Bomet County in bid to increase tree cover to more than 22pc

Chief Conservator of Forests Dr Julius Kamau (third right) inspecting a tree seedling nursery at Chepalungu forest in Bomet county on June, 2, 2021 during an exercise led by the Kenya Forests Service to engage communities to protect and rehabilitate forests and reverse effects of climate change globally. Bomet county is seeking to raise tree cover above 22 per cent 

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

In a bid to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on the environment, the Bomet County government wants to increase the tree cover to more than 22 percent.

The county has in the past eight years raised the forest cover from about seven percent to 18 percent under environmental conservation programmes.

Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok said his administration was working with various stakeholders to turn around the negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change.

Pro Barchok cited partnerships with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), Tourism Fund, Safaricom Foundation, Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and multinational tea companies such as James Finlay and Sotik Highlands.

The goal, he said, is “to increase tree cover in Bomet County to surpass the 22 percent tree cover mark”.

The work will include enabling communities to raise tree nurseries and supply seedlings to residents for planting under a programme being implemented in the five sub-counties of Bomet East, Bomet Central, Sotik, Konoin and Chepalungu.

The communities are encouraged to plant trees with high commercial value that are environmentally friendly.

“Chepalungu forest is being rehabilitated after years of wanton destruction that saw local communities fell indigenous trees and engage in charcoal burning,” Prof Barchok said.

“The communities are now involved in management of the natural resource in what has resulted in a high sense of ownership.”

In the last five years, the county has partnered with local communities in planting 2.8 million tree seedlings and oversaw rehabilitation of 60 springs and rivers.

Women, youths and vulnerable groups have been incorporated into the programme to establish tree nurseries with the support of Community Forest Associations (CFAs) in the ambitious plan to raise tree cover.

The national government wants to have a minimum of 10 percent forest cover in Kenya by involving various stakeholders.

Nyeri County leads with an estimated 38 percent tree cover, a record that the Bomet County administration is confident it will surpass in a couple of years.

WWF chief executive Mohamed Awer told the Nation in Bomet recently that devolved governments need to fast-track development and implementation of spatial plans so as to guide environmental conservation and food security and create job opportunities.

“With the challenges brought by global warming, there is an urgent need for counties to join hands with various development partners and donor agencies to formulate sound and practical policies to conserve the environment, increase forest cover, provide clean and safe-to-drink water for the communities and raise the people’s livelihoods,” Mr Awer said.

Water levels in local rivers and streams have over the past two decades receded due to unchecked human activities in the Mau forest complex, a regional water source. Rivers in the South Rift region owe their existence to the Mau forest.

The government wants to rehabilitate the Mau forest, with over 60,000 families already evicted from farms they occupied in the forest on the Narok South side.

The KFS has erected an electric fence around part of the forest to curb further encroachment by local communities in what is expected to end years of conflict on the boundaries between private farmlands and the forest.

County governments in the region have hit headwinds in efforts to have local communities stop planting eucalyptus trees along rivers and streams and in water catchment areas. Eucalyptus trees are regarded as the greatest impediment in conserving the environment.

Despite the policies unveiled by Bomet, Kericho and Nyamira counties, the local governments lack the instruments to implement orders to farm owners to cut eucalyptus trees near water sources.

Eucalyptus are considered high water-consuming trees, sucking up a huge amount of underground water and threatening the existence of rivers.

Mr Joseph Kones, a leading environmental conservation champion in the South Rift region, has rallied local communities to adopt the planting of high value indigenous and exotic trees that are environmentally friendly and fetch income for residents.

“Along the local rivers, especially Nyangores, Isei and Amalo, which are major tributaries of the Mara river that empties its water into Lake Victoria, land owners have adopted the planting of bamboo and avocado, which are of high commercial value,” Mr Kones said.

He noted that as a result of sensitisation programmes over the years, local communities have scaled down the planting of eucalyptus, which, though fast-maturing, have little economic value and are not environmentally friendly.

Mr Jimmy Justus Nyamu, the man behind a global campaign to save elephants under the drive Ivory is for Elephants, says increasing tree cover in Kenya would help reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

“Millions of wildlife that depend on forest cover for their existence are faced with extinction due to illegal logging and failure to plant trees,” Mr Nyamu told the Nation in Kericho.

“A high number of animals have been killed by communities after straying from the forests, national parks and game reserves for lack of tree cover, food and water. This trend can be reversed with sensitisation of the local communities on the need to conserve the environment and protect wildlife, which is a national heritage.”

Last month, one person was killed and another seriously injured by a herd of elephants that strayed from the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok County to Kipreres ward in Bomet County in search of food because of the drought. Hundreds of animals have died due to lack of water and food at the world-renowned reserve.

Dr Julius Kamau, the chief conservator of forests, said the KFS managed 2.59 million hectares of forests while counties help the national government take care of another 1.7 million hectares.

“County governments play a leading role in efforts to increase the on-farm tree cover across the country. Land owners have been encouraged to set aside 10 percent of their farms for tree planting,” Dr Kamau said.

President William Ruto has committed to take charge of efforts to raise tree cover by involving all government institutions, private citizens, donor organisations, private sector players and other stakeholders.

Administrators of learning institutions have been asked to take a leading role in environmental conservation programmes and inculcate in local communities the culture of protecting natural resources.