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Fighting climate change through tree planting

Tuesday May 1 2018

Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko plants a tree in Ngong Forest in Nairobi on March 7, 2018 during the launch of the national tree-planting campaign. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL

Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko plants a tree in Ngong Forest in Nairobi on March 7, 2018 during the launch of the national tree-planting campaign. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL 

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Peter Kimemia is busy preparing tree stumps to make charcoal a few metres from Njabini Shopping Centre in South Kinangop, Nyandarua County, undeterred by the biting cold.

Overlooking his cluster of tree stumps is a forlorn Aberdares range, reeling from the excessive felling of trees. The once-dense water catchment is slowly turning into grassland as a result of human encroachment, farming and uncontrolled land use.

About eight kilometres from where Mr Njoroge is burning his charcoal is Sasumua Dam. It is only three-quarters full despite the ongoing heavy rains. For a moment it looks as if it is going to rain over the smoggy range, but only a few drops hit the ground before the rain clouds are scattered by the wind. 

Mr Kimemia says although he has heard reports of heavy rains around the country, the area has not experienced any, despite being home to one of the country’s main water catchment areas. Little does he know that he is one of the people responsible for the changed weather pattern in the area.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) on the 2009 National Population Census revealed that 64.6 per cent of Kenyan households depend on wood fuel. This is corroborated by a 2010 survey by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) titled A comprehensive study and analysis on energy consumption patterns in Kenya, which revealed that the most popular fuel types are: kerosene (80 per cent), charcoal (60 per cent), fuelwood (55 per cent ), electricity (37 per cent) and LPG (21 percent) in that order, with the use of fuelwood, charcoal and kerosene higher in rural areas compared with urban areas.


The data showed that fuelwood had the highest energy budget share on average for both rural (11.6 per cent) and urban (9.34 per cent) areas, compared with the other fuel.

Meanwhile, an October 2017 World Bank report indicated that  Kenya loses an average of 12,600 hectares per year of forest cover due to human settlement and illegal logging, with the country having lost five per cent of its  forest cover between 1990 and 2005.

It is in the light of these reports that Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko on March 7 launched a national tree planting campaign in Ngong Forest Reserve with the aim of leading Kenyans in planting 235 million trees and achieving 15 per cent forest cover by 2022, which is higher than the target of 10 per cent by 2030 stipulated in the Constitution.

Kitui, Tana River, and Kilifi counties also banned charcoal burning, but Planning Principal Secretary Dr Julius Muia has urged the counties to integrate spatial plans for land use in their development plans in order to ensure proper land use.

Dr Muia said counties now have the advantage of drawing up area-specific development plans, adding that planning is a key component in resource prioritisation and, given that only 15 per cent of Kenya is suitable for arable farming, it is critical how important resources like land are used.

He noted that in March 2017, the  Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning released the National Spatial Development Plan, which identifies appropriate land use countrywide as well as provides  guidelines on how land is to be used. Further, it identifies where the forest reserves are, where human settlement should be, and which areas should be set aside for urbanisation and agriculture, among other things.

“Even counties, through their integrated development plans, should do their spatial plans for land use to make sure that they do not use their land improperly. This will inform guided land use, which we have never had before, besides making sure that we have contained our developments in reasonable pockets,” said Dr Muia.


Mr Tobiko, for his part, said that each county will be required to plant a minimum of 1 million trees every year for the next few years to ensure this target is met. The 2015 National Forest Policy Paper by the Environment ministry indicated that the country had a forest cover of 6.9 per cent.

Since the launch of the tree-planting campaign, more than a million trees have been planted, and according to a report released on April 25, 2018, by KNBS, the country’s forest cover has increased to 4.22 million hectares in the wake of government’s ban on logging.

The economic survey revealed that the total forest area comprising natural and plantation forests increased marginally from the 4.18 million hectares reported in 2016, with the area under natural forests increasing from 399,400 hectares in 2016 to 4.03 thousand hectares in 2017. This has been attributed to an increase in areas under indigenous mixed trees.

“The share of forest cover increased to 7.29 per cent in 2017 from 7.22 per cent in 2016,” the survey said. The total area of government forests increased from 131.4 thousand hectares in 2016 to 135.1 thousand hectares in 2017, an increase of 2.8 per cent,” the survey said.

The area planted with trees grew by 6.8 per cent from 10.3 million hectares in 2016 to 11.0 million hectares in 2017. A notable decline was also recorded in the sale of fuel wood; from 147,000 stacked cubic metres in 2016 to 53,000 stacked cubic metres in 2017.

But as the country works towards achieving the recommended forest cover, Dr Muia has called for directed and targeted policy intervention as the country seeks to increase its tree cover to mitigate against climate change.

He revealed that climate change and disaster risk management are some of the thematic areas identified under the government’s Medium Term Plan III, adding that the creation of green jobs and a green economy is in the government’s framework in a bid to promote tree-planting as a way of dealing with climate change. Other measures include building dams and big water reservoirs to collect runoff water to increase the amount of water retained and reduce the ills associated with run-off water.

“What we are doing in the government is not a short-term or helicopter kind of way of dealing with an issue. There is a policy framework behind it, and that will guarantee sustainability going forward,” said Dr Muia.

The former Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat director-general said Kenya is focusing on water, the environment and afforestation within the social pillar of Vision 2030, and also in the Big Four agenda. Water use, harnessing and conservation have been given prominence as crucial issues with regard to food security, given that Kenya is primarily an agricultural country, but only 15 per cent of its territory  suitable for arable farming.

“For one to have successful agriculture, you need to invest in water harvesting, irrigation and related schemes where water is used properly. How we harvest and deal with this important resource is going to be crucial,” he said.

He added that all principal secretaries have been directed to go to their home counties on the National Tree Planting Day slated for May 5, 2018, as part of the campaign to increase the forest cover to 10 per cent by 2022.”The actual demonstration by the PSs that they are involved in tree-planting will be a positive measure, which can then be carried on by other arms of government and the citizens. The actual planting will also contribute to forest cover, which other institutions can also come along to create a mechanism of sustainability,” said the PS.

The PS said  he plans to lead  Makueni,  in planting more than 25,000 trees and has involved than 1, 000 households in the drive.

“I can imagine we will plant very many trees countrywide. I have told Makueni County to come up with a law that supports afforestation, a sustainability mechanism, and a strategy to support the legal framework,” said Muia.