Communities living around the Aberdare Forest and environmentalists are now demanding a share of resources generated through the licensing of logging.
The community in Nyandarua County complained about massive destruction of their farms by soil erosion that is also causing floods, a situation they say had been caused by massive felling of trees.
The community also blames the floods and huge trucks for destroying rural access roads.
Resident Ann Kabura, who lives in Kinangop’s southern part of the water catchment area, explained with bitterness the impact of thirty years of massive destruction of the forest.
Ms Kabura and other community members neighbouring the Karandi part of the forest have to contend with the open field dotted with thousands of red cedar stumps, all harvested decades ago without replacements.
“Our farms and crops are destroyed when it rains heavily in the mountains. The flooding also destroys our roads. This was not the case when I was growing up and the forest cover was intact. It pains me anytime I see huge trucks leave the forest loaded with logs,” she said.
She complains that commercial loggers do not participate in replacing the trees nor repairing or rehabilitating roads.
“We are banned from collecting firewood from the forest, which was not the case when I was a young girl,” Ms Kabura added.
In those years, it took her about 20 minutes to collect enough firewood for the family, a duty assigned by the parents after school.
“As young girls, we collected firewood from the forest. We had no business felling the tree as the dry branches provided enough firewood,” she said.
Amos Kimuhu, who comes from the same area, says a percentage of the money raised by the government in licensing commercial saw milliers should be used in rehabilitating the forest and in community projects.
1 billion trees target
“We hunted in the forest, it was fun gathering the sweet wild berries and other fruits as a young boy. But the berries and fruits have disappeared with the massive cutting of the trees and the Karandi part of the Aberdare forest. Our children and grandchildren will never enjoy the beauty and fun of forest,” he said.
The sprawling acres of empty land previously occupied by the red cedar has now been reduced to grazing land, feeding thousands of sheep from the neighbourhood.
Environmental experts say the destruction of this side of the Aberdare forest has affected climate and weather patterns in other parts of the country, including parts of the Rift Valley, Central, Nairobi, which now experience unpredictable rains.
Nancy Githaiga, environment expert with the World Wide Fund for Nature-Kenya (WWF-Kenya), an organisation working with the local community and the Kenya Forest Service to rehabilitate the depleted water catchment areas, says a lasting solution is to have Kenyans plant enough trees on their own farms.
“Whether they are loggers or individuals like you and me, we are looking at a situation where every Kenyan must be involved in planting trees. Every Kenyan needs to plant 25 trees to achieve the 1 billion trees target; with that number, no one will be interested in invading the forests and catchment areas,” she said.
The organisation is seeking to rehabilitate 500 hectares of public depleted forest and water catchment areas and have farmers plant 100 hectares of private farms with the indigenous trees.
“For those doing business, that is commercial saw millers, they need to join hands with the local communities in rehabilitating the forests because we still need wood. If people can plant trees on their farms, they don’t have to come to the forest. It is a matter of sustainability; if the farmers plant trees in their farms they will be able to provide enough for the loggers,” said the WWF expert.
The Karandi part of the Aberdare Forest in Nyandarua South Sub-ccounty, she said, is among the beneficiaries in the four-year, 500-hectare water catchment areas rehabilitation programme, working with the local community.
Samuel Ihura, the Kenya Forest Service head of Central Highlands Forest Conservancy, says the community-WWF partnership is aimed at rehabilitating the forests to their original state, through the planting of indigenous trees.
“KFS will work with the local communities through Community Forest Associations (CFAs) to ensure the protection of the forest and catchment areas. Logging is still a challenge but we are happy with the courts imposing heft fines on those arrested,” he said.
Massive destruction of this part of the Aberdare Forest and catchment areas, he said, was growing with the red cedars that were harvested 15 to 30 years ago, leaving behind the bare open fields.