Shame of long forests plunder - Daily Nation

Illegal allocation of land laid bare in forest audit

Wednesday May 2 2018

logging report

Deputy President William Ruto after a briefing on a logging report at his Karen office in Nairobi on Monday. With him are Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko (left) and the chairperson of the Task Force on Environment Management Marion Kamau. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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The extent to which land initially intended for forests has been encroached for human use has been exposed in a report, with authorities being asked to take action against those responsible.

Details previously contained in various reports, plus fresh revelations about the state of Kenyan forests, have been collated in one unit by a task force formed in March to enquire into logging in Kenya.

The information is contained in the document titled “A report on Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya”, which a 15-member task force presented to Deputy President William Ruto and Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko on Monday.

The task force highlights the encroachment of the Mau Forest Complex that has been ongoing for the past 25 years, noting that it seems there has been no change since a survey was done in 2001 when humans had eaten into 61,587 hectares of the key resource.

CHURCHES

The document says at least 2,436 hectares of the Mau have been illegally allocated to schools, police stations, churches among other establishments. “The land allocated for these public utilities and private developments is still gazetted as forest reserve,” it states.

Among the most flagrant cases is that of land allocated to Arama Secondary School in Lembus forest on the eastern side of the complex, says the report.

The size of land allocated, the team says, was in excess, “providing opportunities for land grabbing”.

“The forest land allocated to Arama Secondary School is as large as 80 football pitches,” says the report.

The report also points out at Mt Elgon Forest where a number of people were settled under the government’s Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme, saying it went awfully wrong.

“The poorly planned Chebyuk excision, with an original extent of 3,686 hectares, more than doubled to 8,700 hectares due to encroachment that was subsequently formalised as Chebyuk II and Chebyuk III settlements. Further encroachments are now forcing the government to create Chebyuk IV settlement,” says the report.

MANYATTAS

Then there is Kakamega forest which had lost 573 acres by the time a survey was done in 2007. Part of it was 443 hectares mostly taken by Shikuza Prison.

The task force found that the Leroghi Forest Reserve in Samburu County has seen over 600 households establish manyattas and settle in the forest.

“From presentations made during the public hearing held on April 13, 2018, it appeared that the local elected leaders have encouraged the squatters to stay inside the forest,” the document states.

It adds: “In the Ndotos Forest Reserve in Samburu County, pastoralists have also settled near the top of the mountain forests, leading to degradation and soil erosion.”

While receiving the report, Mr Ruto said environment issues have not only become national but also an international concern that calls for “coherent and punitive measures” to tame degeneration.

“The report’s recommendations will be implemented. I appreciate the fact that some decisions therein would be pretty difficult to make, but they will have to be done,” said the DP.

Going forward, Mr Ruto said the government may employ the services of the National Youth Service and the Kenya Forest Service to replant indigenous trees for at least three years “to help our forest cover regenerate”.

ALARMING STATISTICS

The implementation matrix of the  report is expected to be presented to the President in 10 days’ time.

There were also more alarming statistics raised during the hearings of the team that was chaired by Green Belt Movement chairperson Marion Kamau.

“Enosupukia Forest (in Narok County) was 7,941 hectares in the 1980s and has lost 98 per cent of forest cover due to encroachment and agricultural expansion. The current forest cover stands at 183 hectares,” the Kenya Water Towers Agency told the team. “Marmanet Forest (in Laikipia County) was 30,488 hectares in 1990. By 2010, the forest had lost 12,459 hectares of its cover.”

Settlement of people in the Muchene corridor, linking Mt Kenya to Imenti Forest, the team says, has driven away elephants and increased human-wildlife conflict. It has also been blamed for drying up of rivers and streams.

LOGGING

The task force also questions the manner in which the KFS has awarded timber logging licences to various firms in the past.

Until 2016, the report states, there was a prequalification process for the saw millers where they could, among other requirements, pay between Sh30,000 and Sh80,000 to operate.

But last year, the process was changed through a communication from the KFS board of management and henceforth, millers could be selected by direct allocation.

“Direct allocation is prone to abuse and several ‘saw millers’ have already been brought on board or added into the prequalification list without following due diligence,” says the team.

 The consequences of the reducing natural forests, says the taskforce, are dire. They include the reduction of large mammals.

“A 2016 intensive ground survey revealed that there is no sign of large mammals in 17 of 22 forest blocks,” says the report.

Settlement of people in the Muchene corridor linking Mount Kenya to Imenti Forest, the team says, has led to elephants exiting the forest, increasing human-wildlife conflict.

FARMERS KILLED

“Over the past two years, 10 farmers have been killed by elephants around the Imenti forest,” the report says.

The encroachment into forests has also led to the drying up of rivers and streams.

“The flow of the Sondu River, for example, has become more irregular making the Sondu-Miriu hydro power plant running at lower capacity in the dry season,” the report says.

Besides encroachment into forests, the taskforce also questions the manner in which the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has awarded timber logging licences to various firms in the past.

Until 2016, the report states, there was a prequalification process for the saw millers where they could, among other requirements, pay between Sh30,000 and Sh80,000 to operate.

But last year, the process was changed through a communication from the KFS board of management and henceforth, millers could be selected by direct allocation.

PRONE TO ABUSE

“The direct allocation process is prone to abuse and several ‘saw millers’ have already been brought on board or added into the prequalification list without following any due diligence,” says the taskforce. “By July 2016, the prequalified saw millers were 850 after due diligence. This number has since increased to the current 898 saw millers.”

It recommends that no more millers should be added before an appropriate forest stocks disposal procedure has been developed.

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