Environment, Climate Change and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya has defended the lifting of the logging moratorium, saying it would reduce importation of timber to meet the high demand.
She added that the government has also embarked on a national tree planting initiative aimed at planting 15 billion trees by 2032.
Her defence of the logging ban lift came as the Environment and Land Court issued stay orders on the gazette notices announcing the de-gazettement of forest areas and barring the government from granting licenses and permits to fell trees.
Appearing before the Senate on August 2, 2023, Ms Tuya said the lifting of the logging ban does not apply to gazetted indigenous forests in the country. She explained that it only affects commercial plantations which form only 5 per cent of Kenya’s forest cover, occupying 150,000 hectares. Gazetted forests occupy two million hectares, she said.
“The lifting of the ban applies to only gazetted commercial plantations. The President has not said we are lifting a ban on logging in our indigenous forests but only within the 5 per cent of commercial plantations,” said Ms Tuya.
The CS was responding to concerns raised by West Pokot Senator Julius Murgor that the lifting of the ban will lead to further destruction to the already depleted forests in the country.
“Our forests are almost totally destroyed, and with the lifting of the ban, I can imagine the destruction that will go on,” said Mr Murgor. “What protective measures will the ministry take to protect what is remaining? In addition, what plans are there to reforest?”
Admitting that the country has a challenge of illegal logging and wanton destruction of ecosystems, Ms Tuya pointed out that there is no correlation between the lifting of the ban and the illegal activities that are going on within Kenya’s forests.
She explained that the import of the move by the government was to reinvigorate a timber market that has been doing poorly. The CS said the logging ban imposed in 2018 occasioned huge losses to saw millers and degradation of the commercial forest component of the economy and it is now time to rebuild the sector.
“We are doing importation left, right and centre even for toothpicks, and that has implications for the economy of our country, job creation to the young people,” she said.
Further, the CS said, the government has a sustainable tree harvesting plan where only 5,000 hectares are logged annually.
“This is to give room for a replanting plan. The maturity rate for commercial trees ranges between 15 and 35 years and this will allow for the rotation plan,” she said.
While addressing journalists at State House later in the day, President William Ruto also defended the move, saying tree harvesting will not affect the government’s plan to plant 15 billion trees in 10 years.
He said the government has taken proactive action to coordinate the harvesting and will maximise the value gained in using the resources, particularly those in the commercial plantations.
“We are going to make sure that the exercise does not lead to what we have seen in the past and it is the reason why this year we have hired an extra 1,500 officers, including wardens, to make sure that we take full charge of the exercise around our forests,” said the President.
Nominated Senator Esther Okenyuri asked what measures the government is taking to maintain rivers, lakes, mountains and riparian ecosystems in the country.
“These areas are under attack. Do we have any penalties for individuals who destroy natural resources?” asked Ms Okenyuri.
Ms Tuya said the government has adopted a multi-stakeholder approach with targets for schools, county government, ministries, departments and agencies, and the private sector.
She said schools are one of the major stakeholders as agents of afforestation, with 20,000 schools identified for tree nursery development. This, she explained, was because availability of seedlings to meet the annual tree planting target of 1.5 billion trees, was a major challenge.
Further, she said, the government was considering reviewing the Constituency Development Fund law to increase allocation for environmental protection from 2 per cent to 5 per cent.
“Part of the strategy will see 100,000 young men engaged through the CDF as part of ecosystem restoration,” she said.