Kenya’s natural resources play a critical role in not only helping Kenya achieve her goals but also in meeting some of the international protocols and obligations. Environment PS Margaret Mwakima outlines to the Star the steps her ministry is taking to make natural resources sustainable.
Rampant deforestation has hurt water catchment areas. What is your ministry doing about it, and can a 10 per cent constitutional forest cover be achieved?
In the past, cases of degradation to water catchment areas occurred in various parts of the country, mainly due to forestland being given out for human settlement, as opposed to its core function of watershed conservation. Other causes of degradation included human encroachment, forest fires, illegal logging, overgrazing and charcoal burning.
However, in 2005, new legislation was enacted in the National Assembly that increased stakeholder participation in managing forest resources, as it was evident that the then forest department could not single-handedly manage this resource. These included forest-adjacent communities, the private sector and other stakeholders.
The act also created the Kenya Forest Service, a semi-autonomous corporation managed by a board of directors. A major departure from the past scenario was on approval. Under the act, no forestland can be given out for any other use, unless with approval by resolution of the National Assembly after the proposal has been subjected to public consultation and an Environmental Impact Assessment carried out.
Through involving communities and other stakeholders, key achievements have been made in restoring degraded indigenous forests, particularly in the five water towers — Mt Kenya, Aberdares, Mt Elgon, Mau Forest complex and Cherangany — as well as in other, smaller water towers. This has led to restoration and protection of about 850,000 hectares that had been degraded.
Increased surveillance of forest areas has been enhanced through recruitment of additional rangers to the current workforce of 2,700 forest rangers to help monitor illegal activities in forest ecosystems.
The service has also enlisted the services of community forest scouts to supplement the forest rangers. In addition, the ministry, through KFS, has evicted forest squatters who had illegally encroached on forestland, whereby over 120,000 hectares of forestland has been recovered.
With the enactment of the Forest Conservation and Management Act no 34 of 2016 that became operational on March 31, 2017, the service has a wider mandate to oversee management of all forest types of forests in Kenya in collaboration with county governments.
The service has prepared and rolled out the transition implementation plans, transferring some of the forestry functions to the county governments.
Other measures taken to curb forest destruction include streamlining forest produce licensing procedures through subsidiary legislations and community participation in forest management through signing forest management agreements, among others.
As concerns achievement of 10 per cent forest cover, the ministry is committed to attaining the target by 2030. The cover is currently 7.2 per cent, and through the KFS, the ministry has initiated partnerships with county governments, other agencies, stakeholders and development partners to realise this goal.
Reports indicate that most forests will be fenced to prevent encroachments. What is the progress so far?
The idea of fencing some of the key hotspot forest reserves was initiated to protect the ecological integrity of these ecosystems by virtue of them being key water catchment and biological diversity hotspots.
Forest ecosystems fenced include the Aberdares (440km), Mt Kenya (Ragati 14 Km), Naromoru-Gathiuru (14km), Karandi-Nyana hill (10km), Nanyuki-Kabaru forest (75km), Chehe-Kangaita castle (50km), Chuka-Chogoria-Ruthumbi (40km), Meru (20km) and Mau complex at Eburu (55km).
The initiative to fence the forests was conceived by Kenya Wildlife Service, Rhino Ark charitable trust, KFS and forest-adjacent communities to minimise human-wildlife conflict and illegal forest activities.
The limiting factor has been lack of funds, but this is programmed to be extended to all key ecosystems in future.
What are the benefits realised after fencing?
These include reduced human-wildlife conflicts, increased food security, increased land value adjacent to the forests, elimination of forest encroachment and illegal activities, such as logging and charcoal burning.
It has also controlled grazing, reduced fire outbreaks and increased water availability.
How has the school greening programme helped the government as it struggles to achieve 10 per cent forest cover?
The primary objective of the school greening programme was to promote green economy initiatives in schools and help inculcate the culture of tree growing and care for the environment in the youth.
The school-greening programme was also meant to demonstrate best practices on tree growing in schools and to adjacent communities, while contributing to increasing the national forest cover. The programme targeted to reach all public primary schools.
The school greening component had six intervention areas identified for implementation as a package for each school. These are water harvesting for tree nursery and woodlots establishments, tree nursery infrastructure establishments using standardised designs, capacity building for schools and tree nursery and woodlots protection.
To date, 105 schools nationwide have benefitted from this programme.
Some of the key issues arising are provision of school greening programme in planning and budgeting process, enhanced stakeholder collaboration and participation, particularly with county governments.
The other one is mobilisation of adequate funds to support large-scale programme implementation.
Can the Bonn challenge of planting 5.1 million hectares of degraded forests as committed to by the government be achieved, and if so, when?
In recognition of its international obligations to global climate change goals, the government has committed 5.1 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscape for restoration by 2030, as its contribution to the Bonn challenge and New York declaration of forests.
This ambitious project will be achieved through forest and landscape restoration process that seek to regain ecological integrity and enhance livelihoods in the deforested and degraded landscapes.
The process will involve afforestation and reforestation programmes, rehabilitation of degraded forest areas, farm forestry and commercial forestry development, establishment of buffers along rivers, roads and wetlands, and restoration of grasslands.
The success of these efforts will strongly depend on close collaboration of multiple actors, including government ministries, county governments, NGOs, communities and the private sector.
Have you identified areas where all these trees will be planted?
We have identified and mapped them out, and strategies are now being developed.
Major transport corridors like the standard gauge railway have a potential of 100,000 hectares, major water ways have 50,000 hectares and forested areas have a potential of 150,000 hectares.
Climate change is now being felt far and wide, with lakes such as Lake Kenyatta drying up. Going forward, what needs to be done?
Climate change is a reality and presents real threats to the survival of mankind. In the Kenyan context, it's manifested through the expanding of malaria zones, drying up of streams and river floods in western Kenya, Coast and North Eastern regions, and increased frequency of droughts.
Overall, the projected impacts of unmitigated climate change will have significant impacts on human livelihoods, health, water resources, agricultural production and food security.
Kenya has committed itself to contribute effectively to global climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, including a renewed resolve to conserve all available carbon store houses and enhancing its forest carbon stocks.
The country has already signed the Paris Agreement and will shortly be submitting its nationally determined contribution to global climate change efforts.
At the national level, a climate change act and policy have been enacted to guide and strengthen country efforts in mitigation and adaptation responses.
The National Climate Change Response Strategy 2010, the National Climate Change Action Plan, and the Green Growth Strategy and Low Carbon Climate Resilient Development strategy have been developed to guide efforts towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathway.
The Forest Act 2016 has been enacted to further strengthen the country’s response to protect forested landscapes and provide opportunities for increasing forest cover, in line with national development aspirations.
The plan ahead is for an elaborate programme that invests heavily in strengthening our community resilience to the changing climate. These investments will include massive forest protection and afforestation programmes, water harvesting and conservation, climate-smart agriculture, establishment of solar and other renewable energy sources and energy conservation.
There were plans to plant trees at the refugee’s camp once they are repatriated back to their home country. Is that still the case?
The ministry, in collaboration with stakeholders, has been involved in tree planting within refugee camps in the country. With envisaged repatriation of the refugees, the ministry, in collaboration with relevant county governments and stakeholders, will continue with the afforestation programme to rehabilitate these areas, which have undergone serious degradation.
Do you plan to plant drought-resistant trees in arid and semi-arid areas to increase forest cover?
The arid and semiarid areas cover 80 per cent of Kenya’s total land surface and hold 25 per cent of human population. They are unique in nature and require special attention to strengthen not only the economic base of the inhabitants but also the national economy.
They also offer the greatest potential for intensified afforestation towards achieving the objective of 10 per cent forest cover. The dry lands of Kenya are unique in nature and require special attention. Although frequently stressed by drought, they are rich in biodiversity and have the potential to supply marketable commodities on a sustainable basis, such as gums and resins, aloe, charcoal, essential oils, silk, edible oil, fruits, honey and timber.
The ministry is raising awareness on tree-growing among communities, promoting production of seedlings by farmers, and purchasing and providing seedlings to pro-active farmers in ASAL areas.
We are also undertaking demonstrations on how to plant and maintain trees with farmers, mobilising and engaging communities and tree planting for charcoal production producer associations.
We are also promoting efficient-energy utilisation technologies for conservation of planted trees, as well as promoting commercial tree planting.
The ministry is also supporting tree-based enterprise projects for farmers, such as woodlots establishments.
The Ogiek community in the Mau Forest complex won a landmark land rights case last month. What have you decided as a ministry?
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights gave them 60 days to indicate which of their rights have been violated. They will now deposit with the court violations that they feel needed addressed before seeking compensation, which may be in form of house damage, resettlement or even relocation. We will wait for the attorney general to advise on the way forward after they deposit their claims.
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