Sustainable production and consumption—socially beneficial, economically viable and environmentally benign over their life cycle—of forests is vital. Thus, forest management is important.
Forests are not always about timber. They play a crucial role in maintaining the climate, biodiversity, fresh water system and soil, all critical to our wellbeing. They also provide clean air (carbon management), watersheds and conservation of critical plant species in the ecosystem.
People depend on forest for wood and non-wood products. Wood fuel such as charcoal accounts for almost half of round wood production. About 60 per cent of forests are primarily used for wood production. Most Kenyans residing in rural areas use wood for heating and cooking.
Forests offer a large variety of tree species (biodiversity), critical in the ecological service, which makes life liveable. Tree species with medicinal values cure diseases, lengthening lifespans.
In sustainable development, forests help in combating soil erosion in agricultural fields to mitigate the effect of climate change. In many economies, industries for forest products provide jobs, giving people incomes and the state revenue.
However, for sustainability in forest production, we must change the tide on deforestation (the main way of extracting round wood) and other land use activities, which accounts for 11 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. With deforestation, we are unlikely to meet climatic goals.
Due to deforestation, many animal and plant species suffer loss of habitat, resulting in their extinction. About 70 per cent of land animals and plants species live in the forest. Large rainforests contain different tree species. The big trees provide canopy for smaller plants, which helps in temperature regulation.
Deforestation leads to intense temperature variations, mostly like in deserts, that could prove fatal to many inhabitant species. Other effects include coastal flooding and soil erosion. Tree cover helps the land to retain top fertile soil, which provides nutrients to sustain additional forest life. Else, the top soil might erode, leaving the land barren, forcing farmers to clear more forests in search of good soil for agriculture. The land left behind is more susceptible to flooding.
A November 5, 2012 Unep report says deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of $68 million (Sh6.8 trillion) in 2010.
On the International Day of Forests today, the government should form a sustainable forest management body to oversee improved utilisation of wood products and adopting “cascading principles” —wood-based products, extending their lives, reuse, recycling, bioenergy and then disposal. It should support and create proper awareness on reforestation and afforestation and holistic approaches to natural forest landscape restoration.
Chadwick Michura, Siaya