NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 19 – The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has questioned the viability of the Nyayo Tea Zones which occupy 11,000 hectares of forest land.
KFS Director David Mbugua said on Wednesday that although the tea zones were established to act as buffer belt 100 metres into the forest, some had extended as far as a kilometre into the forest land.
“Why would you for instance want to put a tea buffer belt next to an already existing landmark like a road or even a river?” he posed.
“The idea (of the tea zones) was to check on encroachment and to us things like rivers and roads could have served as better buffers,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with Capital News, Mr Mbugua said the tea zones had now contributed to massive destruction of forest cover because indigenous trees had to be cut to create the tea belt.
He said enough research was not done before establishing the tea zones.
“I don’t think they did some due diligence,” he said. “They didn’t do a lot more work to see whether tea would perform in some of those areas.”
“I know in Kiambu there is a belt that was cleared but was not suitable for tea and that belt was again allocated to individuals and the problem we have as an organisation now is to be able to recover back that land,” the KFS Director said.
The Nyayo Tea Zones were created in 1986 as a parastatal by former President Daniel arap Moi to protect forests against further encroachment or illegal excisions by forming a buffer belt. The Development Corporation was to exist as a commercial and service organisation producing tea and fuel wood on a commercial basis.
Some critics have estimated that only 25 percent of the 11,000 hectares of the tea zone is used for the intended purpose with the rest going to illegal allotment and grabbing.
Mr Mbugua criticised the Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation (NTZDC) for planting the controversial eucalyptus trees in water catchment areas.
Mr Mbugua said the corporation had gone ahead to plant eucalyptus in parts of the land where tea did not perform well.
He said this needed to be addressed because the area was initially under indigenous trees and planting eucalyptus would stress the already stretched water catchment areas.
“Vast areas that were cleared and tea cannot do well, are the same areas that the Nyayo Tea Zone is going ahead and establishing eucalyptus as fuel wood for their proposed factories,” he claimed.
“Again you see that is direct conflict to reafforest the area with appropriate indigenous trees.”
He said the corporation was already selling electricity transmission poles from the eucalyptus trees they had planted.
Mr Mbugua also raised concern over establishment of structures on the land that was supposed to occupy the tea zones.
“We as KFS have a problem with the zone because under the current programme, the corporation that is mandated to manage the zone has also started establishing some structures like tea buying centres within the forest and some of those have tended to bring in people whom we are thinking are now engaged in some of the malpractice that we have in our forest,” he said.
He however added that the Forest Service was in negotiation with the NTZDC to lease or concession part of the tea belt to plant indigenous trees.
Mr Mbugua said this was aimed at conserving the depleting forest cover in the country.
He said the 11,000 hectares of land under the tea zones was still forest land because it was never de-gazetted.
“The land is still under KFS, we will have to see the degazettement notice because all I know is that a legal notice was issued to establish the zone and say that the land under the zone belongs to the Tea Development Corporation,” he said.
“But for you to change forest land use, a de-gazettement process needs to be done.”
He said in those areas that tea was never planted, the land should revert to KFS and the government should make a decision on the rest of the land.
“Ideally if we are going to recover forest land, I am told in part of Mau forest we are also going to recover some of the tea estates and put them under forests, I don’t see anything unique in a similar direction being taken in another place,” he said.