News 2008


Farmers turn to commercial forestry after logging ban


Publication Date: 1/15/2008

Farmers are turning to commercial forestry to earn a living following shortage of timber and tree products across the country. The ban on logging has also been a major driving force.

Workers load logs onto a lorry. Photos/FILE

Excision of government forests in 1990s contributed to the shortage since the felled trees were hardly replaced.

The Kenya Forest Service Act which came into force in 2005 promotes farm forestry. The Act is aimed to support farmers to plant trees to protect gazetted forests.

Thus, the Kenya forestry sector is in the process of revival, attempting to overcome the various problems confronting it.

Although forests play an important role in the livelihood of the people by providing a variety of goods and services, there has been inadequate attention to take advantage of opportunities aimed at sustaining them.

A government report says a master plan was prepared in 1991-1994 to guide development of forestry for 25 years. But it was not fully implemented.

Conserve environment

The report further adds that considering the current social and economic situation, development of forestry should focus on poverty alleviation and environmental conservation.

The most significant contributions is in the energy sector, supply for domestic and industrial processes, provision of timber for construction and trees for regulation of water flow.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of Kenya’s population uses biomas energy while developers in urban areas rely on hydro-energy.

Experts have called for diversification of farmers’ income in line with policies aimed at environmental conservation.

The main activities targeted in the programme are farmers’ training, production of seedlings, management, marketing and processing of forest products.

Industrial forest

The scheme, which covers 55 districts, also focuses on catchment protection and rehabilitation of degraded sites.

According to reports from the Kenya Forest Service, industrial forest plantations programme was a core task.

This is in line with the mission of the service “to develop, manage, conserve and protect forest, trees and resources sustainable for socio-economic development”.

The report indicates that industrial forest plantation in the country dates back to the 1910s.

The Government initiated this programme on realisation that natural forests in the country could not sustainably supply the industrial round wood requirements.

Rising demand for industrial wood led to the introduction of soft wood species on trial in 1920.

By 1946, the annual planting programme had nearly doubled from 800 hectares to 1,540 hectares.

Around 1976, the total plantation area had reached 143,120 hectares with annual reforestation of 6,000 hectares.

The acreage under industrial plantation steadily rose to 165,000 hectares by 1988 before dropping to 120,000 by 1999.

The decline was attributed to excision of forest land for resettlement in the 1990s.

Demand for wood

Consumption of industrial wood according to the survey, had risen from about 330,0000m3 annually in 1955 to over 1,000,000 m3 by 1997.

Mr Jacob Mwanduka, the chief executive officer of the Friends of Mau Watershed, says demand for wood keeps on rising. He notes that the price of timber has also increased four times since 2002 and the trend seems to continue as the demand outstrips supply.

The conservationist suggests the planting of quick maturing trees such as gum to reduce the deficit.

Gum trees, he says, have been used for poles by both the Kenya Power and Lighting and Telkom.

It is estimated that the power company required about 450,000 poles last year for rural electrification.

He says his organisation has been educating farmers on harvesting and planting of trees.

But he points out that unlike other crops such wheat, maize and beans, the trees take long to mature.

“This is a long term investment which can even take more than 30 years although there are trees which take shorter period to mature,” he says.

The lobby was behind the formation of the Gum Growers Group whose main purpose was to promote commercial forestry.

The group believes that commercial forestry would expand in the private sector once the Government tackles some challenges.

The chairman of the group, Mr Richard Muir, says until 1990s, mature plantations in Government forest were felled without reforestation.

“With the excision of Government forest, land available for plantations has been severely reduced and with the rising demand and the increasing population, will not be able , even if it was well managed, to meet the country’s needs for timber, poles and associated products” the official observes.

The lobby recommends that all permits issued by the Government on the cutting of trees be abolished.

They also argue that the National Environment Management Authority should have no authority over planting and harvesting of the trees.

It also proposes that proceeds from the sale of the trees should be exempted from tax.

Further, the group wants the Government to allow farmers to sell mature trees by public auction.

Mr Muir also asks the Government to lease out its forests to the private sector.