Conservationists up in arms against forests Bill

Friends of Karura

Friends of Karura Forest (FKF) chairperson Dr Winnie Kiiru flanked by other members during a media briefing on January 25, 2022 at the 680 Hotel on the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation and Management Act of 2016.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Members of community forest associations in Nairobi have demanded that a forests Bill now in Parliament be withdrawn, arguing that its passage will endanger conservation efforts.

Lawmakers want to amend Section 34 of the Forest Conservation and Management Act to allow any person to petition the National Assembly to change forest boundaries and revoke registrations of state forests or portions of them.

The Bill also seeks to delete a section of the Act that compels those agitating for boundary changes to obtain the assent of the Kenya Forest Service.

“We strongly disagree with the proposal, because such matters should be decided by Parliament in consultation with the Kenya Forestry Service, which is a relevant state agency. This is as dictated by the Petitions to Parliament Act, 2012,” said Dr Winnie Kiiru, chairperson of Friends of Karura Forest Community Forest Association.

“Besides, the Act they want to repeal is the one that protects forests from activities that may endanger any rare, threatened or endangered species.”

Passing the Bill, she warned, will make it easier for land grabbers to take parts of the forest, further reducing a struggling forest cover.

“The presidential directive of 10 per cent forest cover will not be achieved if we don’t stop the grabbing of our forests. As per now, the cover is only at 7.4 per cent of Kenya’s land area,” she said.

The current forests Act, she said, has protected forests from legal excision, having been adopted following heavy destruction of forests in the 1990s and 2000s.

The situation had been so bad, she said, that in 2001, over 65,000 hectares of public land was excised in one day.

If the Bill passes, she warned, conservationists will fight it.

For his part, Emmanuel Mayian, the chairperson of the Oloitoktok Community Forest Association, said the Bill also threatens the livelihoods of pastoralist communities living near the conservancies.

Block the parliamentarians

“As pastoralists, we depend on forests to feed our livestock, and if the Bill passes, our livestock and communities are done for,” said Mr Mayian, who is also a member of the Forest Conservation Committee of the Nairobi Conservancy.

“We call upon the President to block the parliamentarians from finishing our forests. As pastoralists, we are declaring that no forest area will be taken from us, because the very forests were once part of our ancestral land.”

He added: “We will demonstrate all the way to Parliament to make sure that they listen to us.”

Each forest station in Kenya, noted Prof Karanja Njoroge, the Greenbelt Movement director, has unique boundary issues and if Parliament gets the power to review boundaries, all forest stations will be affected.

“Over the years, we have been able to deal with those issues because KFS, being the custodian of forests in Kenya, is able to engage with communities and work a way out of those social problems,” he explained.

“If we take that responsibility elsewhere, we are digging our own grave.”

In a joint statement, leading public and private conservation organisations said the proposed amendments would mean that the Kenya Forest Service will lose its power to review and sanction any proposed public forest boundary changes before being submitted to the National Assembly.

This, they said, will greatly weaken the governance mechanisms of public forests, ultimately weakening their protection.

They also argued that it had not been demonstrated why the Act needs to be amended, and that the proposals were made without public participation.

“We would like to remind the Kenyan Parliament that the country’s natural resources should be protected and prudently managed for the benefit of the current and future generations,” they said.

“We urge (MPs) who have the public interest at heart to reject the proposed amendment, as well as for citizens to stand up and shout for the protection of our forests and well-being.”

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