sh25 million.

Phase two of the project is expected to kick off next month and will cover at least 35 kilometers with the remaining 68-kilometer stretch earmarked for fencing in phase three of the project.

Barasa said the project is meant to prevent encroachment and human activities on the forest land.  It will also help mitigate the effects of climate change.

By AFP 37 mins ago
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