Back in business! State now allows export of Kilifi baobabs to Georgia

Baobab tree

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 now approved the controversial export of baobab trees from Kilifi to Shekvetili Dendrological Park Ltd in Ureki, Ozurgeti Municipality, Georgia.

After issuing a permit in November and weeks later revoking it after President William Ruto ordered a probe, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) Chief Conservator Julius Kamau allowed a Georgian, Mr Georgey Gvasaliya, to export eight baobab trees.

In a January 30 letter, Mr Kamau approved the export following instructions from Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya on January 18.

The trees weigh close to 500,000 kilogrammes.

“KFS issued you with authority to export the eight baobab trees dated November 1, 2022, which was subsequently revoked vide letter dated November 22, 2022. Following instructions from CS Environment the revocation of the export permit is hereby lifted,” Mr Kamau says in the letter.

KFS says it also considered that baobab is not an endangered tree species as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Additionally, baobab is not a protected tree species in Kenya and it is also not on any Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendices.

“Also the county government of Kilifi has issued a certificate of origin and permit to harvest and farmers and the proponent have indicated (a) willingness to trade,” KFS says.

The approval also considered that the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) had issued a phytosanitary certificate while the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya (Nema) gave out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license on January 17.

“The authority is granted subject to payment of any government statutory fees. This licence is only applicable for the eight baobab trees,” said Mr Kamau.

The letter is copied to the Forest Conservation and Management, Forest Protection and Security (FPS), KFS Ag Manager-Finance and

Accounting, Coast Conservancy Ag Regional Forest Conservator and Kilifi County Forest Conservator.

Mr Gvasaliya’s firm was uprooting the Adansonia digitata species of baobab from the Tezo area in Kilifi.

According to Nema, the baobabs are for transplanting in Georgia for conservation programmes and educational purposes.

Already, the Seven Stars, Seamless Project Cargo Logistic company has issued a public notice for the movement of the baobab trees.

The trees will be moving from the yard at Bofa, where they were preserved under special treatment and conserved ahead of transportation between February 15 and June 30.

Kilifi- Mtondia- Majaoni- Tezo-Bofa beach road –Kilifi roads will be affected during the transportation of the trees.

The Nation.Africa also learnt on November 7, 2022, Nema Director General Mamo Mamo wrote to the Director of Public Prosecution in Kilifi and requested him to withdraw a court case filed against Mr Gvasaliya.

Other respondents in the case are Mr Richard Korir Kipsang and Ms Patrcia Njeri Njuno who had been charged with illegally uprooting baobab trees.

Nema had said the uprooting of the trees might lead to unsustainable use of natural resources since they had not
done an EIA. 

The environmental authority stated that the decision to acquit the accused of the charges and withdraw the case came after they complied and acquired the required permits and clearance from the KFS and the county government.

Last November, President William Ruto instructed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to look into the ongoing uprooting of the baobab trees in Kilifi to ensure it was within the Convention on Biodiversity and Nagoya Protocols.

“There must be adequate authorisation and an equitable benefit-sharing formula for Kenyans. Further, the exercise must be in line with the Government’s agenda of planting 15 billion trees in the next ten years,” he said then.

On Wednesday, Nature Kenya Coastal Region Programme Officer Francis Kagema questioned how Nema and KFS issued a license for uprooting the baobab and later revoked it.

“We would understand if the court would cancel the licence. However, they gave the license then went ahead to cancel the same licence,” he said.

Mr Kagema said despite Nature Kenya and environmentalists leading in objecting to the uprooting of the baobab, the relevant institutions did not engage in public participation.

"If they could have engaged everyone, we could not have issues where permits are issued and revoked," he said.

According to Mr Kagema, after the President spoke on the uprooting of the baobabs, everything stopped, and officials in the institutions started to prove themselves innocent.

“Some officers from Nema, KFS, Kephis and the Kilifi County is as dirty as involved as they had already licensed the uprooting of the baobab. Media put it out there, people made the noise, and the President picked up and stopped it. Otherwise, it would have continued,” he said.