In Kenya forest degradation has increased over time due to unsustainable human activities resulting in reduced forest cover, says the Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, Mr John Michuki.
Mr Michuki says degradation is caused by the adverse effects of climate change. “This has slowly transformed some high potential areas into medium potential and previous Arid and Semi Arid Areas (ASALs) into deserts.”
Although the internationally recommended level of forest cover is 10 percent of the territorial surface of any country, “the forest cover in Kenya is barely 2 percent, falling far below the required level,” he says.
The minister says that the country is missing the gains that comes with the right proportion of forest cover. “Forests play a very major role in regulating climatic conditions and in the provision of many environmental services necessary for economic growth at micro and macro levels,” Mr Michuki explains.
In Kenya over 88 percent of the country’s surface area comprises of arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) with fragile ecosystems. As a result, only a small percentage of the country receives adequate rainfall to support crop production. This has led food security in the country to become volatile.
However, the Minister imparted some good news regarding Kenya’s forests: “Kenya is gifted with five major forest catchment areas. These are the Mau Forest Complex, Aberdares, Mt. Kenya, Mt. Elgon and the Cherangani hills.”
He further explains: “Kenya’s forests provide the following ecosystem services: they trap and store rain water; regulate river flows and prevent flooding; help recharge ground-water tables; improve soil fertility; reduce soil erosion and sediment loads in river water; help regulate local climate conditions; and act as carbon reservoirs and sinks.”
Mr Michuki stressed that citizens need to understand the linkages between human survival and the protection of the environment. “The forests canopy breaks the force of the rain drops allowing water to penetrate and recharge the underground reservoir and reduce soil erosion. Forest catchments are sources for many rivers and springs that provide water for both domestic and industrial use.”
On addressing climate change related disasters, the Minister proclaimed “we should move towards putting mitigation measures in place rather than focusing on adaptation ones.” The example given was the case of repeated flooding in Budalangi and the Nyando River in Westen Kenya. “It would remove societal miseries if mitigation measures are put in place to address this menace,” he contended.
The Ministry for Environment and Mineral Resources is highlighting the urgent need to conserve forests and increase the forest cover through reforestation and rehabilitation. “There are deliberate efforts by Government to enhance forest cover across all catchment areas. It is possible to assist the Government in the reforestation and increasing the forest cover so as to attain the 10 percent afforestation of its land cover,” the minister says.
According to Mr Michuki, rehabilitation work is at varying stages with the Ministry partnering with several stakeholders in tree planting activities often using the Kazi Kwa Vijana (Youths) Programme. “These include Ministry of Forestry & Wildlife through Kenya Forestry Service and Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Army, private sector and civil society organizations,” he recounted.
Other efforts have been directed to repossess encroached gazetted forest land. The Government is in the process of demarcating forest boundaries to prevent future encroachments. The Ministry for Environment and Mineral Resources has issued, through National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), an order against grazing in forests so as to reduce forest destruction and promote natural regeneration.
Some regions in the country, such as Kangema in Central Province, are taking a lead in the removal of eucalyptus trees from river riparian areas and wetlands. “There is overwhelming evidence that these trees contribute to drying up of water sources as the region has lost many rivers, streams and springs over the years,” he says, asserting that many permanent rivers have reduced water volumes while others have become seasonal.
It on this premise that the Ministry has advised against planting the eucalyptus trees in water sources and catchments in order to safeguard against water loss. “For instance,” Mr Michuki says “in Kangema we have all noticed the recovery of rivers which had previously dried up as a result of the removal of the trees from riparian areas.”
He further describes how concerted efforts between Government and the private sector have ensured the completion of an electric fence around the Aberdares forest. “This has greatly reduced human/wildlife conflicts which had persisted for decades as a result of elephants invading farms and causing massive crop damage and occasionally resulting in loss of human life. The fencing of the forest has enhanced its recovery. Although extremely expensive, fencing is an effective intervention with immediate positive results.”
The ever increasing demand on wood fuel puts immense pressure on forests, he points out, saying: “There is need to identify alternative energy sources especially for domestic use in order to ease this pressure on this natural resource. Some of the alternative energy sources include solar and wind as well as use of energy saving stoves.”
According to the minister, biogas production is also another option that favors small scale farmers especially those involved in zero grazing. “Available technology has shown that two animals under zero grazing can produce adequate biogas to meet the heating and lighting needs of a single household. My Ministry will therefore endeavour to create capacity on these alternative energy sources in order to safeguard forests,” he asserts.
The Minister underlines that the future of Kenya rests on the conservation of forests: “Increased forest cover will increase carbon sinks and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change which are manifest to all of us.”
He suggested that farmers could enhance tree cover by setting aside woodlots in their farms to create favorable conditions for tea planting and growing. He encourages Kenyan farmers to plant indigenous trees on farm boundaries with the same spirit and objective of increasing tree cover.
“We are working closely with relevant arms of Government to pass policies that will task every farm to set aside 10 percent of land for trees so as to increase forest cover. This will create a collective positive impact for the environment. Other policies will ensure all permanent houses are fitted with roof catchment technologies to harvest rain water,” says the minister.
He points out that this has proven possible with the Schools Greening Programme. “We have assisted several schools to harvest rain water through the provision of roof catchment facilities and water tanks for storage.”
Mr Michuki disclosed that the availability of water in schools has enabled the learning institutions to plant tree seedlings and nurture them to maturity. The Ministry intends to continue with these programmes in partnership with the Ministry of Education.
“The New Constitution has given the environment prominence and made the provision of a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental human right. This calls for concerted efforts by all of us to deliver this right to all Kenyans,” Mr Michuki says.