Kenya Forest Service (KFS) director Emilio Mugo spoke to Brian Okinda on how farmers can benefit from forest resources, why you should not blame deforestation for the ongoing drought and what you stand to benefit if you are part of Community Forest Association.
There has been a trend across the country of people clearing forests to farm or settle, what is the tragedy of this practice?
The trend has been activated by the increasing population of people wanting to farm and settle in previously forested regions.
Clearing of forests reduces the area under trees, and the implications include soil erosion as forests usually protect the soil from wind and water erosion.
Further, it exposes soil to desiccation, reduces the capacity of the area for sustaining life and habitats for wildlife.
How does Kenya Forest Service (KFS) work with farmers to enable them farm in a sustainable way as they conserve forests?
KFS extension officials are now helping farmers to adopt tree growing, through the Rural Afforestation Extension Services.
This helps them to access expertise such as intercropping their crops with trees that are beneficial to the plants, provision of skills and know-how on growing the trees (multi-purpose agroforestry), we also train farmers to take part in cottage industries and value addition on trees that they grow.
These include bamboo toothpick-making, making wooden spoons and cooking sticks and small furniture.
We have also partnered with institutions such as the World Agroforestry Centre to boost farmers’ engagement in tree growing for their benefit as well as conserving the environment.
Farmers now take forestry and tree growing an enterprises from which they can earn.
We also work with farmers to take part in seed collection in the forests and seedling production which they can sell and earn their livelihood.
The current drought, which has affected farming activities, is partly attributed to rampant destruction of forests. How depleted are our forests and should farmers get worried going forward?
It is a misconception that the drought is entirely caused by forest destruction.
There are two concepts in forestry – forest degradation and forest destruction.
Forest destruction is currently minimum in the country. What we are experiencing is degradation and climate change is among the issues causing this degradation alongside forest fires.
In the past two years, we have had good rainfall and now drought, factors majorly attributed to climate change.
We have to educate the communities to undertake activities that are not harmful to forests like causing fires and enacting mitigation measures to regulate pastoralists’ interference with the forests through extreme grazing.
Our forests and mountain areas are the major sources of our water and thus, they should be protected. We also have aquifers which if harnessed could provide plenty of water.
We shouldn’t, therefore, relate the abundance of rainfall or lack of it to available tree cover as they are not entirely related.
Trees contribute only about 18 per cent of protection from climate change, which is driving this drought.
We ought to take care of the forest cover that we currently have of about 7.2 per cent as we need at least 10 per cent of forest cover to be self-sustainable.
Kenya Forest Service is celebrating its tenth anniversary, what are your successes and which areas do you think you need to improve?
Our major success is the immense reduction in forest destruction and degradation.
Our revenue collection has also risen from about Sh220 million in 2007 to over Sh2 billion currently. This is attributed to bettering systems and procedures.
We have also enhanced community and private sector involvement in the forestry industry and now rural farmers, among others, work as equal partners in the course of conserving our forests, as ours is an agricultural country, depending largely on farming.
Forests have lush green undergrowth which some livestock farmers harvest and feed their animals or take them there to graze. This has often led to conflict between cattle keepers and forest rangers. Are livestock farmers allowed to graze their animals in forests? And if not, what are the penalties for doing so and how can the livestock farmers benefit from forest resources?
We allow them to graze, but only after assessing the carrying capacity of the forest, through the Community Forest Associations that operate in different areas.
We are, however, encouraging the ‘cut and carry concept’, where we allow farmers to cut the grass and take to their zero-grazing livestock.
This reduces incidences of forest fires prevalent in periods like these. Grazing and ‘cut and carry’ are essentially our way of reducing fuel load (grass) that can cause the fires.
We also regulate the number of livestock allowed in the forests by imposing a grazing fee for each head of livestock the farmer grazes and discourage goats, which are browsers as they completely destroy the foliage by eating away even the sprouts.
On conflicts, there shouldn’t be any between rangers and herders.
Different penalties only arise when the farmer exceeds the forests’ recommended carrying capacity and doesn’t pay the indorsed charges.
Farmers can benefit from forests if they are members of Community Forests Associations through which they can graze, cut grass for their animals, keep bees and trout fish.
There has been a surge of people growing and selling tree seedlings and even trees in different parts of the country. Do you regulate the trade and how can it be bettered?
These are now thriving businesses. We have farmers who look for indigenous seeds that are economically desired like camphor in the forests for sale.
We also have those who grow seedlings in nurseries for their livelihood.
As KFS, we majorly focus on producing plantation-based seeds, for demonstration purposes and conserving our indigenous forests hence we highly encourage seed entrepreneurship.
However, we try to regulate the unscrupulous sale of seeds and seedlings that are not pure to ensure continuous uptake of our improved tree species.
Fake seeds cost the forestry sector and farmers losses.