excisions in Kenya could in the near future convert the country
into a desert.
reveal gloom as authorities flounder on their cardinal
responsibilities to conserve the remaining forests in the country.
Today there’s hue
and cry over wanton destruction of forestland around Mt. Kenya and
the Mau forest to the West of the country, both Key Water
Catchments areas, known to anchor the livelihoods of millions of
The scenario is
chilling given that it is mainly due to poor forest cover that
Kenya has only less than 25% of its land arable and agriculturally
productive. The rest is arid and semi-arid. And with the poor
development of irrigation agriculture, the country’s almost 30
million strong population is precariously tied to dependance on
this freeble rainfed agriculture.
Known so far is
that the country has 9,116 km2 of forest reserves and 24,067 km2
National Parks too under forest cover. Of this, indigenous forests
cover 2.1%, Plantation forest 3%, Woodland 3.7%, Bush land 42.9%
while Wooded Grassland covers 18.5% of the total area of Kenya.
Magrove covers 1%, grassland covers 2.1%.
desert is 13.7% of the total area while farmland and urban
development covers 16.5%. But the desert threatens to expand due
to the chain of excisions for human settlement and widespread
legalized and illegal timber logging and processing.
Real forested land
with closed canopies cover only 2% of Kenya and are found in the
central highlands, the Nyarica plateau and other isolated areas to
the west of Nairobi. 106 hectares, which is 88% of the canopy
forestland, is indigenous forests. It is this natural forest whose
extinction spells doom for much of the country as it is found on
fertile agricultural soils, which many want to convert to farming
and do not replace them.
under forest reserves is 1.64 million hectares with indigenous
forests occupying 64:63% of the land. Plantation forests occupy
0.16 million hectares only 9.7% while non-forests vegetations in
the reserves take some 0.42 million hectares (25.61%).
Forest reserves on
government land are under the management of the forest department
while for long, those on trust land are managed by local
Apart from the
current hullabaloo over the planned excision of some 2,000 acres
of Mt. Kenya forest to resettle 1,088 squatters in Meru District
who are being transferred from Nyayo Settlement in the area, the
story of excisions and forest alienation across the country dates
back to pre-independence days.
For decades it has
been known that Wood poachers (Loggers), forest officials and
protected politicians have been competing to harvest trees in
forests across the country for conversion to personal commercial
This has gone on
with very limited checks despite the fact that the forests are
under state protection and management by the Kenya Wildlife
Service (KWS) and the forest department. It has been noted in the
past that when transferring Management responsibilities from the
forest department to the KWS, modalities take long and often have
created room for forest destruction by poachers and encroachers
who even start illegal settlements.
From experiences in
the juxtaposed management around the Mt. Kenya forest, it has been
noted that the forest department is better placed to manage forest
in the country than the KWS. That the KWS is not prepared for
effective management yet the powers that be prefer to entrust it
with the task than the Forest Department.
that the forestry department generates hundreds of millions of
shillings annually for the treasury, but little is ploughed back
for operations and capacity building like patrols, enforcement and
replanting. For instance, most vehicles in forest stations have
been grounded for over a decade with foresters and guards
conducting patrols on foot.
To the west of the
Country, gloom too engulfs the future of the vital Mt. Elgon
forest. The forest, which is a great source of water for the
highly productive Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Lugari and North Rift
areas, is fast loosing great chunks of vital indigenous forests
around Chepyuk, Kitalale and Chiptoro areas which are now replaced
with Maize Plantations.
An earlier report
by a local NGO: the Mt. Elgon Integrated Conservations and
Development estimated that the local community have illegally
excised over 5000 hectares of Chepyuk forest, over 2000 hectares
of Kitalale forest all which they’d turned into farms and that
hundreds of acres in Kaboywo forest had been cleared and converted
to cultivation of wheat.
The crisis around
Mt.Elgon, has for long generated hot disagreements between
administrators, politicians and local communities. A key timber
processing company Raiply has variously featured in the feuds.
The destruction of
trees in this forest has seen the near extinction of 300 years old
various tree species and the greatly valued Elgon Teak. Forest
guards are feared to be top culprits for colluding with illegal
loggers in felling and transportation of trees. These collusions
and conspiracies to destroy trees has also involved chiefs and
villagers thus making forests management difficult.
Another top forest
crisis is facing the Mau forests. There have been recent plans to
degazette almost 60,000 hectares of the Mau forest complex. Of
these, 43,000 hectares were to be from the South West Mau forest
while the other over 13,000 hectares were to be from east Mau
According to the
NGO: Forest Action Group, the degazettement would provide the
biggest chunk of land to be excised in any single year anywhere in
The destruction of
the Mau forest complex could generate a calamity of enormous
proportions. The forest complex forms the upper catchments of key
water sources notably rivers: Sondu, Mara (for Maasai Mara
National Reserve), Yala, Nzoia, Nyando, Kerio and Victoria and
Natron among others. It is worth noting that lake Natron to the
main breeding site for the over 2 million flamingoes found in the
The same forest
complex also comprises the entire catchments area of lake Nakuru
the famous home to the largest population of flamingoes in the
World and which is also recognized internationally as an important
Westland’s for Water fowl and is listed as a Ramsarsite.
past national census reveal that waters flowing from the Mau
complex passes through over 500 sub-locations, where an estimated
5 million (today) people live. Covering 320, hectares which is 25%
of the remaining forest reserves in the country, the complex
waters serves western Kenya highlands, lakes Turkana, Victoria,
Baringo, Natron and top tourist attractions.
big debate in Kenya and disagreements over where the real causes
of forest destruction lies. There are those blaming the government
and those blaming land seekers among the general public
neighbouring the key forests.
However, much of
the let ups are rooted in constitutional mistakes. The country’s
Forest Act, Cap 385 of 1962 (revised in 1982 and l992) is the one
guiding the handling of forests in Kenya. It is this Act that
needs to be "reformed".
Under section 15 of
the Act, the minister in charge has power to make, rules with
respect to sale and disposal of forest products; use and
occupation of land; licensing and entry into forests. The forest
rules set forth rules for the sale of forest produce and specifies
royalty rates for these products.
(General) Order rules were last updated in July 1998. Under them,
Community utilization of forests for subsistence are included
under "Miscellaneous Forest Products" which include fuel
wood, grazing and medicinal plants, among others. Though these
products can be exploited by acquiring a permit from the local
foresters to a point of becoming a liability.
Section 4 of the
Act allows for the degazettement of forest reserves. Under it the
minister may from time to time by notice in the gazette, declare
any unalienated government land to be a forest area; declare the
boundaries of a forest and from time to time alter those
boundaries and declare that a forest area shall cease to be a
forest area. A 28 days notice is to be published by the minister
before a declaration is made.
It is indeed with
these sweeping powers in Section 4 that the government has kept
defying protests by environmentalists, and from time to time
authorizes widespread excisions for flimsy excuses including human
logging, quarrying and leaseholds in forest reserves are acquired
through licensing with the approval from the Divisional Forest
Licensing Committee, the District and Provincial Environment
Committees upto the ministry level.
All the above have
only proved to be avenues for extortion and other forms of
corruption by the officers charged with dishing out the selective
permissions to exploit forest resources. For it, forests continue
to be destroyed with abandon.
What is worrying
most is the fact that re-afforestation is almost non-existent.
Only the Pan African Paper Mills (Pan-paper) one of the two
leading licensed tree exploiters, appear to have aforestation
programmes. The rest just exploits and disappear leaving behind
barren land, defiled and exposed to the vagaries of the weather,
including erosion and subsequent desertification.
afforestation drives which had been invigorated by the head of
state himself in the 1980s and championed by the politicians and
administrators in the Motto: "Ukikata Mti Mmoja, Panda
Mbili’, are long forgotten. No new tree nurseries are in
place, save for isolated ones run by individual seedlings vendors
and other commercial and research concerns.
initiative to zone off forests using rings of Tea plantation that
was started in the 1980’s under the Nyayo Tea Zones banners, has
come a cropper only after two decades. Today it has crumbled and
may never be revived; neither can it be made sustainable.
The other problem
contributing to deforestation is mining. It is covered in the
mining Act Cap. 306 of 1940 (revised 1987). According to the Act,
with the approval of the minister, mining can be allowed in both
gazetted and non-gazetted forest areas. Here, there is no legal
requirement for the re-afforestation of the abandoned mining area.
For example, quarrying has been going on in many forests with the
best example being in Oloolua forest reserve, and protests from
adjacent communities have been overlooked. Even intervening court
orders have been hard to enforce.
The other havoc is
caused by human settlement. An estimated 3 million Kenyans
accounting for approximately 530,000 households live within 5kms
of closed canopy forest areas, and depend on forests to provide
both wood and non-wood products, including medicinal plants, honey,
thatching grass and fodder.
communities are known to live in abject poverty. This is not
conducive to forest conservation as it is known that poverty and
environmental concerns are intertwined and need simultaneous
Legal and illegal
logging by well-connected people has driven some communities
living adjacent to forests into rebellion. They have encroached on
forests arguing that the benefits from the forests accrue more to
"outsiders" through a licensing process that edits them
In all this one
clearly sees the development of a vicious circle of factors, which
build up to devour the remaining forest cover.
Excision of forests
and encroachments continue to be a source of concern.
Environmentalists and keen observers fear that Kenyans are setting
and sitting on a time bomb that will explode in time with severe