Timber dealers now cry foul over logging permits

Logs at a yard that were harvested from a forest in Central Kenya in July 2023. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

A section of saw millers in Kakamega, Bungoma and Vihiga counties are crying foul over alleged bias in the allocation of forest trees.

The complaints come barely two weeks after President William Ruto announced the government’s decision to lift a ban on logging in forests across the country.

Saw millers, timber yard dealers and some carpenters in the region have claimed that outsiders are benefitting from the decision to lift a logging ban at their expense.

Joyce Shimanyula, the owner of Shilongo timber yard, one of the biggest timber yard depots in the county alleged bribery and nepotism in acquiring permits to harvest timber and trees from the forests.

“I am one of the biggest dealers around but it is unfortunate that I cannot get a permit to harvest timber even after applying for the permit four times without success until the application window period elapsed," said Shimanyula.

Ms Shimanyula said she is forced to buy timber from middlemen from outside the country at exorbitant prices.

“It hurts when I buy timber from people from Central and Rift Valley regions who have been allowed to harvest trees in Kakamega Forest yet we are the ones who have conserved it. I thought we would have been given first priority on the basis of being locals,” argued Shimanyula.

She said she has been paying Sh2,700 to Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to be allowed to transport timber from Kakamega Forest in Shinyalu area to Kakamega town which is barely 11 kilometres.

“I am the leading saw miller in this region but I could not secure a permit to harvest the trees, issuance of the permits is shrouded in secrecy,” said Ms Shimanyula.

Eliud Wawire, another timber dealer regretted that saw millers from other regions are currently harvesting trees in Kakamega and Bunyala forests at the expense of the local saw millers.

“I know a timber dealer who paid Sh1.5m to be allowed to harvest trees just before the president lifted the ban but has been asked to make a fresh application for the same but ended up not being considered,” he said.

Wawire said the price of timber is yet to come down despite lifting of the ban.

“We are still buying and selling timber at a higher price; the issue is the brokers and middlemen who do not operate within our region are exploiting us because they know we have no option,” he said.

“At the moment we do not have pines and cyprus timber and we are forced to import from Uganda where prices are relatively lower compared to what we are buying from private tree owners," he added.

Western Regional Commissioner Irungu Macharia said they have intensified patrols in Kakamega and Mt Elgon forests to ensure only licenced millers harvest exotic trees.

“President Ruto is an environmentalist and when he lifted the ban on logging, he did not mean people to misuse the order. That is why we are protecting the indigenous trees and allowing only those who have permits to harvest exotic trees,” said Macharia.

“We are working closely with KFS to ensure government forests are jealously protected and that is why we have recruited more scouts and officers to restore order in our forests. We are watching individuals encroaching on forest land and practicing illegal cultivation,” he added.