Kenya has lifted a six-year ban on logging, with President William Ruto announcing early this month that the ban was “long overdue” and would create jobs.
The decision has sparked outrage amongst ENGOs, with Greenpeace Africa stating that the decision “has put a harsh spotlight on the government’s mismanagement of the country’s forests.”
In a speech on July 2, President Ruto said logging would follow strict harvesting rules.
But critics are concerned that the Kenya Forest Service, the agency responsible for managing public forests and issuing logging licenses, has not been reformed since being labelled “corrupt” by a government inquiry.
“By lifting this ban, President Ruto has prioritised profit over people and nature,” said Greenpeace Africa’s Community Manager Tracy Makheti, who, like other environmentalists, expressed alarm at the government’s new policy.
Greenpeace Africa is now petitioning the government to reinstate the ban.
Public outcry over shrinking water resources led to the logging ban.
In 2018, public outcries over the destruction of water towers – specifically in mountain forests providing key water sources – led the National Assembly to lobby the government to suspend logging to arrest diminishing forest cover.
Under the leadership of then-President Uhuru Kenyatta, the government implemented a moratorium on logging in public forests.
After six years, the ban has positively impacted the country’s forest cover.
In 2021, the Kenya Forest Service conducted a National Forest Resource Assessment, bridging the information gap and facilitating knowledge sharing among stakeholders regarding Kenya’s forest and tree cover status.
By 2022, when the report was published, Kenya had surpassed the constitutional target of 10% tree cover, reaching 12.13%, translating to 7,180,000.66 hectares of forested area, according to Greenpeace.
Moreover, forest cover had increased from 5.9% in 2018 to 8.83%, an equivalent of 5,226,191.79 hectares.
A Multi-Agency Taskforce informed the decision.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya states that “an inventory informed the lifting of the ban on logging in gazetted public plantation forests of forest plantations undertaken by a Multi–Agency Taskforce between 2020 to 2022.”
In an article published in Kenya’s largest media publication, Ms Tuya reveals that of the 150,000 hectares of primarily cypress, pine, and eucalyptus exotic tree species, “26,000 hectares are of mature and over–mature forest plantation stocks.”
If not removed, Ms Tuya argues, “these materials would eventually die and rot with the attendant colossal loss in revenue, which would otherwise be used in the restoration of degraded public forest areas.”
“The Multi–Agency Taskforce also oversaw the e-registration of saw millers, leading to the prequalification of applicants into various categories based on respective capacities,” Ms Tuya said.
Climate Mitigation: Kenya to plant 15 billion trees.
While justifying the decision to lift the ban, President Ruto noted that it was absurd to have mature trees decaying in the forest.
At the same time, the local industries suffered from a lack of timber.
“We can’t have mature trees rotting in forests while locals suffer due to lack of timber. That’s foolishness,” President Ruto said.
“This is why we have decided to open up the forest and harvest timber to create jobs for our youth and open up business.”
The Kenyan President, who has positioned himself at the forefront of African efforts in the fight against climate change, says his government will maintain its goal of planting 15 billion trees over the next ten years.
Under the ‘National Programme for Accelerated Forestry and Rangelands Restoration,’ Kenya will plant 15 billion trees in urban and rural areas nationwide.
The focus of the program is reforestation, agroforestry, and afforestation.
Whereas Kenya has surpassed the constitutional requirement of realising a 10% forest cover, the government has boldly raised the target to 30%.
Kenya has emerged as a leading African voice in the fight against climate change, with former President Kenyatta as the Chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).
ENGOs applaud reforestation but remain concerned about logging.
“It’s ambitious for the government to plant new trees,” Tracey Makheti said, “but new trees are not equivalent to forest ecosystems.”
“When I heard the news on Sunday,” Tracey Makheti told the BBC, “I was completely devastated.”
“It takes generations to nurture an ecosystem and its associated benefits.”
“To cut them off at the pretext of planting new trees is absurd. The climate crisis cannot wait!”
Green Africa Foundation Executive Director John Kioli also regrets the President’s pronunciation: “On one hand, we are planting; on the other hand, we are cutting, and I can assure you, the cutting will be more!”
According to Greenpeace, the challenge lies in the intersection of environmental governance and political power.
“Political leadership, often restricted to short terms, prioritises immediate gains over long-term environmental needs,” according to a statement on the ban.
It has proposed several alternatives, including mixed-use plantations, “with a strict allowable cut of 5,000 hectares of exotic trees per year,” restoring biodiversity in bare buffer zones, non-timber forest products in areas adjacent to forests subject to the logging ban and alternatives “such as bamboo.”