Uprooting baobab to ‘preserve’ is wrong

Baobab tree

An uprooted baobab tree ready for export to Georgia is transported along the Mombasa-Malindi Highway in this photo taken on November 20, 2022.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit I Nation Media Group

The government has finally revoked the licence that had been issued allowing the uprooting of the baobab tree for export.

The action by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry, following a directive by the President, has now revived the hope that was slowly vanishing as regards the conservation of the rare baobab trees. That comes after an outcry by environmentalists, who condemned the licensing of the environmental faux pas.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) had on November 1 approved the operations of Ariba Seaweed International Limited leaning on an international treaty. According to the details, the company landed a two-year contract to deal specifically with an indigenous tree for botanical purposes, which is possibly preventing the species from going into extinction.

Despite the species being endangered and at risk of extinction, Arabia started uprooting the gigantic baobab trees for export to Georgia, in the United States. That happened as the President had, only days earlier, pledged to lead a campaign to plant more than 10 billion trees in the country over a decade.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the Kenya Plant Inspectorate Service (Kephis) should work with other government agencies to ensure that they achieve the tree-planting plan.

That, however, does not give permission to the two agencies to give a go-ahead to individuals or organisations to destroy the existing forests and trees.

To give the benefit of the doubt, the international company could have had a good plan for the preservation of the endangered baobab. But that can be achieved by other means—such as the shipping of parts, like the trunk, without uprooting the whole tree. 

The trunks can then be modified for multiplication to save the tree species from extinction. One should not uproot an endangered species for a botanical purpose or even for its preservation.

Despite the financial benefit to the residents, of Sh100,000-300,000 for a baobab, uprooting the trees will eventually expand the desert since it will reduce vegetation cover in the country.

These moves by a foreign company should, however, act as an eye-opener for the government to value and protect our national heritage. It should invest in industries for guardedly exploiting the baobabs’ economic value locally and have the end product exported for foreign exchange. The industries will also create jobs.

Baobabs have a lifespan of about 3,000 years and numerous economic values, including nutritional and medicinal ones. That should be enough reason for their protection and controlled local exploitation.

Dominic Mwangi, Nakuru

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