As government roars, nobody knows extent of Kenya's forest cover

Men from the Sengwer community protest against their eviction from their ancestral lands in Embobut Forest, as part of the government's forest conservation efforts, April 19, 2016. /THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/KATY MIGIRO
Men from the Sengwer community protest against their eviction from their ancestral lands in Embobut Forest, as part of the government's forest conservation efforts, April 19, 2016. /THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/KATY MIGIRO

A key question as Kenya moves to protect its forests is the amount of land that is covered.

As the debate rages on,

it is unclear whether this stands at two, four or seven per cent but clear that the figure lies below the aspired 10 per cent.

Research shows that there is no institution, government or any other authority that can authoritatively give the exact figure of Kenya's forest cover.

Over the years, even government ministers have given varying indicators on whether the country is losing its forests or gaining cover.

But on Tuesday, Deputy President William Ruto

that will review forest management across the country.

"The ongoing focus on my 2022 presidential bid can be turned into a crusade of attaining 10 per cent forest cover by 2022. It will greatly help reclaim our forest cover," he said.

In 2016, two reports on the status of forests as at 2015 showed how complex answering the question of coverage has become, not only for Kenya but other countries in the world.


United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released the

with the title ''.

The same year,

Global Forest Watch (GFW),

an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests, reported that “”.

The two organisations presented varying sets of data on the status of Kenya's forests though FAO's data continues to be the key source for many including the World Bank.

According to the FAO, while Kenya has lost a large portion of its forest cover over the years, it gained a substantive

portion in the 10 years to 2015.

According to the 2015 report, Kenya had 4,413,000 hectares of forestland that year as compared to 4,047,000 hectares in 2005.

This is, however, slightly above 300,000 hectares less than the country had in 1990, when the total

forestland mass stood at 4,724,000 hectares.

It was a downward trend for Kenya between 1990, when forest cover

was 8.3 per cent of the total land mass, and 2000, when it dropped to 6.25 per cent.

According to FAO's data, also found in the , Kenya's forest cover rose from 6.25 per cent in 2000 to 7.6 per cent in 2015.


GFW, on the other hand, said that in




2.7 million hectares of tree cover - over

4.6 per cent

of the country's land area.

But it added that between






288,000 hectares of tree cover which it says was equal to

8.7 per cent

of the area's tree cover extent in


, GFW says that in 2016, Kenya lost 19,000 hectares of forest with


counties representing

53 per cent

of all tree cover.

Among counties,


has the largest tree cover -

243,000 hectares compared to a national counties average of

57,000 hectares, according to GFW.

Other top counties are

Lamu (212,000 hectares), Garissa (204,000), Nyeri (147,000), Kilifi

(140,000) and Meru (112,000).

The rest are Kericho (105,000 hectares), Bomet (97,700), Baringo (92,500) and



GFW says

10 Counties were responsible for more than half (69 per cent) of all tree cover loss between 2001 and 2016.

Narok also had the largest tree cover loss of 57,500 hectares compared to a country average of 6,120 hectares.

The other nine counties with the greatest losses were Nakuru (27,700 hectares), Kilifi (20,400), Lamu (17,900) and Kwale (15,400).

Others were Elgeyo-Marakwet (14,600 hectares), Kericho (12,900), Nandi (10,500), Uasin Gishu (10,500) and Baringo (10,300).

GFW also says that from 2001 to 2012,



100,000 hectares of tree cover

region-wide, equivalent to a

3.7 per cent

increase relative to the


tree cover extent.



agencies, including Kenya Forest Service, have also been giving different figures of the country's forest cover for a long time.

In 2013, then-Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa said an accurate figure of the forest cover is 6.6

per cent, not less than two per cent as had previously been


He said that this conclusion was reached following the use of

state-of-the-art GIS and Remote Sensing Laboratory by KFS and Kenya Forestry Research Institute in a survey conducted


In 2014,

that efforts by

Kenya Water Towers Agency have led to the increase of forest cover from 2.2 per cent to 6.69 per cent since 2009.

In its 2014-2017 strategic plan, KFS said Kenya's forest cover, at the time of the publication of the document, stood at approximately 6.99 per cent.

Last year, the immediate former Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said the.

Wakhungu said only 1.7 per cent of the land was covered by forest in 2013 but this has increased to seven per cent.

She attributed this to the rehabilitation of more than 400,000 hectares of degraded public land, which is part of the government's strategy to combat desertification.

Interestingly, KFS's 2017-22 strategic plan states that Kenya only rehabilitated 156,000 hectares of forest cover between 2014 and 2017.

In the plan, the service notes its goal is to "increase the national forest cover by 1.15 per cent (670,000 hectares) in the next five years.

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