On Monday this week, Kenya and Germany signed a memorandum of understanding to help the former guard against further destruction and harvesting of public forests. The Sh110 million two-year initiative will see Germany assist Kenya to register private forests through legal and technological capacity building. To support the enhancement and increase of private forest resources, owners will be offered finance, technical assistance and possible tax rebates on land rates.
Ultimately, it is expected the exercise will ease pressure on government forests to conserve water catchment areas. Therefore, wood harvesting will be the preserve of private forests. This is definitely a boon for Kenya’s efforts to increase forest cover, which the World Bank currently estimates at 7.8 per cent.
This is less than the stipulated international benchmark of 12 per cent. The Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) defines forests as land spanning more than half hectare, with trees higher than five metres and a canopy cover of more than 15 per cent or trees able to reach this threshold.
This includes natural and planted plantation forests on both State and private land. Obviously, forests are one of the most important national assets economically, environmentally, socially and culturally. It is estimated the forest sector contributes about Sh7 billion to the national economy.
The sector employs more than 50,000 people directly and an additional 300,000 indirectly. More than 530,000 households living within a 5km-radius from the forest reserves depend on forest for cultivation, grazing, fuel food, honey, herbal medicines, water and other benefits.
Moreover, sustainable supply of raw materials to the wood industry has been found crucial to protection and conservation of natural forest. Natural forests also act as carbon sinks as well as offering water catchments and biodiversity conservation functions.
There can be nowhere better to learn about forestry than Germany, one of the most wooded countries, not just in Europe, but also in the world. Around 11.4 million hectares, corresponding to a third of the country’s territory, are covered with forests. Forests have increased by more than one million hectares over the past five decades. However, Germany retains very little of her “indigenous” trees.
Today’s forests have been planted in the past few decades through regeneration with site-adapted tree species. Consequently, about 73 per cent of German forests nowadays consist of mixed stands. Trees in the federal State are distributed depending on the specific natural features and site conditions, as well as on different historic developments.
Importantly, we need to undertake a national forestry audit to fill in gaps towards having an effective forest management framework in the country. In Germany, for instance, responsibility for forests is mainly the purview of federal countries (länder), which are comparable to counties.
The national or Federal Government is left with the role of setting the forest policy framework, while the länders are responsible for the formulation and implementation of concrete forest policy targets. Private persons, corporates (municipalities) and the State—mainly the länder—own the woodlands. Forty eight per cent of the 11.4 million hectares of forest in Germany are private forests while 29 per cent of forests are owned by länders, 19 per cent by corporations and four per cent by the State.
Ultimately, sustainable forest management is both a challenge and an opportunity. As the Forest Policy 2014 states, Kenya needs to operationalise the framework for improved forest governance through resource allocation, partnerships and collaboration with both State and non-State actors.
The National and County governments have to play their part in providing enabling environment, effective extension service, forestry research and allocation of funds to the sector. The writer is executive director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]