Thursday, January 16, 2003
How Govt destroyed our forests
By WAMUGUNDA GETERIA
In the 1960s, undergraduates in
Canada, Britain and Nigeria – where many of Kenya’s foresters
were trained – were often referred to our forests as examples of
Kenya’s Forest Policy Statement
of 1968 was a model for most undergraduate studies. Our Shamba
System was rated superior to the slash-and-burn systems of
afforestation practised in many tropical countries. Ours was
described as a modern form of agroforestry.
Fast-growing trees of enormous
industrial benefits were being cultivated by peasants who fed
well, lived well and produced surplus food for sale.
Out of only 170,000 hectares of
plantation wood, we were able to meet the nation’s needs in
timber, paper, plywood, chipboards, softboards, hardboards,
blockboards and many other industrial forestry products.
We also produced for the export
market. We were the darling of donors and our forestry development
The environmental wave that swept
the world in the 1970s began affecting Kenya in the early 1980s.
It began with everyone giving prescriptions on environmental care,
which slowly reached the higher levels of Government and was
translated into policy statements.
Ill-conceived or dead wrong
Thus the 1980s and early 1990s were
characterised by bans on many forest activities. Bamboo cutting
was banned, as was charcoal burning. Indigenous forest timber
logging was the next casualty followed closely by a ban on
harvesting exotic trees. Then followed sawmills in forests and
even forest villages.
The muhugu tree, so useful
for wood carvings, was not spared and even felling trees in
peasant shambas had to be authorised by chiefs. Police impounded
timber in transit and charcoal was regarded as contraband.
On the face of it, these
environmental strictures appeared well- meaning. But most were
ill-conceived and some dead wrong. They had serious silvicultural,
social, economic and conservation flaws that have now led to
wanton destruction of forests.
A forest estate that the whole
world commended for its capacity to supply Kenyans with all the
wood products they needed can no longer do this.
What foresters call Malaysian
Selection Systems have successfully been used in tropical forestry
management for millennia. They simply involve the harvesting of
mature trees and vegetation from forests.
Merchantable girth limits and other
growth indices are set to determine what is to be harvested. This
activity frees space for saplings to grow.
If done properly, natural forests
provide spatula, piping material, tooth picks, baskets and hats
made from bamboo and scaffolding, as in India.
Similarly, mature camphor, Meru oak,
cedar, Elgon teak, muhugu and chrolophora are cut and the
people get furniture, veneer, wooden carvings – and employment,
ready cash and foreign exchange – at no risk to water and soil
What is required is a sober
approach guided by Environmental Protection Assessments [EPAs],
not political demagoguery.
Ban charcoal, if you must, but then
provide paraffin, as is done in Burkina Faso. Our country, with
unparalleled tree growth rates, can do better with firewood
cropping and efficient charcoal kilns.
It is true that our Shamba System
had its faults, particularly when some populations in forest
villages became too large, cultivation areas dwindled and farmers
started encroaching on steep erodible areas.
We listened to forestry heresy
Demand and grazing licensing that
outstripped the carrying capacities of certain forests, was the
other area of concern.
However, Nepal, with far more
rugged and hilly land than ours, conducts its khejri – a
form of shamba system – using terracing, contour banking and
other elementary soil conservation methods.
The Philippines provides proper
titles to forest dwellers and fertilisers for food and trees.
The irony in our case is that we
host the headquarters of ICRAF, a world NGO which conducts
research into agro-forestry.
Most of the world’s examples on
how trees, people, food, cash crops, livestock, fish, bees and
wild animals coexist on the same land parcel are available.
Yet we went ahead and listened to
forestry heresy that peasant farmers, sawmills, forest villages,
forest plantations and literally all forest activities were to
cease from gazetted forests "to save the environment"!
In the 1990s plantation forestry in
Kenya actually collapsed forestry authority virtually died. It
soon became a free-for-all.
The Chief Conservator, who was
supposed to keep custody of and develop the forest estate, was
relegated to the duties of an automaton to be told what forest
licences to give and what areas of forest to hive off.
Using the Forest Act [Cap 385], he
destroyed all forests and forestry development. The forest
villages were no more. So were the large saw-milling concerns that
had hitherto employed large numbers of people.
The food that fed the towns was all
gone and squatters littered the forest boundaries.
Like vultures waiting for carrion,
an administrative machinery was set up which, within 10 years, saw
the destruction of most forest cover.
Officialdom justified this by
saying that, since forests had matured, they had to be felled.
Logging licences were given to many undeserving people, instead of
those in wood conservation industries.
In the meantime, the sawmillers,
plywood millers and even the only pulp-miller in the country
experienced untold wood shortages.
The most illogical arguments
All hell broke loose when the Moi
Government reneged on all its promises to preserve gazetted
forests for future generations. Up to 160,000 acres were earmarked
for official excision.
In Karura and Ngong, political
loyalty was rewarded with large chunks of natural forests and
plans were made to develop residential estates, golf courses and
From Kitale in Trans Nzoia to
chunks of Mt Elgon forest and from the Mau range to Mt Kenya,
demarcations went ahead, with claims that the landless were at
long last going to receive land.
The most illogical arguments in
favour of turning Kenya into a desert were heard. But, fortunately,
we went into elections before the last nail was hammered into in
our forests' coffin.
A breach of trust had been executed
by a government. The lie was that agrarian reform should start
with dishing out fragile forest ecosystems to the landless,
destroying plantation forestry and the forestry profession.
Fortunately, all is not lost. An
aggressive reforestation programme is still possible, probably
using different approaches, such as giving well worked-out forest
management licences to individuals, companies or local communities.
Besides this, a forests recovery
programme should be set in motion – with the declaration that
professionalism and zero tolerance to corruption will henceforth
guide public service.
Link : http://www.nationaudio.com/News/DailyNation/16012003/Comment/Comment1601200310.html
The machinery of Mau forest
destruction - here a forwarder on its way from Eastern Mau.
Destruction Mau East ( Photo :
Simon Counsell )
Destruction of ogiek
landstreams ( Photo : Simon Counsell )