The Forestry Society of Kenya has backed Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s proposal to reintroduce the controversial ‘shamba system’ to reclaim degraded forest areas.
National chairperson Joram Kagombe said the system does not harm the environment if well implemented.
Speaking at the society’s annual meeting in Malindi, Dr Kagombe said the system can support communities living adjacent to forests and agricultural crops can be grown alongside forest trees.
Dr Kagombe, a research scientist at the Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kefri), said locals should be allowed to plant trees on bare forest lands as farming continues.
“The International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) came to Kenya in 1978 because the country was planting trees well through the system, and that is also how Kenya became the organisation's headquarters. Now, there is also the World AgroForestry Centre,” he said.
He added: “Nobody said that cutting forests will be done [haphazardly] but we want wherever there is bare land, it should be in use, because the contribution of food and wood has been there in the past," he said.
Dr Kagombe added that Australia, Uganda and Tanzania practised the shamba system using the Kenyan model.
He said Kenya has enough land and the country would not have needed to import timber if the shamba system had been allowed to continue.
“Now we are like the porters who walk barefoot to all places to get timber from Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when we were self-sufficient in timber supplies.
Dr Kagombe expressed his shock that the indigenous Arabuko Sokoke forest in Kilifi County had thousands of acres of bare land, calling it poor land management.
Kenya should increase forest cover and invest in activities to support conservation and forests on public, community and private land, said Alfred Gichu, head of the Forest Conservation Directorate at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
Mr Gichu said the shamba system as a form of plantation management had been practised for ages in Kenya and globally.
“It supports plantation establishment and concurrently livelihoods for communities that reside in areas immediately next to forests and landscapes,” he said.
“Over time, it has had challenges that required intervention. We have had instances where it is associated with poor plantation establishment practices. But they are issues that can be addressed if we approached it more professionally."
He said there should be a “programme that speaks to the national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increased forest cover”.