The timber industry is a major employer and revenue earner for Kenya.
The industry contributes immensely to the economy in construction, furniture and manufacturing sector.
In Nakuru County alone, more than 50,000 people are employed directly by the industry. Owing to this importance, there is a compelling need to handle the industry with greater caution.
That is why the recent proposal by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich to zero-rate timber import tax is a big blow to the huge investments made in the sector over the years. It is a threat to those employed in the sector.
While all Kenyans should support initiatives to protect our forests, this can be done sustainably to avoid hurting local industries. We expect decisive action to save the environment, noting that huge tracks of forest land remain idle and could be used to enhance our forest cover.
With the ongoing rains, the concerned authorities can include broad programmes that encourage communities and the private sector to engage in tree planting across the country.
Over one year ago, the Minister for Environment slapped an indefinite ban on logging. While this may have been a necessary step to evaluate our policy on logging, the continued ban has become a major setback to the industry.
One major consequence of the logging ban has been the over-exploitation of trees planted on private farms. Sadly, premature trees are being offered to the market due to desperation. This will reduce our forest cover even further and have more debilitating consequences.
Elburgon town, in Nakuru, which has a population of over 7,000, has borne the brunt of the logging ban. Half the population in the town that is home to major timber industries has been rendered destitute by the ban.
Poverty and crime levels have escalated to embarrassing levels. A mother cannot send a child to buy foodstuff unaccompanied; otherwise, they will be ‘relieved’ of the shopping.
Local investors are considering relocation to neighbouring countries and setting up their businesses there. This is already happening at an alarmingly high rate.
With this development, our sawmillers will not entirely benefit from the affordable housing agenda pie as timber that is required for the ‘Big Four Agenda’ pillar will come from other countries.
Inertia cannot increase forest cover. Knee-jerk reactions will continue to undermine the predictability and stability of the industry. Banks and other financial players will shy away from investing in an industry prone to erratic policy changes.
It is time the country engaged in a comprehensive forest management strategy to give a sustainable solution to the timber industry.
At the moment, there are no elaborate plans yet to recover the forest cover lost, especially to over-harvesting of trees and illegal logging. Also, lasting strategies should be devised to manage integrity in terms of harvesting timber.
One of the ways to restore forest cover could be working with the timber manufacturers to devise and implement workable and sustainable strategies.
The relevant departments should, for instance, invest in reliable data that will help us to track forest cover. That will help in planning and decision making by the government and manufacturers.
Inasmuch as we seek to address environmental conservation matters, the national government should have come up with friendly measures in its reforestation drive.
The concerned officials ought to look at other ways to address climate change matters but at the same time empower communities that rely on the timber industry for a livelihood.
Mr Kinyanjui is the Governor of Nakuru. [email protected]