The ban on logging and overall forest and woodland management in Kenya must be looked at in a holistic manner as we are in a Catch-22 bind: A voracious demand for timber and timber products against limited supply.
We need to conserve, enrich and build up our forest cover and its biodiversity. Forests are key to safeguarding critical water sources that support agriculture and wildlife habitat and mitigate against climate change. Yet the country needs timber for many activities: It is a massive economic cog with many uses, contributing about 3.5 per cent to the economy.
One that is often cited is charcoal but the demand for timber goes well beyond that. For example, timber is a key component in the construction industry and, in a number of cases, it’s not easily replaceable. It is also extensively used in the tea and tobacco industries.
It is important to be critical of the knee-jerk reaction of the government with its abrupt logging ban. With the benefit of hindsight, there should have been a plan to grow more trees for our timber needs per se.
The situation has got out of hand as the need and hunger for timber was more than the planned and legitimate supply, leading to forest encroachment.
Coupled with this is the Kenya Forest Service management and staff overseeing illegal logging and forest encroachment within its jurisdiction.
KFS will, undoubtedly, argue that it has inadequate resources to manage its mandate. I would not contest that. Indeed, its operation needs to be independently reviewed and overhauled. But the question is, how much of this plundering was facilitated by its staff, either directly or by turning a blind eye?
The bottom line is, KFS has failed in its mandate.
Forest cover has fallen from 11 per cent in 1990 to around 7.24 per cent. That is depletion by around a third in less than 30 years.
Over 250,000 trees were lost daily, a number of them to illegal felling. The globally agreed minimum is 10 per cent; so, we have some catching up to do. Ideally, we should be looking at 15 per cent-plus.
The way forward requires a double-pronged approach: Increasing forest cover and creating alternative and affordable sources of domestic energy.
On the former, there is a reasonably sound piece of legislation in place in the form of the Forest (Conservation and Management) Act 2016.
But much of it not worth the paper it is printed on because it lacks implementation and, indeed, the capacity to even do that. One of the main planks of the law is to get the Forest and Management Trust Fund up and running.
Any proposed logging must be accompanied by binding comprehensive proposals to re-afforest the relevant areas and to the required biodiversity.
The KFS needs a major shake-up with a lifestyle audit on its senior staff. Monitoring mechanisms, especially involving the public, must have a fast track to the enforcing bodies within KFS and at county level. There are many cases of people who try to report illegal logging but feel they get nowhere.
We also need to identify key water catchment areas for demarcation, titling and gazettement.
This is the backbone of any re-afforestation strategy and should be in tandem with the most suitable woodland and biodiversity mix for that area.
And it is essential to make alternatives to charcoal much more affordable. The price of charcoal has risen drastically following the ban. That said, 80 per cent of the urban population in Kenya relies on charcoal.
That would involve zero-rating liquefied petroleum gas (cooking gas) and all solar appliances in the forthcoming Budget and making small gas burners more affordable through the same tax breaks.
The aim is to make cooking with LPG much more affordable, indeed more competitive, than charcoal. The price of solar panels and solar energy is decreasing fast, so a boost on that front would be prudent.
Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]