, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 5 – The government now wants to legalise the charcoal business in an attempt to beat illegal charcoal burning which is largely to blame for the loss of the country’s forest cover.
Kenya Forest Service (KFS) Director David Mbugua said on Monday that the move would ensure that the trade was properly regulated to guarantee that the country’s forest cover was sustained.
He said the government was in the process of implementing a law that would facilitate the trade and encourage bona fide investors to cut down on losses incurred.
“Once you bring in order then you’re likely to attract private investments that will come in with technology so that we can upscale the recoveries. It is surprising that for every 10 tonnes of wood you burn for charcoal, you only get one tonne of charcoal,” he said.
The announcement came soon after the government and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released a report indicating that Kenya lost an average of Sh6 billion between 2009 and 2010 to deforestation.
Mbugua however added that profits made from charcoal burning would be reverted to the conservation of forests noting that over 80 percent of Kenyans derived their energy needs from charcoal.
“We want to do it by regulating the producers, transporters and marketers. And more importantly is to levy fees and charges on charcoal and then plough back certain percentages of those levies to the communities where the charcoal came from,” he explained.
He added that deforestation led to decreased river flow which caused a Sh1.5 billion loss on average while monies lost due to the inability of the country to generate hydropower electricity was Sh8 million.
Mbugua also said that Kenya only had a 20 percent forest cover (according to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) that supported 80 percent of its population warning that if the cover was not increased the economy would be in jeopardy.
“We will not move forward without growing trees in our agricultural landscape. We have to grow trees not just plant them and we have to do it as a business,” he said.
“There are 40 million Kenyans now but our forestry has not grown since 1963 when we were seven million Kenyans. So we have 40 million depending on the same resource that supported seven million Kenyans,” he noted.
He further revealed that the logging ban that had been in place since 1999 had been lifted although the government had set up stringent control measures.
Mbugua explained that the ban was lifted two years ago after the KFS Board reviewed its decision owing to the growing demand for wood products.
“But even when the ban was in place a few companies like Pan Africa Paper Mills and some big saw milling companies were exempted. But please note that logging only takes place in the plantation forests which are manmade and not the indigenous forests,” he said adding that there were about 140,000 hectares of plantation forests.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner also expressed concern at the long term effects of illegal logging on the country’s economy.
He said there was need for the government to reign in loggers who were not government certified.
“There is an enormous demand for wood in Kenya and although illegal logging is profitable to a few it is very expensive to the nation,” he said.
He also stressed the need for the country to secure its water towers saying they were the heart of the region’s social, political and economic environments.
“Without these water towers the lights will literally go out; the water taps will dry up and farms will lose their crops. It is as simple and as dramatic as that,” he argued.
The Mau Forest Complex, Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, Mount Elgon and Cherangany feed filtered rainwater to rivers and lakes and provide more than 15,800 million cubic metres of water per year, which represents over 75 percent of the country’s renewable surface water resources.
These forests store water during the rainy season and release it slowly, thus ensuring water flow during dry periods.
Yet between 2000 and 2010, deforestation in the water towers amounted to an estimated 28,427 hectares, leading to reduced water availability of approximately 62 million cubic metres per year.
Inflation spiked above 10 percent on three occasions between 2000 and 2010, each time driven by drought combined with increasing crude oil prices and weaker exchange rates.
“Kenya is today underlining its determination to be among a group of pioneering countries putting its nature-based assets at the centre of its sustainable development ambitions,” said Steiner.