Billion-tree race is but one battle for Tobiko


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It is not apparent but I do hope that the ministry of Environment and Forestry is busy implementing the nationwide campaign that President Uhuru Kenyatta launched on May 12, 2018 at the Moi Forces Academy, whose objective is to plant at least 1.8 billion trees by 2022.

That works out to an impressive 360 million trees a year, or slightly under a million trees a day.

So large is the number of seedlings required to meet this ambition that the Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, and the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of Government, Dr Fred Matiang’i, signed an MOU in which the latter is to mobilise a range of agencies, and particularly those under his oversight, to supply the seedlings.

The slight problem here is that if close to one million trees were being planted every day, it could be evident as it means that each county is planting about 22,000 seedlings every day. To give you some perspective, the May 12 launch activity in Nairobi that involved hundreds of pupils, soldiers and National Youth Service recruits planted only about 26,000 seedlings.

So, if it was happening, we could see and feel the mobilisation right across the length and breadth of the country.

It is the kind of achievement that Minister Tobiko could be preening about and happy to share since I doubt he has any other more daunting task.

His silence could mean that he is so busy achieving the targets he has no time for applause, or that it is not happening.

He needs to worry about that, but even more urgent is that he needs to ensure that the seven per cent forest cover that we currently have does not continue being wantonly destroyed as has been the case.

The Marion Kamau task force the Minister set up in early 2018 to inquire into the forest resources and logging activities in Kenya made far-reaching recommendations that must be implemented. Only two recommendations are so far partly implemented — disbanding and reconstituting the Kenya Forestry Services board and streamlining the timber licensing regime.

While it is up to the Judiciary now to judge and punish sacked managers and board members of the disbanded KFS that are found guilty, there is plenty of work for Minister Tobiko to execute.

I am yet to see a gazette notice that bans the logging of cedar trees in all forests as recommended. The cedar tree is a favourite target of loggers and it must be protected. Neither has there been a legal move to review forest zonation and establish a core conservation zone “surrounded by a multiple-user buffer zone of not more than 500 metres … and all forest plantations inside the core conservation zone be converted back to indigenous forests”.

If this had happened, the phasing out of the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS) should have started too.

The task force suggested that PELIS be replaced with the concessioning of forest plantations “with a role for the community associations”.

This could have triggered the healing of, for example, large forest areas in the southern Aberdares, now being abused under the PELIS (or shamba system) system. In this area inside the Aberdares conservation fence near the forest stations of Kieni, Keraita, Kamakia and South Kinangop, there are several thousand hectares of state forest land that farmers are growing cash crops on and on which livestock range freely.

This grim picture is replicated in the Cherangani range, the Mt Kenya reserve, the Aberdares, the Mau Forest complex and in the Mt Elgon region, which comprise the five main water towers in Kenya. One may argue that there has been some success in reducing illegal logging but that is hardly enough.

Minister Tobiko must rediscover the zeal that he demonstrated in the early days in office and lead his armada at Mazingira House in this conservation war. The 1.8 billion trees by 2022 is just one of the battles that he must win.

The other is to protect the little forest cover we have left. Fearless and quick implementation of the task force report should happen, now.

Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Group and is now consulting; [email protected], @tmshindi

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