Loggers Capitalise on Violence
in North Rift to Venture Into Forests
The Nation (Nairobi)
13 February 2008
Forests in parts of North Rift region have not escaped the effects
of political unrest occasioned by the December 27 disputed
presidential election results.
Lumberjacks took advantage of the post-election violence to
venture into Government forests in Keiyo, Marakwet, Uasin Gishu,
Baringo, Nandi North and South districts. Some forests were set on
fire and hundreds of hectares were destroyed.
Baringo district commissioner Hassan Fara says the Government lost
more than Sh2 million in the last two weeks of violence through
illegal logging and burning of public forests.
Area district forestry officer Daniel Too says illegal loggers
took advantage of the violence to invade Katimok forest and cut
down the endangered sandalwood trees, among other species.
Security in the forests was also compromised as some staff fled
from their stations fearing for their lives.
"Staff, among them forest guards, have not reported to their
stations after they were issued with death threats. This has left
most public forests vulnerable to illegal loggers who have been
indiscriminately harvesting trees," said Mr Too.
He said the loggers had also been cashing in on the rising prices
of timber and wood products due to shortage caused by the
Government ban on logging in public forests.
The Government banned logging six year ago to check against the
destruction of forests and ensure water catchment areas are
conserved. In Keiyo District, arsonists set on fire 60 hectares of
Benon forest and harvested trees in Kaptagat, Msekegwa and Sabor
Keiyo forestry officer Martin Mamati says 13 staff houses were
torched at Benon forest station when the violence broke out. "We
cannot quantify losses incurred as vital documents were lost when
the attackers burnt down the forest office," said Mr Mamati.
The attackers also raided the Kenya Forest Service headquarters in
the district and stole seven power saws that had been impounded by
the forest guards during crackdown on illegal logging.
A suspect was, however, arrested by the police and the matter is
District commissioner Peter Kinuthia said a joint operation
between the provincial administration and the police has been
launched to crack down on illegal loggers.
"We are involving the local communities in the conservation
efforts. It is the only way to contain illegal logging activities
and boost forest cover in the area," said Mr Kinuthia. He
disclosed that five loggers were arrested and had since been
arraigned in court and three of them fined. The other two were
released after the court found them to be underage.
Public forests in Marakwet District were neither spared, with
destruction being reported in Kapcherop and Embobut forests. But
the district forestry officer, Mr Denis Keringo, downplayed the
extent of the destruction. "The district recorded minimal forest
destruction during the violence period. Our security personnel
were on high alert and the locals have been at the forefront in
environmental conservation measures, including protection of
public forests," said Mr Keringo.
Incidents of forest destruction were also reported in Uasin Gishu,
Trans Nzoia, Nandi North and South districts. But unlike other
parts of the region, the damage was minimal. However, there are
fears that illegal loggers would invade the public forest unless
the insecurity is contained.
The ban on logging in public forests had made the prices of timber
products and plywood to increase fourfold. Constructors and
carpenters have appealed to the Government to consider lifting the
ban. Suspend construction work
"We are losing business. The cost of timber and other wood
products is too high, forcing us to suspend most of our
construction work," said Mr David Langat, a constructor in Eldoret
Town. They want the Government to take inventory of all public
forests in the country with a view to allowing some sawmillers to
resume harvesting in sections where trees are densely populated.
"The Government should come up with a clear policy on forestry
conservation instead of imposing a selective ban on lumbering
activities," said Mr Langat.
The Government exempted Webuye-based Pan African Paper Mills and
Rai Plywood from the ban. The two harvest trees in most public
forests in the North Rift region.