Tree in the desert by mayidefai on Pixabay

Improving Forest Cover In Kenya; Thoughts On Good Practice

We are pleased to share this interesting article from Lawrence Ogango, our colleague in Kenya – it reinforces exactly why we work the way we do, supporting and empowering communities to plant and nurture the trees that they know grow well in their areas.

Recently, Kenya attained a 10% forest cover, half of the target of 20% cover by 2030. According to Kenya Forest Services (KFS), that percentage was achieved after planting over 1.8 billion trees in a span of 3 years (2019-2022). Moreover, a total of 48 billion Kenyan shillings was needed for this noble cause. In the same breath, Kenya has lost 368 kilohectares of tree cover, which translates to 11% decrease of tree cover from 2001 and 2021. (Global Forest Watch on ‘Kenya Deforestation Rates & Statistics.’

The obvious reasons for the decline and slow rate of increase of forest cover have always been unregulated charcoal production, careless felling of indigenous tree species, overgrazing and increased human settlement. However, the above reasons may just be the tip of the iceberg; the real problem lies in how we practice tree planting and generally how we take care of the same trees after planting them. 

Why do I say so?

For example, let’s take the issue of charcoal burning. I am aware that it is still practiced all over the country but, it would be prudent to note, the government has played a big role by making it illegal. Secondly, there is an increased penetration of gas cookers in the Kenyan markets, including the rural areas. Therefore, a reduction, albeit minimal, in charcoal burning and usage can be felt. 

What should be lingering in our minds right now is how we still do not seem to be on course to achieve the minimal 20% forest cover by the year 2030, even with spirited tree planting campaigns. This week alone, I have been invited to more than three tree planting activities, and I do project that by the end of this month I shall have planted quite a number of trees. Taking that into account, I think we should be at par right now as far as the forest cover is concerned; sadly, it is the opposite, as shown in the statistics. This has prompted me to conduct some research on where we get it wrong as a country and also as stakeholders in the environment.

First, we have made tree planting a one-day event, like a sporting activity, and whatever happens the day after becomes a ‘none of our business’ affair. Some of us are not genuine enough while going for the tree planting activities, some do it for FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and take pictures to remember that ‘tree planting event’, just like they would at other much hyped events. We later get back home and totally forget about those trees we planted hours earlier. But saplings need care and nurturing to survive; planting is only the first step in restoring the forest.

Lack of reconnaissance when planning for tree planting is also another vital step which we tend to ignore. Reconnaissance is important since it involves knowledge about a specific area in terms of climatic conditions and which trees can do well in such an area. Ignorance of such a step often leads to planting exotic or non native trees without knowing the impact that they may have on the environment. For instance, planting eucalyptus next to small rivers may interfere with the water sources and the environment owing to its deeper roots and extravagant water uptake. Moreover, chances of the exotic species surviving in such an environment are not guaranteed. Sadly, it happens more often because we fail to do a background study before planting trees. Notably, these exotic species may also be responsible for the extinction of the indigenous trees when introduced. This explains why trees planted in some areas never do well and can also lead to an unintended loss of biodiversity.

Little investment in forestry in terms of time, resources and education has derailed forest recovery attempts. Not enough attention is given to the forests, thanks to the generally resilient ability of the environment, which is now showing clear signs of abuse. In the world today, the focus is on the built environment and the world’s economies, forgetting that the sole provider of all the raw materials is Mother Nature. There is an evident staff shortage in agencies and institutions dealing with the environment. Environmental and/or forestry studies should be a compulsory subject in each level of education in Kenya, from playgroup to higher institutions of learning. Just like other service providers, environmental management should be a key priority of both the national and county governments. On the same issue, policy implementation has always dragged. 

I believe we can do it right. We need to change how we conduct the tree planting process. There are examples of good reforestation practice, engaging local communities and ensuring the planting of a diverse range of appropriate trees, rather than monocultures or inappropriate species. This is the time to soul search and join in the honest and noble course of saving planet earth – time is running out. 

Lawrence Ogango

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