ALERT: Kenya may resettle IDPs
in tea belts encroaching on last forests
BY MAINA WARURU
Thursday 6 March 2008
Plans by the Kenya government to settle internally displaced
people (IDPs) in state owned tea belts next to the country’s main
natural forests are raising fears of a major environmental
Environmentalists fear that the move if implemented will impact
negatively on two of the country’s main forests, the Aberdares and
Mt Kenya, which are the main sources of water in the Kenya.
The forests being tropical in nature are also seen as major carbon
sink and sieve for purifying air beyond the country, besides
hosting some of the richest flora and fauna on the continent.
These forests are hosting a wide variety of wildlife with two game
reserves and are a major magnet for rains in the Kenyan highlands
of central Kenya, which supplies most of the food to the country.
Confidential government reports indicate that authorities here
plan to settle thousands of displaced members of the Kikuyu
community on the slopes of the two forests currently covered by
thousands of hectares of state owned tea plantations called the
Nyayo Tea Zones, established by former president Arap Moi in the
Those to be settled there, include - according to leaks - those
that have vowed never to move back to the rift valley where they
were evicted by Kalenjin militias and those whose homes are too
close to those of their rivals to the extent that their safety
cannot be guaranteed.
Thousands who left their ancestral homes in central Kenya in the
early 1920s have vowed never to return to the rift valley, saying
that recurrent tribal clashes every five years since 1991 were too
But being densely populated, the Kikuyu dominated region in
central Kenya has hardly any land left for the settlement of such
families, which is why informed sources speak of the decision by
the Kibaki government to settle the families on the tea zones
located on the edges of the two remaining large forests.
The tea belts, however, must be seen as an important buffer
between peasants and the all important forests preventing
unhindered access to the forests by locals, who usually engage in
disastrous activities such as illegal logging and killing of
Conservationists are blaming the Kibaki government of taking
environmental issues lightly, of failing to tackle the ghost of
the Kenya land question directly and not confronting the political
crisis gripping the country by not providing a sustainable
solution to the question of thousands of displaced Kikuyu.
They reason that the tea belts ringing the two forest reserves
would after all not accommodate every displaced in need of land,
but would basically be a death knell for the precious resource.
Furthermore, they argue, that local communities who have lived
next to the forest reserves then may as well want a share of the
land, to which they had never access since the colonial days, and
further conflict may arise.
The tea zones, environmentalists argue have the effect of stopping
the erosion of the fertile red soil of the central Kenya highlands
and also serve to sustain the forests as critical water catchments.
“The way out of this IDP question lies in a political settlement
to the current stalemate and a critical look at the way Kenya has
shared out her wealth, resources and power amongst her people”
says 2004 Nobel laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai.
“ Half measures will only give a temporary settlement to the land
question in Kenya, a radical and deliberate review of our
constitution would be a help to settle the whole question of land
tenure and ownership in Kenya” she adds.
The mere thought that IDPs be settled on forest edges is raising
serious concerns in many.
“The whole idea is misguided and a cruel sentence to our forest
reserves, these people will have unlimited access to natural
forests in pursuit of dwindling resources” said Joseph Kanyanya of
Kenya Forest Working Group.
“ It would be condemning the forests to death, people will be
cutting down trees for building material and firewood while at the
same they will start hunting wildlife for meat - we will be
finished “ he emphasizes.
The two forests still hold many indigenous trees - hundreds of
years of age - including the precious Meru Oak and Camphor - both
highly valued for their quality wood in furniture making and
Illegal felling of these two precious forest tree species forced
the government many times with support of donors to spend millions
of dollars in protecting the species for posterity.
Kenya’s now improving elephant numbers would also be at risk from
poachers in pursuit of quick riches for ivory.
The country’s biggest river Tan that flows all the way to the
Indian ocean has Mt Kenya as it’s source and feeds two dams in
lower Tana that produce half of the country’s electricity power.
Moreover Tana river supports thousands of acres of irrigation
schemes in Tana River District not to mention the many small users
of her water resources up stream .
In total no less than three rivers have their source in Mt Kenya
that supply water to millions in Central and Eastern Kenya regions.
The case is the same for the Aberdares valued as the only water
source for the capital Nairobi.
The settlement of IDPs near these forests would only worsen
matters, since even growers of Bangh (cannabis sativa) have
targeted them in the past, destroying thousands of hectares and
forcing authorities to put them under armed patrols of the Kenya
Wildlife Service guards .
Charity bodies have spent billions putting a near 1,000 km long
electric fence around the Aberdares to secure the forests from
poachers and other encroachment.
The Kibaki government has promised to resettle more than 350,000
IDPs who are victims of the post election violence and rebuild
their burnt houses as well.
(editing: Ecoterra Intl.)