Alone a tree, together a forest. The community that is Miti Alliance, through the generous support of friends and family, on 24th October 2020 got to achieve their goal of planting 1000 indigenous trees in Hombe Forest, Mt. Kenya Forest Reserve. Following this successful conclusion of yet another tree-planting session, the founder, Michael Waiyaki was determined to find out about developments within the country that have been put in place to help Kenya achieve and maintain 10% forest cover by 2030. What follows are the findings on the state of forests in Kenya and recommended practices to pull together efforts towards attaining this sustainable goal.
Tree or Forest Cover? What’s the difference?
These terms, although used interchangeably, offer varying definitions that potentially pose a threat to forest conservation. It must be noted that the lack of a clear definition in the current legislation affects other key terms, such as rational utilisation, forest resources or sustainable management.
The Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 (FCMA) defines a forest as land which is declared or registered as a forest, or woody vegetation growing in close proximity in an area of over 0.5 of hectares including a forest in the process of establishment, woodlands, thickets. This definition has enabled the KFS to further define a forest as land with trees capable of occupying a minimum area of 0.5 hectares and trees likely to grow over 2 metres and with a minimum of 15% of canopy cover.
This definition differs significantly from the previously used definition in the country, in particular, the definition of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which is the lead United Nations agency in forestry matters, which defines forest as land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 metres and a canopy cover of more than 10%.
National Forest Program
The Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry launched the National Strategy For Achieving and Maintaining Over 10% Tree Cover by 2022, a cross-sectoral framework that provides for a series of interventions to accelerate actions towards the achievement of the Constitutional requirement, Vision 2030 and the Presidential Directives of 10% national tree cover, for environmental integrity and social-economic development.
Under the strategy, 1.8 billion quality tree seedlings will be produced and planted for purposes of rehabilitation of degraded natural forests and commercial public forest plantations, the establishment of private forests, bamboo, tree planting in schools and greening of institutions and infrastructure. The implementation of the National Tree Planting Campaign Project would contribute to the restoration of 1.6 million hectares of land. This progressive initiative is estimated to cost KES 48 billion which will be shared between the government and other stakeholders. Failure to attain this would cost the country KES 168 billion over four years, as reported by The Star Newspaper and the consequences will manifest in the form of reduced supply of essential products and ecological services emanating from forested landscapes.
National Forest Cover
Kenya is endowed with a wide range of forest ecosystems, classified into four major forest types and eight subtypes which contribute to ecological, social, cultural and economic functions by providing basic human needs and habitat for wildlife, biodiversity and soil conservation, regulating water flows and sequestering carbon dioxide. Gazetted public forests managed by Kenya Forest Service cover 2.59 million hectares and the current forest cover is estimated to be about 7.4% of the total land area. Most of the country’s closed-canopy forests are the montane forests which are the nation’s water towers, whose cover currently stands at about 2% compared to the African average of 9.3% and a world average of 21.4%.
|% of the total forest area
|Natural forest (mixed indigenous) [Kakamega, Nandi forests]
|Natural forest (mixed indigenous) which include Mt. Kenya, Aberdares, Mau, Cherangany, Mt. Elgon, Matthews Ranges and Chyulu Hills
|Natural forest (mixed indigenous trees) [Arabuko Sokoke, Dakatcha, Boni, Shimba Hills, Kayas]
|Natural forest (mixed indigenous trees) [Hilltops in Eastern and Northern Kenya and Lake Victoria regions]
|Public and private forests
Source: KFS 2013, based on the forest cover mapping of 2013 using 2010 satellite imageries
The Role Of Forests
Forest ecosystems are the foundation for the success of other productive sectors such as agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, livestock, wildlife, industry, water, health and energy. In a 2018 study on the valuation of ecosystem services, the total economic value of the Mau Forest Complex, Cherangany Hills and Mt. Elgon ecosystems was estimated to be KES 339 billion per year, about 5% of Kenya’s GDP in 2017.
Forests are the main source of water for hydropower electricity generation, currently estimated at 282.8 megawatts valued at KES 11.9 billion per year but with a potential of 508 megawatts once the full capacity is exploited. Forests are globally recognized as critical in climate change mitigation and adaptation therefore tree planting campaigns are worth the effort.
Forests in Kenya are the enablers of the Big 4 Agenda;
● The rivers and streams from these ecosystems support the irrigation of 52,030 hectares of agricultural land in Kenya, thus contributing to food security,
● Produce the inputs needed to enable the government to provide affordable and decent housing,
● Serve as natural air purifiers to improve the quality of health and life for the people,
● The three ecosystems mentioned providing 35 million cubic metres of water valued at KES 3.4 billion per year for irrigation and industry to further the Manufacturing Agenda.
Obligations and Directives
Kenya is committed to global initiatives and Multilateral Environmental Agreements that will encourage the attainment of this goal. For instance, in 2016, the government committed to restoring 5.1 million hectares of landscapes as a contribution to AFR100 (the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative), a country-led effort to bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030.
The sustainable management of forests positively impacts on several Sustainable Development Goals, specifically; SDG 1(No Poverty), SDG 2(Zero Hunger), SDG 3(Good Health and Wellbeing), SDG 6(Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 13( Climate Action) and SDG 15(Life on Land).
Tree Cover Loss
Sadly, although forests have been recognized for their immense benefits, deforestation, forest degradation and fragmentation of forests continue to undermine their capacity to thrive.
Findings from the Taskforce Report on Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya indicate that Kenya’s forests have been depleted at an alarming rate of about 5000 hectares per annum. This translates to an annual reduction in water availability of approximately 62 million cubic metres, with a consequent economic loss of over USD 19 million per year.
The Strategy summarizes that reduced water levels in rivers and dams, declining economic activities arising from water rationing, loss of wildlife habitats, conflicts over water and pasture and increased soil and water erosion in catchment areas are major manifestations of deforestation and landscape degradation.
Among the interventions proposed, Miti Alliance directly contributes to some activities by supporting schools and various institutions in the establishment of nurseries and planting of trees as well as educating, creating awareness and sensitizing the public on matters tree-planting and maintenance.
The importance of forests cannot be overemphasized. There is a moral duty that urges us to press on and understand what lies at stake should we fail to contribute to the sustainable management of our forests and the environment resources freely availed to us. We need to play the part and serve as role models for the future generation.
“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference.” – Prof. Wangari Maathai. What little thing are you doing? Our little thing is making a difference one tree at a time.
1. NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR ACHIEVING AND MAINTAINING OVER 10% TREE COVER BY 2022, http://www.environment.go.ke/?p=6797
2. Taskforce Report on Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya, https://academia-ke.org/library/download/mef-taskforce-report-on-forest-resources-management and-logging-activities-in-kenya-2018-pdf/