• Historically, the public forest has been impacted by legal excision and illegal encroachment, leading to losses of cover and the associated environmental dangers.
• Some of those challenges have been addressed through the strengthened and elaborate legal frameworks that make it difficult to excise off public forest.
Kenya is endowed with a total forest area of 3.5 million hectares, with the gazetted public forests managed by the Kenya Forest Service covering 2.59 million hectares.
This area is way below the constitutional requirement of 10 per cent. Some of the major forest reserves are Aberdares, the Mau Complex, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon, and Cherangani.
The integral roles by forests cannot be over stated. They provide multiple ecosystem goods and services that includes wood and timber products, water, medicine, biodiversity conservation, recreational functions and climate amelioration.
In spite of these important functions, deforestation and forest degradation have continued to pose challenges driven by pressure for conversion to agriculture, population growth, urbanisation and other developments.
Other challenges include the unsustainable utilisation of forest resources, inadequate forest governance and forest fires. As a result, disasters have continued to eat into developmental and economic gains, manifested through destructive floods, landslides and droughts.
Historically, the public forest has been impacted by legal excision and illegal encroachment, leading to losses of cover and the associated environmental dangers. Some of those challenges have been addressed through the strengthened and elaborate legal frameworks that make it difficult to excise off public forest.
Nevertheless, there is a challenge on the implementation of legal instruments, especially when viewed from the propensity by the government to annex some portion of forest to accommodate projects such as dams and other infrastructure developments.
A recent proposal to upgrade the Ihithe-Aberdare Forest-Kahuruko-Ndunyu Njeru Road, which will traverse through the forest created an uproar, with conservation organisation such as Rhino Ark questioning the rationale behind the project and the negative impacts it could have on the Aberdare Ecosystem and dependent systems.
Other notable infrastructural developments include the Itare, Bosta, Arror and Kimwarer dams proposed in public forest ,while Galana Kulala project impacted the wooden grassland in Tana and Kilifi counties.
The latter — together with rampant charcoal production – indicates how the significant portion of the forest that falls in community is being interfered with. This exposes the tragedy that awaits.
Based on the assessment by the government between 2002-18, the net balance between deforestation and reforestation efforts is still negative. This means the country stills need to do more to increase the forest to the minimum 10 per cent.
To catalyse the required action, the government has rolled out a multiple prong approach that includes the national tree growing strategy, the REDD+ scheme, the review of National Forest Policy and Forest Conservation and Conservation Act,2016 and enhanced stakeholder engagement, especially the communities and the private sector.
Additionally, the country recognises the vital role of forest sector in her national development strategies and plans.
This is demonstrated through the National Climate Change Response Strategy (2010), and the Kenya Green Economy Strategy and Implementation Plan (2017) which recognises the critical role of the forests in meeting the climate change mitigation and adaptation obligations.
Despite the above, a lot of actions are still needed, if the commitments are to be achieved and if the socioeconomic and environmental functions of the forests have to be sustained.
Therefore, any effort towards recovery of the encroached forestland must be lauded. In equal measure, any attempt to destroy the forest cover should be discouraged and condemned.
Similarly, the country needs to align its development agenda, policies and laws with the SDGs. These actions will deliver a resilient, vibrant, sustainable and green economy with enhanced human health.
John Chumo is the committee secretary, National Environmental Complaints Committee
George Tarus is the chairman, Scientific Committee, Forestry Society of Kenya