•A 90-day ban on logging was initially imposed on February 24, 2018, before it was later extended to November 24.
•The ban was again extended for a year to facilitate sector reforms.
Plans to lift the government moratorium on all public and community forests are at an advanced stage.
For now it will soon be lifted selectively in plantations where trees are mature, over-mature and rotting.
A 90-day ban on logging was initially imposed on February 24, 2018, and extended to November 24. It was again extended for a year to facilitate sector reforms.
Kenya's forest cover was seriously degraded by human activities
Ban to plantations to go soon
CS Tuya said Kenya is in the process of of opening up harvesting of commercial plantations. It had been on hold for a long time because of a long moratorium on logging. But we are at a very advanced stage of lifting that ban on revenue
Kenya recently Kenya attained a 10 percent forest cover, half of the target of 20 percent cover by 2030. KFS says the percentage was achieved after planting more than 1.8 billion trees over three years, 2019-2022.
The ban restricted the extraction of timber from all public and community forests, a move that gave the Kenya Forest Service more time to fully implement new measures to protect forests.
On Tuesday last week, Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya told the National Assembly committee on Environment that the state was considering lifting the ban.
“We are also in the process of opening up the harvesting of commercial plantations. It had been on hold for a long time because of a long-standing moratorium on logging," she said.
"But we are at a very advanced stage of lifting that ban on revenue for the government and Kenyans in the timber industry,” Tuya told the committee.
The CS commented at the Windsor Hotel where she led a ministerial delegation appearing during the consideration of the first supplementary estimates for 2022-23.
Tuya appeared before the David Gikaria-led committee accompanied by climate change Principal Secretary Festus Ngeno and forestry PS Ephantus Kimotho.
The ban has caused the state to lose billions of shillings even as it emerged the KFS is yet to settle a pending bill.
The pending bill of Sh4.033 billion relates to unremitted tax claims to Kenya Revenue from the sale of timber products.
It is reported the bill arose in 2014.
Forest plantations in the country cover 335,000 acres of gazetted reserves.
Most plantations are in five major water towers: Mt Kenya, Aberdares, Mau Forest Complex, Cherangani Hills and Mt Elgon.
Harvesting of matured trees from plantations, however, ceased in 2018 when authorities imposed a moratorium on logging, which was one of their biggest sources of revenue for the state and the KFS.
Since 2018, matured trees in plantation areas have been rotting away, while some are over-matured.
In September 2018, KFS said all saw millers were required to undergo e-registration as a new requirement for pre-qualification for logging in state plantations.
KFS said youth, women and persons with disability were encouraged to participate in the e-registration.
Ban will continue but be varied
Tobiko said the state had decided the moratorium on logging in public and community forests imposed in 2018 will continue.
However, it shall be varied or modified to allow for harvesting and disposal by KFS of mature and over-mature forest plantations for not more than 5,000HA
They announced the move as part of solutions to streamlining business operations and address challenges that had plagued the sector.
In November 2020, former Environment CS Keriako Tobiko partially lifted the ban.
“[I have considered] the recommendations of both the board of management of the KFSand the multi-agency team on mapping, verification and valuation of mature and over-mature forest plantations," Tobiko said.
Tobiko said the state had decided that the moratorium on logging in public and community forests imposed since 2018 will continue.
"However, it shall be varied or modified to allow for harvesting and disposal by KFS of mature and over-mature forest plantations for an area not exceeding 5,000 hectares," he said.
Tobiko said the harvesting and disposal of forest plantation materials will be supervised by a multi-agency team and that the process was to be done in an open, transparent and accountable manner that ensures value for money.
However, there has been infighting and bad blood between members of the multi-agency team that had been put in place to oversee the process.
The technical experts from KFS felt that their expertise was being taken for granted.
In June last year, KFS announced fresh conditions that saw millers must meet before being licensed.
The new tough conditions sparked protests from more than 800 saw millers who opposed the new requirements.
Saw millers' said the conditions to qualify for the logging tenders were too harsh, including a requirement that they must have minimum balances of between Sh1 million and Sh10 million in their bank accounts.
The millers, most of whom are small-scale said the set conditions are unrealistic and that they were meant to block them.
They said the ban on logging had collapsed and rendered more than 10,000 people jobless.
The saw millers had also gone for loans before the ban to develop their mills by purchasing machinery including lorries and tractors.
They also said before the ban they had paid more than Sh300 million to KFS for logging and they want the money refunded.
The state says millers have agreed to withdraw court cases.
KFS normally plants eucalyptus trees away from water bodies as they consume a lot of water.
When trees mature, the KFS carries out an audit and its plantation team marks the trees for sale to about 800 registered saw millers.
Buyers deposit money in a National Treasury account and are issued receipts.
Millers take the receipts to forest station officers and harvest the mature trees under supervision.
KFS protects 6.4 million acres of gazetted forests and another 420 million acres under counties.
The formation of the multi-agency team to oversee the harvesting process followed a revelation by a task force report that the harvesting of trees in plantation areas was riddled with corrupt practices.
The task force formed in 2018 said illegal logging of indigenous trees was a major threat to forests and was rampant in key forest areas.
Cedar, according to the report, was the most targeted species.
The report recommended immediate investigations and possible prosecution of all criminal-related findings of the task force touching on former board members and KFS staff.
The decision aimed to help the country restore its depleted forest cover after a public outcry.
The task force unearthed serious malpractices in the sector and made various recommendations.
At block 1B in Malagat, Buffalok Limited was allocated over 2,600 trees in September 2017 against 80 trees for small millers.
In November, hardly two months after Buffalok Limited was again allocated more than 3,000 trees in block 13F in Makutano.
The task force also found out that there was poor record keeping and allocation of forest blocks in certain cases resulting in a double allocation of trees by KFS.
For example, in block 5A in Kuresoi, one can easily be allocated trees, which are non-existent as they have already been allocated to someone else.
The task force report said there is undervaluing of trees in the Kinale area (Aberdares) such that the government does not get the true value from the plantations.
It was also reported that saw millers harvest more trees than allocated to them by KFS.
This was also reported in Elgeyo Forest Station where KFS staff colluded with saw millers.
Compartment 4C: 221 trees declared at Sh6,090 per tree for a total value of Sh1,345,890.
However, the actual number was 1400 trees valued at Sh8,526,000.
This represents a loss in revenue for the government of Sh7,180,110.
Compartment 10A: 3,000 trees were declared at Sh10,017 per tree, for a total value of Sh30,051,000. However, the actual number was 9,475 trees valued at Sh94,911,075.
This represents a loss in revenue for the government of Sh64,860,075, Compartment 10H: 7,800 trees declared at Sh8,500 per tree, for a total value of Sh66,300,000.
However, the actual number was 14,700 trees valued at Sh124,950,000.
This represents a loss in revenue for the government of Sh58,650,000; Compartment 5A: 2,200 trees declared at Sh13,485 per tree, for a total value of Sh29,667,000.
However, the actual number was 5,200 trees valued at Sh70,122,000. This represents a loss in revenue for the government of Sh67, 155, 300.
This amounts to a total loss of Sh197,845,485 in four forest plantation compartments alone.
(Edited by V. Graham)