News 2008


Loggers Capitalise on Violence in North Rift to Venture Into Forests

The Nation (Nairobi)

13 February 2008

Barnabas Bii


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.

Forests vulnerable

"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 forests.

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 under investigations.

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.