Logging ban could cost state Sh30bn in death of old trees

Moratorium was imposed last year in February to give KFS time to fully implement new measures to protect forests

In Summary

• A 90-day ban on logging was initially imposed on February 24 last year and later extended to November 24. 

• Key activities in ministry could ironically stall over budget cuts. 

Mau Forest

Trees worth billions of shillings are rotting as active moratorium prevents the Kenya Forest Service from selling them.

A source who is not allowed to speak to the press told the Star that the government is likely to lose between Sh20 billion and Sh30 billion.

A 90-day ban on logging was initially imposed on February 24 last year and later extended to November 24. It was extended again for a year to facilitate sector reforms and is expected to cease in November.

The ban restricted extraction of timber from all public and community forests — a move that was meant to give KFS more time to fully implement new measures to protect forests.

In February last year, the government constituted a taskforce to inquire into forest resources management and logging activities. The decision was to help the country restore its depleted forest cover after a public outcry.

The team unearthed serious malpractices in the sector and made various recommendations.

Forest plantations currently cover about 335,000 acres in the gazetted reserves of Kenya. Most of the plantations are located in the five major water towers — Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Mau Forest Complex, Cherangani Hills and Mount Elgon.

The KFS normally plants eucalyptus trees away from water bodies because they consume a lot of water.

A source said matured trees for harvesting are also in Baringo, Marakwet, Keiyo and Kericho counties and around Mt Kenya region.

When the trees mature, the KFS carries out an audit and its plantation team marks the trees for sale to registered saw millers — who are about 800. Buyers deposit money into the National Treasury account and are issued with receipts.

Millers take the receipts to forest station officers and harvest the matured trees under supervision. With the ban, however, the situation is now different and mature trees are rotting. Ironically, key activities at the Environment ministry are likely to stall following budget cuts.

Recently, Environment CS Keriako Tobiko raised concerns about underfunding.

“The Nairobi River cleanup and restoration have a zero budget. Other critical projects are Ng’arisha Lake Naivasha, Suswa, and Lake Magadi,” Tobiko said.

He said almost Sh500,000 was slashed from the ministry’s budget, a move that  “seriously compromises and jeopardises the ministry’s capacity to deliver”.

Once the moratorium lapses in November, the government will decide whether to extend it again, the CS said. He, however, said the Cabinet and the Treasury were deliberating on the issue of funds shortfall.

In September last year, former acting chief conservator Monica Kalenda said the service was “doing badly financially”.

Kalenda said sustaining operations in the KFS had become difficult. The service, she said, had collected Sh1.8 billion before the moratorium was imposed on February 24, but the situation has worsened.

The KFS protects 6.4 million acres of gazetted forests and another 420 million acres under the counties.

Edited by R.Wamochie