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Forests and Forest Cover in Kenya

Kenya is lightly forested with about 1.7 per cent of forest cover but with an additional 27 per cent of other wooded land cover.

The majority of closed forests are upland broad-leaved forests of either semi-deciduous or evergreen type. The largest areas of upland forests occur on the main mountains – Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon and the Aberdare range.

About 6 per cent of forests are protected in national parks, sanctuaries and reseiyes. Forested areas are widely
distributed within Central, Coast, Rift Valley and Eastern provinces.

Rift Valley has the highest forest cover estimated at 47 per cent. The forests are the source 0f raw material used in wood and wood product industries.

Kenya has a wide range of forests, from coastal through central high mountain to the thick and wet rainforests of the west.  They support more than just a diverse range of tree and plant species; they are also the territory of a wide range of wildlife, from rare chameleons to elephant herds, elusive leopards to colourful butterflies, monkey families and prolific birdlife.

In Kenya the forest sector plays vital roles in the livelihood of the population through the provision of invaluable goods and services. The most significant contribution is in energy supply for domestic and industrial processes, provision of timber for construction and trees for regulation of water flow.

lt is estimated that 80 per cent of the population uses biomass energy, while urban development and hydro energy rely heavily on water. Forests will continue to provide essential goods and services such as timber, poles, fuel-wood, food, medicines, fodder and other non-wood forest products.

Forest resources and forestry development activities contribute significantly to the economy by supplying raw materials for industrial use and creating employment. As important as forests are to the national economy, their development and management are hampered by several factors: Inadequate financial resources.

In addition, rising population exerts pressure on forest resources. This is witnessed in illegal logging, illegal charcoal making and encroachment for agriculture and settlement. These challenges have undermined Government efforts in forest management.

Internationally, Kenya is considered a low forest cover country as it has less than 10 per cent of total land area classified as forest. The Government has put in place measures to significantly increase the area under forest cover with the aim of attaining at least 10 per cent within the next decade.

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To attain this, the Government will promote farm forestry, intensify dryland forest management, involve the private sector in the management of industrial plantations and promote community participation in forest management and conservation.

Role of forests and trees in Kenya

Trees are the lungs of the environment. They take much of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen through photosynthesis. Therefore, the greenhouse gas load is reduced and effects of global warming are also brought down. Dead trees that are buried in the soil eventually provide fossil fuels like coal and gasoline products.

Trees have an indisputable role in bringing rain to earth. Moreover, they provide a cover over the top surface of earth, preventing excessive heating up by solar rays. Forests provide not only environmental protection, but also significant income and livelihood options for more than one billion forest-dependent people. They also provide a wide range of products (timber, fruit, medicine, beverages and fodder) and services (carbon
sequestration, shade, beautification, erosion control and soil fertility). Without trees human life would be unsustainable.

Forests also play an important cultural, spiritual and recreational role in many societies. In some, they are integral to the definition and survival of indigenous and traditional cultures. Forests and trees are symbolically important in most of the major religions. Trees symbolise historical continuity, link the earth and heavens and, to many traditions, are home to good and bad spirits, and the souls of ancestors.

Forests offer recreational opportunities and spiritual solace. They are powerful symbols, a physical expression of  life, growth and vigour to urban, rural and forest dwellers alike. Medicinal products from trees help to cure diseases and increase fertility. Trees preside over community discussions and marriages. They are planted at the birth of a child and at burial sites.

Trees are the unsung heroes of our environment. They add value to homes, and help cool them and neighbourhood. Local authorities often plant trees along city and town streets. City trees serve architectural and engineering functions. They provide privacy, emphasise and screen out objectionable views. City trees  also reduce glare and reflection.

Trees and shrubs improve air quality. Leaves filter the air and remove dust and other particles. Rain then washes the pollutants to the ground. Leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the air to form carbohydrates that are used in the plant’s structure and function. Leaves also absorb other air pollutants – ozone, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide – and give off oxygen.

Reclaiming Kenya’s forests

The dependence on forest resources, especially by the rural citizenry has increased over the years. With the expanding population, the demand for forest goods has gone up and this has led to reduction in the forest cover. Kenya has a forest cover of 1.7 per cent, far below the globally recommended minimum of 10 per cent.

The management of forest resources faces several challenges. The main one, however, is the conversion of forestland into agriculture and settlement. This has jeopardised efforts to conserve forests and maintain major water towers. Environmental conservation calls for collective responsibility and commitment. Kenya is a signatory to multilateral enviromnental agreements and this should strengthen the country’s resolve to live up to the commitments.

Fires that ravage forests, especially the Mau Forest Complex and other water towers, are a major setback to reforestation efforts and the catchment functions of the forests. Kenyans are committed to conservation and protection of the country’s natural resources. This is why leaders, the private sector and citizens have in recent years organised tree-planting drives.

Direct forest values in Kenya

It is estimated that forest products and services contribute about Sh7 billion ($87.5 million) to the economy and directly employs 50,000 people and 300,000 indirectly. The timber industry alone is estimated to have investments of more than Sh44 billion ($550 million). In addition, more than 530,000 households within a 5km radius from forest reserves depend on forests for cultivation, grazing, fishing, fuel wood, honey, herbal medicine, water and other benehts.

Gazetted forests contribute 80 per cent of timher, 93 per cent of poles and posts and 25 per cent of fuel wood requirements. The value of the 24 million cubic metres of fuel wood materials sourced from farmlands is estimated at Sh 4.8 billion ($60 million).

Among the many handicraft activities, woodcarving forms the most important component in Kenya. Research shows that the industry has about 80,000 wood carvers. Overall, the industry supports more than eight million people with a turn over of about Shl.5 billion ($18.75 million) a year.

The wood sector in Kenya can broadly be divided into two categories: Wood and wood products; paper and pulp products. Wood is an important fuel source in Kenya.

The forest industry uses coniferous and non-coniferous species. Moderate volumes of sawn timber, wood panels, pulp and paper are produced, almost entirely for domestic consumption.

ln saw milling, millers combine timber production and manufacturing of furniture and joinery. Likewise, smaller factories combine the manufacture of furniture and joinery products. Many firms belong to small or informal sector. Secondary wood processing in Kenya is not developed to the full potential for world export. About 15 companies operate in the paper and pulp industry, but only one is licensed to process paper directly from trees and wood – Webuye Paper Mills. Other leading millers are Madhupaper and Kenya Paper Mills. The rest use waste paper as raw material. The other flourishing business is woodcarving, principally for the tourist market.

Kenya exports various wood products – cork, wood carving, paper and wattle bark extract among others – to Sudan, DR Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Western Sahara. Others are Israel, Italy, England, Belgium, Norway and China.

Indirect values of forests in Kenya

They include catchment protection values ofwatershed forests and carbon sequestration. A reduction in forest cover implies an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an increase in greenhouse effect.

The  carbon capacity of tropical forests has been estimated at 144 tonnes of carbon a hectare for above ground biomass and 66 tonnes for soil and below ground biomass.

The total forest area (2.3 million hectares) has a capacity to sell 483 million tonnes of carbon equivalent in proto carbon credits at $20 a tonne. This translates to Sh7 7 billion ($962.5 million)

Optional Values of forests in Kenya

This is the value that people put on conserving forests, which would be forgone  if they were destroyed. This can best be valued in terms of budgetary costs of managing forests, about Sh860 million ($ 10.75) a year.

Laws on forests in Kenya

Forest Act

The 2005 legislation was a turning point in the way forest resources are managed. lt provides for the establishment, development and management of forest resources for the country’s socio-economic development.

This is because forests stabilise soils and ground water, support reliable agricultural activity, protect water catchments and moderate climate by absorbing greenhouse gases.

Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (Cap 316)

It was adopted in 1970, but since then eight amendments and revisions have been done. The Act provides for the process of forest gazetting and de-gazetting, which requires parliamentary approval so the heightened level of decisionmaking and legitimacy of the whole process ensures no grabbing of protected areas.

Agriculture Act (tap 318)

lt promotes soil and water conservation and prevents the destruction ofvegetation. lt addresses the biggest threat to forest conservation – short-term shifting cultivation or the slash/burn agriculture, the main force behind forest degradation Under the Act, the Minister can prohibit, regulate, control clearing of land for cultivation, grazing or watering of livestock. Enforcement of the Act has been the biggest problem especially on protection of riverbanks.

Antiques and Monuments Act (Cap 215)

It has been used for gazettement of areas of historical importance and threatened heritage. The Kayas at the Coast have been protected under this law. Forest management decisions depend on the elders, while other
management decisions are vested with National Museums of Kenya.

Local Government Act (Cap 265)

lt empowers county councils to make by-laws to control cutting of timber, destruction of trees and shrubs and afforestation. lt also authorises local authorities to control bush fires, quarrying for minerals, sand, gravel, clay or stones. The Act is applicable in trust lands where resource exploitation needs control.

Fires have been listed as major threat to our forests so an opportunity is available for engaging communities in fire fighting and control.

Fisheries Act (tap 318)

It regulates trout fishing in forests and protects breeding areas and is relevant to mangrove management at the Coast.

International conventions

The Convention on Biological Diversity Ramsar Convention on wetlands of international importance. Kenya signed it in 1990.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. it was signed in 1979 and protects endangered fauna and flora. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Kenya signed and ratified it on August 30, 1994.

T’he UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Kenya signed it in 1994 and ratified in 1997.

Forest reduction and afforestation in Kenya

Kenya is naturally endowed with a collection of forests ranging from coastal forests, central High Mountain forests to the thick wet rainforests found in the Western parts of the country. This forest cover has been rapidly declining at about 0.3 per cent, due to population pressure, wood fuel, building materials and prioritization of other land uses. In the 1990s, Kenya had a forest cover of about two per cent and that area was still dwindling. By 2006 the closed canopy forest cover was only 1.7 per cent.

Kenya Forest Service says Kenya needs to plant over 384 million tree seedlings to meet the international recommended forest landmass cover of 10 per cent. Kenya has five main forest areas namely Mt Kenya, the Aberdare ranges, the Mau complex, Mt Elgon and the Cherangani hills. Destruction of indigenous forests increased between the 2000 and 2003, especially in the Mau Complex. The Mt Kenya forest was, however, regenerating during the same period. The Aberdare Ranges, Cherangani and Mt Elgon though not depleted in the period 2000 to 2005, did not regenerate.

In the chilly shadows of the Aberdare Ranges in central Kenya lies a tiny lake – Lake Ol Bolossat, the only lake in the region, which is the source of the Ewaso Narok River, which flows silently underground towards the Lorian Swamp before emerging and tumbling down the 75 meters (256 feet) Thomson Falls into the boulder strewn gorge below. It eventually joins the Tana River flowing east into the Indian Ocean. Lake Ol Bolossat has been declared an Important Bird Area which will assist in conservation efforts of this Wetland.

Most of the other lakes in Kenya are found on the floor of the Rift Valley. They include Lakes Turkana, Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementaita, Naivasha and Magadi.

There have been serious reforestations efforts since 2005, led by both civil society and the government. The government evicted all illegal occupants of gazetted forests in Kenya starting With the Mau complex and Marmanet Forests in 2008. Earlier evictions in 2004/2005 had not made significant improvement of the forest cover.

Organisations like the Greenbelt Movement whose founder the late Prof Wangari Muta Maathai won a Nobel Prize for contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace, have also been instrumental in Kenya’s reforestation efforts for more than three decades.

Due to these efforts, the area of Kenya covered by forests has risen from a low of 1.7 per cent in 2000 to 6.09 per cent in 2010. This is still below the target of 10 per cent recommended by the United Nations.

Moi’s forest conservation efforts

President Daniel arap Moi early in his presidency was an ardent supporter of forestation and many remember his efforts to protect the environment by personally taking part is gabion building to prevent soil erosion and tree planting at almost every public occasion. One of the most famous efforts was in Machakos in 1979, when he made cabinet Ministers, parliamentarians and the Attorney-General build gabions for over three hours.

He had indicated that assessing the performance of chiefs, district officers and district commissioners would include environmental conservation. This Was in support of what he often referred to as government-led environmental conservation campaigns. In 1986, the government banned cutting of indigenous trees.

For more than a decade, President Moi exercised strong leadership in Kenyan and African environmental issues, particularly in the fields of soil preservation, reforestation, national parks and sustainable rural development. He was also an ardent supporter of international cooperation to protect the ozone layer and to put in measures to guard the World against climate change.


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