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Shamba system here to stay, says Wekesa

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 21- Wildlife and Forestry Minister Noah Wekesa on Monday defended the continued use of the controversial shamba system saying it would help the country reach the targeted 10 percent forest cover by the year 2030.

Dr Wekesa argued that the system was introduced to help the government save time and money by using local communities in the country\’s reforestation programme and that given more time, it would be successful.

He however admitted that the system needed consistent monitoring on the ground and that the Forest Act 2005 would soon be amended to facilitate this.

"If the government was to take the job of planting trees, we would need billions of shillings but if we use Community Forest Associations to plant seedlings, look after them for three years then it would be very good," he argued.

The system, which has been criticised by various conservationists among them Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, allows communities living around forest areas to cultivate the land there but they must reforest an acre of forest land.  However environmentalists argue that it will be difficult for the government to reacquire the land once the communities settle on it.

Prof Maathai had on Saturday asked the government to repeal the law as it undermined the country\’s efforts to conserve the environment. She reiterated her statements during a ceremony to mark World Forestry Day on Monday where Dr Wekesa was in attendance.

Prof Maathai also argued that the system facilitated food insecurity as it interfered with Kenya\’s forest cover. She explained that bare land was susceptible to soil erosion adding that trees helped prevent it.

"As I came here Mr Minister, I looked at the rivers and they were brown. And I would like to urge all of you to open your eyes and observe. The rivers are supposed to be black like you and not brown like I don\’t know what," she quipped.

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United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner was also present. He added that Kenya was at risk of losing Sh127.6 billion every year if the Mau was destroyed.

"Kenya\’s water towers continue to be our litmus test. The Mau forest alone is worth $1.5 billion to Kenyans every year.  Or put another way, you will lose $1.5 billion every year of free services that nature provides if that system is ruined," he noted.

The Forestry Minister however assured Kenyans that the government\’s efforts to reforest the ecosystem were on track.

Although Mr Steiner lauded Kenya\’s efforts in conserving the environment so far, he added that the country still faced illegal logging in addition to other vices.

He also challenged the government to increase funding to the forest sector arguing that it required the bulk of the country\’s budget.

"The forest is the most valuable resource yet almost all the time, development is measured in terms of infrastructure; in terms of concrete, tarmac and bricks. The ecology is what keeps people alive and it is what enables people to conserve energy," he said.

Those who graced the occasion included Livestock Development Minister Mohamed Kuti, Forestry Assistant Minister Josephat Nanok, British High Commissioner to Kenya, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, and Finish Ambassador. Others are Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya, Swedish Ambassador to Kenya and Friends of Karura chairperson.

Mr Kuti proposed that each county sets aside an area where trees are planted, once the devolved government structures are set up. He said that this would also help the country increase its forest cover from the current two percent.

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