How illegal baobab trees export scheme was foiled

Baobab tree

An 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 National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has revealed how quick action by its officers thwarted a plan by a Georgian national to illegally export baobab trees worth millions of shillings to Georgia.

The eight baobab trees, weighing 500,000 kilogrammes, had already been clumped by Mr Georgy Gvasaliya, with six of them already transported to Bofa Beach in Kilifi County ready for export.

Nema Director-General Mamo Boru Mamo said the export was foiled by the Authority as it was not done procedurally.

He said after the agency learnt of the baobab uprooting, Nema Board of Management formed an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter.

The investigations revealed Mr Gvasaliya had acquired a phytosanitary certificate for export of the trees from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) on April 13, 2022, and a permit of tree felling by Kilifi County government.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) had also issued the businessman with a movement permit allowing the transportation of the trees.

Mr Gvasaliya had also received approval for transportation of the trees and a certificate of origin from Kilifi County signed by Environment and Natural Resources Chief Officer Zena Mohammed.

However, Nema immediately issued a stop order and directed Mr Gvasaliya to comply with all requirements.

However, Mr Gvasaliya disregarded the order, forcing Nema to prosecute two directors of the company.

Mr Mamo said while the case was ongoing, Mr Gvasaliya applied for an Environmental Impact Assessment licence and a conditional licence was issued. But the licence has since been suspended.

Nema now wants further investigations on why Kephis permitted export of the baobab trees without consulting other agencies.

“There is need for proper regulations on management of on-farm genetic resources and awareness creation among the public on the potential uses and benefits of baobab trees in order to overturn the current bad impression attached to the tree by the locals,” a report by a Nema committee investigating the matter reads in part.

Mr Mamo said Nema has noted that several baobab trees have been felled by farmers or developers to get space for other purposes.