NAIROBI, Kenya, 26 – Eighty four-year-old Kalekye Kyundua has depended on firewood for domestic use in her lifetime.
Having known no other cheap source of energy, Kyundua and her extended family have watched tree cover on their farm shrink over the years without being replenished.
Like millions of other rural households in Kenya, Kyundua’s family uses an average of 10 kilogrammes of dry wood a day to cook– the equivalent of a three-year fast growing tree, according to a recent study.
When Africa Eco News visited her home at Kisayani village in Kitui County’s Mutomo district, the wanton destruction of trees in the area was evident in the bundles of stacked firewood besides her house for use during the rainy season.
“We normally cut trees during the dry spell for use as firewood when the rain sets in. That has been our tradition since I was born and unfortunately we do very little to restore our farms,” she said during an interview.
Harsh realities of climate change
Kyundua regrets the harsh realities of climate change attributed to failure to responsibly manage Mother Nature in a sustainable way but she isn’t enthusiastic about planting trees.
While most parts of the country experience heavy rains, Kitui County, which has suffered wanton destruction of trees, hasn’t received any meaningful rainfall in several seasons.
“I can’t remember the last time I planted trees, we’ve cut all indigenous ones available and planted virtually nothing but sadly we no longer get any rains and the situation is worsening every year,” she lamented.
According to the study by Green Africa Foundation, a non-governmental agency, Kenya loses an astonishing 5.6 million trees daily, despite relentless campaigns on environmental conservation.
The research findings reveal that 64.6 percent of all Kenya’s 8.7 million households (based on the 2009 national population census) depend entirely on firewood as their cooking fuel, where each harvests between 10kgs and 20kgs of firewood daily.
The deforestation problem in Kenya captures the situation on the entire African continent.
Studies show that at the end of 1990, Africa had an estimated 528 million hectares, or 30 percent of the world’s tropical forests. In several Sub-Saharan African countries, the rate of deforestation exceeded the global annual average of 0.8 percent.
While deforestation in other parts of the world is mainly caused by commercial logging or cattle ranching the leading causes in Africa are associated with human activity.
Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent’s population uses wood fuel for cooking, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, firewood and brush supply approximately 52 percent of all energy sources.
Depletion of forests
Studies done by the World Bank and other bodies show that land clearing by farmers may contribute as much as fuel wood gathering in the depletion of tree stocks.
According to Porter and Brown, conversion of forests for subsistence and commercial agriculture may account for as much as 60 percent of world-wide deforestation.
An estimated 20 to 25 percent of annual deforestation is thought to be due to commercial logging. The remaining 15 to 20 percent is attributed to other activities such as cattle ranching, cash crop plantations, and the construction of dams, roads, and mines.
A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that during the decade from 1980 to 1990, the world’s tropical forests were reduced by an average of 15.4 million hectares per year (0.8 percent annual rate of deforestation).
The area of land cleared during the decade is equivalent to nearly three times the size of France. The phenomenon of deforestation is occurring globally, in different types of forests, and for different reasons.
Green Africa Foundation chairman Isaac Kalua says the figures on deforestation in Kenya that translate to 2.04 billion trees every year, exclude more than 1.5million households in urban centres (or 16.9 per cent of population) who use charcoal.
“Generation after generation of Kenyans have been munching away the environmental resource through firewood harvesting, charcoal burning and other construction purposes without regard for their future,” the report reads.
Dr Kalua reveals that most of the 24,000 primary schools, 9500 secondary schools and factories also rely on firewood, thus further depleting trees.
“Kenyans are replanting only 12 percent of the trees cut and unless concrete measures are taken to arrest the current depletion rate, the country afforestation efforts will amount to nothing,” he says.
Adopt energy saving technology
The study warns that Kenyans must adopt energy saving technologies to stem the tide while they are encouraged to grow more trees because the current conservation efforts are not enough to replenish what is getting lost every day.
“We must use all means to entice Kenyans to join hands in planting trees to save this country from the adverse effects of climate change” he said.
However, Dr Kalua says Kenya can attain a 30 per cent tree cover in 10 years because it takes only seven years to establish a forest in the country due to the favourable climate as opposed to 60 years in European countries.
He suggests that if the government plants trees in all gazetted national parks and game reserves which account for 8 per cent of Kenya’s land mass, the country can surpass the 10 per cent constitutional obligation and achieve more than 20 per cent of forest cover.
“A further 20 per cent can be achieved if every Kenyan planted trees numbering their age and the whole country will be evenly afforested in a huge step towards restoring our forest cover,” he said in an interview.
“Kenyans must be recruited into a new green culture to increase tree cover in all corners of the country by educating which trees grow where and what they need to grow for commercial purposes,” he added.
National policy on climate change
The latest development comes at a time the government has formed a taskforce to develop a national policy and law on climate change.
The taskforce is expected to formulate a roadmap on how to deal with the effects of global warming. The law and policy on Climate Change would enhance co-ordination and implementation of adaptation measures on the effects of climate change.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the devastating global warming effects in the country are real and there is an urgent need to put in place adaptation measures.
As part of efforts to increase forest cover to the projected 10 percent by 2020, researchers have developed tree species that are adapted to arid counties and the technology is already being implemented on a pilot basis in nine counties namely Tharaka, Kitui, Machakos, Embu, Siaya, Homabay, Laikipia, Turkana and Marsabit.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Prof Judi Wakhungu says the government had set a target to plant 50 million trees this financial year, in a bid to fight climate change, which has become a global challenge.
She notes that ravages associated with climate change such as floods, drought and scarcity of food and water was a threat to environmental sustainability and the fight against extreme poverty and hunger.
The technology which involves harvesting rain water in arid areas to grow trees and crops on farms as well as on communal land has been extended to 19 other countries in Sub Saharan Africa, whose senior environmental officers have received training from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the past 19 years.