Kenya can restore its forestry and ecology just like China has

By Stephen Mboya

Many countries have realized the importance of forestry and ecological rehabilitation to forestall the adverse effects of climate change that include extreme weather events like droughts and floods, loss of animal habitat, food insecurity, loss of water resources, rise in sea levels etc. Kenya is among many countries that have made attempts to restore our forest cover; however, these efforts have not been sustained and more needs to be done.

In 1990, UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s forests resource assessment classified Kenya among countries with the low forests cover of about 2 percent of the total land area. This is in sharp contrast to the 30% cover of closed canopy forests at the beginning of the twentieth century. With over two thirds of the country’s land mass in arid and semi-arid climate zones, and a population growth rate of over a million per year, forest cover in Kenya has experienced a sharp decline in recent decades. Illegal logging, charcoal production, forest encroachment, squatter settlement, fire, erosion, and unsustainable land use have been the primary sources of deforestation in Kenya, and the consequences have been drastic. Streams, riverbeds, and watering holes have dried up, soil erosion has increased, hydrological patterns have been disrupted, crops have been destroyed, and wildlife populations have diminished.

Kenya’s wake-up call come in the form of El Nino and La Nina weather anomalies in 2007 through 2009 period. It is after these events of serious flooding followed by sustained droughts that led to a lot of suffering to Kenyans that calls for afforestation and conservation intensified. Forestry development and ecological restoration focused on the five forested mountains commonly referred as the five water towers of Kenya. They include Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Mau Forest, Mount Elgon and Cherangani Hills which supply most of freshwater timber, fuel, and food for the entire country, as well as being critical reservoirs of biodiversity. Kenya’s world famous wildlife, its major rivers and lakes also depend on protecting these water towers.

The government initiated conservation efforts that included massive tree planting programs, eviction of forest dwellers, harsh penalties or loggers and fencing off the forested areas. However, these efforts have not been sustained and the momentum has been lost. The success of these initiatives depends on the commitment by government and sustained efforts by all stakeholders as there are no quick fixes. The government for example, can borrow a leaf from China which despite having serious ecological challenges in the past, has made considerable strides in terms of reclaiming its ecological mass and forest development since it embarked on this undertaking.

The Chinese government took a series of significant measures including adoption of policies to accelerate afforestation and greening of China. In its recently released 8th national forestry inventory, results showed sustained improvements during the period between the 7th and 8th inventory in various ways. First, the total volume of forest resources has maintained sustained growth with forested area in China seeing a net increase of 12.23 million ha. The forest coverage rose from 20.36% to 21.63%. This is a great stride considering China land mass. Moreover, the forest quality and the volume of natural forest and plantations have continued to grow rapidly over the same period. Today, China’s forest area and forest stock volume rank 5th and 6th respectively in the world, while the area of plantation ranks 1st.

These statistics prove that with government commitment and sustained efforts, forests development and ecological reconstruction can be achieved. The Chinese government initiated a series of ecological restoration projects which were fully implemented. These projects included Natural Forest protection, conversion of farmlands to forests, the Beijing-Tianjin Sand storm source control, three-north shelterbelt forest program and coastal shelterbelt development system, accelerating afforestation and greening. These projects accounted for about 50% of all the afforestation area in the country.

Secondly, the whole society was involved in the in depth national compulsory tree-planting activities where 64 billion trees were planted. Hundreds of millions of farmers were mobilized in a collective forest tenure reform which involved individually managing forest plantation with financial support from the government. As a result, the area of forest cover sees a net increase of 12.23 million ha; and the growth of forests now exceeds the consumption leaving the forest stock volume with a net increase of 1.4billion m3.

Results of the inventory demonstrate that the Chinese government shows an active attitude, takes effective measures, and achieves significantly important tasks like forests resources development, ecological environmental protection and dealing with climate change. These are the key lessons that Kenya can learn from China and begin our own process of restoring our forests and enhancing our ecological security.

(The author is a local freelance writer who comments on social and international affairs.)

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