The government has to change tack and encourage more trees outside of gazetted forests if 10 per cent forest cover is to be achieved in the next 15 years.
The latest status report on all Kenyan forests, released last week by the Kenya Water Towers agency, says the total gazetted forest cover is less than 3.5 per cent of Kenya and nearly all of that area is already forested.
The agency says all forests, including those on private land, now cover 6.99 per cent of the country.
However, Vision 2030 of the country projects Kenya should have a cover of 10 per cent. In 2009, then Environment Cabinet Secretary had suggested one way of achieving the forest cover was to require every Kenyan to put 10 per cent of their land under trees.
"Noting that such forest formations are on private land and will be managed under a regime of owners desired goal, forest cover dynamics are expected to be shaped by processes of clear cutting from time to time to meet developmental needs of an expanding population other consideration like water, and biodiversity conservation and climate change not withstanding," the report says.
In 1990, country's cover was 4,670,866 hectares while in 2000 it reduced to 3,492,358 hectares. That rose to 4,137,701 hectares in 2010.
The report says at the current snail pace increase of forest cover, Kenya will miss universal access to water by 2030, as envisioned by the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report says Kenya loses Sh6 billion annually due to deforestation, and that 70 per cent of the county’s water supply is at risk, which may lead to diseases.
Wildlife, which is Kenya’s main tourist attraction, is not spared as the report says 90 per cent of Kenya’s wild game is located in threatened ecosystems.
Kenya's main water towers include Mount Elgon, Cherengani, Mount Kenya, Aberdares and the Mau Complex.
Fourteen other water towers have also been gazetted.
The Kenya Water Towers Agency is mandated to manage more than 18 water towers.
The report says that the loss of catchment lands in forests such as Mau, Mount Kenya and Marmanet have already led to reduced water flows in most streams, leading to conflicts over water.
Catchment land recovery has seen 24 per cent of land lost in Mau complex recovered, boundaries of eight forest blocks surveyed and voluntary surrender of 44 title deeds for 1,250 hectares, the report notes.
The report further says 17,000 hectares of catchment land has been restored and rehabilitated and 97 kilometres of riparian reserves restored.
It adds that the overwhelming threats facing water towers are encroachment, excisions, illegal settlements and illegal forest resource extraction as well as climate change.
"There is room now for actions and activities that would not only alleviate the threats, but also turn these into a cause to transform Kenya's ecological balance," the reports.
Other challenges the water towers face are conflicting policies, narrow sectoral management approaches, systemic and structural challenges, weak law enforcement and poor governance.
The report says the degradation of catchment areas especially in Maasai Mau and Enoosupukia have had serious environmental consequences on river flow particularly Ewaso Ngiro South.
“Water catchment land degradation has also been observed in the east of Rift valley, specifically Marmanet water tower,” the report says, noting that water flow in Ewaso Ngiro has reduced.
The status report focused on four regions: Central, Rift valley, Eastern and Western.
It was released by Environment Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu in Nairobi.
KWTA board chairman Isaac Kalua blamed politicians for the wanton destruction of forests saying this will deny Kenyans water.
“Challenges we have are political in nature I will say without fear and contradiction, let us allow scientific process to take place,” he said.
Kalua said the destruction of key water towers to appease voters could dash efforts to ensure universal access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.
“In Mau, if it were not for politics, we would not have a wide road inside the forest with trees being cleared,” Kalua said.
Currently, Kenya has 400 cubic metres of fresh water per person every year.
However, the United Nations recommends 1,000 cubic metres per person per year.
Kalua said buffer zones are being created deep inside forests “just to satisfy individuals to get votes”.
He said the continued destruction of forests by people has disturbed the ecosystems that give Kenya's biodiversity its distinct and diverse character.
Kenya Wildlife Service chairman Richard Leakey accused the ministry of tendering a contract to have two reservoirs erected inside the Nairobi National Park without consultation as well as a study.
“We need to conserve as not doing is criminal negligence to our generation,” Leakey said.
The report values Aberdare water catchment area at Sh56.520 billion while that of Mau is estimated at Sh110.512 billion respectively.
The ministry said it has rehabilitated a total of 784,258.8 hectares of degraded natural forests in five major towers during 2014/2015 financial year.
Prof Wakhungu said 3490.3 hectares of commercial forest plantations were established in that year.
She adds that 51 tree nurseries were also established in primary schools under the school greening programme. Through this, her ministry promoted the production of 30,600,555 tree seedlings for planting, she said.
"The ministry gazetted 22 new forest blocks covering a total area of 239,628.41 hectares and acquired 75 titles of forest blocks for enhanced protections," Prof Wakhungu said.
According to the CS, the ministry supported the establishment of 1771.75 hectares of commercial wood lots on farms and at the same time, 724 kilometers of forest roads were maintained to improve forest surveillance.