Rachael Ruto denies Kakamega forest land grabbing claims

First Lady Rachel Ruto

First Lady Rachel Ruto yduring the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat) held on June 6, 2023 at the UNEP Headquarters in Gigiri. The First Lady was accused of grabbing part of Kakamega forest land when she announced the adoption of the 200 hectares of the forest.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

First Lady Rachel Ruto, has denied claims that she grabbed part of Kakamega Forest land when she adopted the ecosystem in November last year.

A section of politicians from Kakamega County have claimed that the First Lady grabbed part of the tropical forest land when she announced the adoption of the 200 hectares of the forest.

"I have come here to clear the air following concerns raised by politicians about my adoption of part of the forest. The adoption was to plant more trees in the forest, protect it and make it better than it is," she said.

She explained that her initiative was aimed at protecting the country's environment and encouraged other like-minded Kenyans to join her in restoring the forests.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, who accompanied the First Lady during the planting of 30,000 tree seedlings in Kakamega Forest, said no land was lost from the forest after the First Lady adopted the 200 hectares.

Mr Khalwale cautioned some leaders in the county to stop politicising every activity initiated by other leaders outside their political affiliation.

"There is a need for our people to understand the meaning of 'adoption' so that they are not misled by politicians. We are here to ensure that our forest is conserved and taken care of properly," said Mr Khalwale.

He explained: "Tree adoption is the process of restoring and preserving a tree by supporting its arborist care and the horticultural team that nurtures and cares for it. When you adopt a tree, you make a commitment to look after the tree as it develops or matures for an indefinite period of time".

She explained that you get to "own" a tree and take good care of it. The same is true when you adopt land for the purpose of planting trees.

This is what she did when she adopted part of the forest. She has promised to preserve and restore the trees on the 200 hectares, not to own it. "

He urged the government to engage development partners to adopt the carbon trading policy to provide free cooking gas and gas cylinders to save Kenyan women from using firewood.

 The First Lady also inaugurated the seventh Mama Fruit Garden at Shikusa Primary School in Kakamega as part of her ambitious initiative to promote food production alongside achieving a 30 per cent tree cover target in the country.

The exercise saw the planting of over 30,000 tree seedlings in Kakamega's vast tropical forest and an additional 1,000 fruit trees at Shikusa Primary School as part of ecosystem restoration.

Ms Ruto, who was accompanied by county first ladies from Kericho, Bungoma, Nyamira and Uasin Gishu, advocated for clean cooking methods to reduce the use of firewood, which she said contributes to deforestation.

She noted that globally, 23,000 people die each year from smoke inhalation, which calls for the use of alternative fuels.

Last week, the First Lady was in Trans Nzoia County where she inaugurated the sixth orchard.

"I have come to contribute to the nourishment of the forest where I adopted 200 acres for reforestation in November last year. I have also started planting fruit trees which have many benefits including providing nutritious food sources and food security as well as environmental benefits," said Ms Ruto.

The chairman of the Water Towers Authority, Rashid Echesa, pledged to take the lead in planting trees on 500 acres of the forest and ensure that the forest regains its glory.

"We want to ensure that Kakamega has 12.3 per cent tree cover before 2032 when Kenya is expected to have 30 per cent forest cover.

He said agriculture in Kenya has been affected by the dwindling number of water catchment areas, resulting in severe drought that has claimed lives and livestock in several counties.

The former Sports Cabinet Secretary said deforestation had contributed to the destruction of wildlife habitats, which had led to human-wildlife conflicts and affected tourism.

He urged leaders to carry out sensitisation programmes in schools on the importance of preserving and protecting the environment.

Kakamega's First Lady Janet Kasili Barasa said Kakamega forest was the 'second gold' the county was proud of after the gold mines in Ikolomani.

"Governor Fernandes Barasa has already overseen the fencing of 117km of the forest in the first phase. In the coming months, we will fence another part of the forest to protect it from encroachment and unwarranted destruction," she said.

She urged the government to provide alternative sources of fuel to local communities living around the forest to preserve the ecosystem.

Other leaders who accompanied Ms Ruto were Commissioner for Revenue Allocation Khadija Nganyi, Kakamega Woman Representative Elsie Muhanda and County Executive for Water, Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change Penina Mukabane.