NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 23- For the past five years, residents of Voo location in Kitui County have not harvested anything from their land due to failing rains.
A majority have retired to fate and think the area was meant to be like that and instead have resorted to other means in a bid to ensure they get not three meals per day, but just one.
Locals who spoke to Capital FM News, during an extensive tour of the area know nothing about the connection between rainfall and a healthy or degraded environment – simply put, trees.
They have been involved in charcoal burning that is threatening to wipe out the skimpy forest cover in the vast dry county.
The reason being, “it is the only thing we can do to earn a living.”
One such individual is Samuel Mutuku who says he will be rendered jobless if a current directive by Governor Charity Ngilu banning the selling of charcoal outside the county is effected.
“This will put our lives to a halt,” Mutuku said.
But he has a proposal; “the governor should allow us to burn charcoal for at least one more year before the ban is enforced. We have had a prolonged drought.”
In fact, they say the governor should negotiate a better price for their charcoal in a bid to boost their income.
Before the governor came to the rescue of the Mother Nature, they used to sell a bag of charcoal at Sh400.
In a month, one can make slightly more than Sh10,000 per month according to Rose Kavula, a longtime charcoal burner.
“There is nothing else we can do since there is no water. For five years, I have never harvested anything from my land,” she said.
And though they were defensive of their acts, a spot check by this reporter revealed that indeed if the trend continues, the area will completely lose the few trees it has.
According to the locals, a majority of them have no formal skills to pursue other job opportunities.
– It is about the environment –
Governor Ngilu was been criticized after the ban, with majority of charcoal traders from other counties accusing her of inciting locals against ‘outsiders’ doing business with them.
This was after a truck was burnt by youths protesting against further destruction of the environment.
But Ngilu wonders why police failed to stop the arsonists since the truck was allegedly in their custody.
“Much as a suspect has been charged at an Embu court with arson, police too will need to explain how they lost the truck to arsonists. Was there a fight? Were the police sleeping on the job or were they simply overpowered?” she queried.
She has advised “Kitui peasant farmers” against being enticed by the quick cash that often comes with the activity, but end up destroying their environment.
“I have a duty as a leader to take decisive measures to protect our environment in order to mitigate perennial droughts and erratic rainfall experienced in this region,” she asserted.
– Forest cover –
Kenya’s forest cover is rated at 5.3 per cent.
Between 1990 and 2000, Kenya lost an average of 12,600 hectares of forest per year.
Over time, the effects of this are gradually catching up with the country, as evidenced by the prolonged drought.
The new Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Keriako Tobiko has since issued a tough warning on illegal logging, which plays a huge role in destroying the environment.
He said illegal logging has led to drought and water shortage in various parts of the country, saying those found destroying the environment will not be spared.
“As I take office, this country is facing serious drought and water shortage and this is because we have interfered with our water catchment areas by carrying out illegal logging and encroachment of wetlands. We are going to take immediate actions to those found culpable,” the CS said on February 19, the day he assumed office.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions also put on notice millers who harvest trees beyond the required quarters, saying their licenses will be revoked.
“Those licenses have been given to you with trust; you are supposed to harvest within the allocated quarters and you are required to replant, and there are those who do not do that and I want to put them on notice if they do not comply I will have their licenses suspended or revoked,” he cautioned.
As a result of the prolonged drought, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) is seeking Sh1.044 billion to fund its 2018 drought response and recovery program which is projected to reach some 1.3 million people in Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) counties.
About 3.4 million people concentrated in 10 ASAL counties are facing food insecurity as a result of prolonged drought and failed rainfall.