A call for the Senate to make an inquiry into the status of the current ban on logging has split senators right in the middle.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika told the House Thursday that there is need for the government to have another look at the ban.
She pleaded with the committee on Environment to take up the matter and conduct an inquiry and table a report in the Senate.
Ms Kihika said that since the ban was effected, several saw millers have had to shut their businesses and that the cost of construction has been rising, with timber and poles becoming scarce and more expensive, which she said is doing more harm than good.
“There is urgent need for the government to put in place measures to stem the negative socio-economic impact of the ban especially with its contribution to unemployment,” Ms Kihika told the Senate.
She added, “The increase in youth unemployment is quickly becoming a crisis that needs to be addressed and the closure of the business only seems to worsen the situation.”
She cited Nyeri Timber Merchants Association, Nyandarua Timber and Trees Planters, Kiambu Timber Manufacturers Self-Help Group and Kirinyaga Timber Manufacturers Association as some of the most affected groups.
The ban has been in place since February 2018 following a public outcry over illegal logging that was blamed for the diminishing water levels in the country's key rivers.
It was initially expected to last for six months but in November of the same year, the Environment minister extended it for another year to facilitate the rehabilitation of forests through scaling up of tree planting in a bid to achieve a 10 percent forest cover by 2022.
The ban was also intended to pave way for the overhaul of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
Ms Kihika challenged the government to update the country on the status of reforms at KFS as well as measures taken by the Ministry of Environment to address corruption claims in the sector, which was one of the justifications for the ban.
According to details from the Environment ministry, at least 1.6 million hectares of additional forest is required for the country to achieve the 10 percent cover by 2022.
“Whereas the intention is noble and will be of great benefit to the public, we cannot ignore the fact that the forestry sector contributes 3.6 percent of the GDP and 60 percent of the national energy requirements is met from wood fuel,” Ms Kihika said.
However, senators Ledama ole Kina (Narok), Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) and Enock Wambua (Kitui) rejected the proposal by Ms Kihika and vowed to oppose the lifting of the ban at all costs.
Mr Ole Kina hailed the ban, saying it has improved the environment since it was initiated, and proposed that it should be extended for another 10 years.
“Instead of calling for the lifting of the ban, you should ask the National Treasury to zero rate the importation of timber,” Mr Ole kina said.
Mr Wetang’ula vowed to oppose the inquiry and berated Ms Kihika for using the Senate to demand for the end to the logging ban.
“If it is about jobs, let Senator Kihika know that jobs can be found elsewhere. I oppose the proposal on lifting because it does not help this country in any way,” Mr Wetang’ula said.
Mr Wambua described the proposal as dangerous and vowed to oppose it “wherever it will go”.
Nominated Senator Abshiro Halake supported the lifting of the ban, noting that the moratorium can never be open-ended.
“Banning logging is not the same as conservation. The ban has disadvantaged communities and it should be lifted,” he said.