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Report: How KFS colluded to destroy Kenya's forests.

The custodians of Kenya's forests have ravaged precious natural resources for their own financial gain.

A damning report on the state of forests and logging has revealed how the forests' custodian - the Kenya Forest Service - has destroyed swathes of precious trees countrywide.

The report released on Monday says the board and management of KFS have been unable to stem, and in some instances, have directly participated in, abated, and systemised rampant corruption and abuse of office.

By so doing, the damning report says, the two have overseen wanton destruction of our forests, systematically plundered and pillaged water towers and are responsible for the bringing our environment to the precipice.

"KFS has institutionalised corruption and the system is replete with deep-rooted corruptive practices, lack of accountability and unethical behaviour," says part of the report which will be presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta in nine days.

The Mau Forests Complex for instance has been particularly hard hit by forest excisions, illegal settlements, and intense illegal abstraction of forests resources.

"Forest excisions in 2001 alone amounted to 61,587 hectares, affecting in particular Eastern Mau Forest Reserve (35,301 hectares), South Western Mau Forest Reserve (23,296 hectares), Molo Forest Reserve (901 hectares)," the task force says.

The team was headed by the Green Belt Movement chairperson Marion Kamau handed over the report to Environment CS Keriako Tobiko on Monday.

The CS also received a sealed brown envelope that is said to contain the names of officials set to be investigated before they are prosecuted.

He promised that the report "will not be shelved."

The task force was formed in March 5, by Deputy President William Ruto to help the country restore its depleted forest cover, after public outcry..

The task force says that at least 2,436 hectares in Mau was illegally allocated to public utilities, such as schools and police stations, as well as for private development like churches.

Main illegal activities in the Mau Forests Complex are logging, targeting mostly cedar trees, charcoal production, and unauthorised livestock grazing

In Mount Elgon,the forest has heavily been impacted by the creation of settlements, the expansion and failure of the Plantation Establishment Livelihood Improvement Scheme.

The task force also unearthed that there was permitted logging of hardwood indigenous tree species.

"The poorly planned Chebyuk excision with an original extent of 3,686 hectares more than doubled to 8,700 hectares due to encroachment that were subsequently formalized as Chebyuk II and Chebyuk III settlements."

Further encroachments are now forcing the Government to create Chebyuk IV settlement.

The task force said despite the presidential ban on felling or logging of indigenous trees decreed in 1986, the Forestry Department issued licenses to RaiPly to log hardwood tree species in Kaberwa Forest Station.

The company had been active in Mount Elgon since the beginning of the 1980s but major activities started in 1994.

The main targeted tree species was Elgon teak (Olea capensis welwitschii) to make plywood and veneer. Other logged tree species included Red stinkwood (Prunus africana) and Muna (Pouteria adolfi-friedericii).

The Kakamega Forest,according to the task force is impacted by encroachments, irregular excisions, and to a lesser extent by illegal logging and charcoal making.

Within the forest, two major major irregular excisions with settlements covering a total of approximately 573 hectares exists.

The larger of the two areas covered 443 hectares for Shikuza Prison, comprising of small built-up areas surrounded by extensive cultivation of crops.

In the northern forest reserves, pastoral communities have established bomas and manyattas and settled inside the forest.

In Leroghi Forest Reserve within Samburu County, over 600 households have established manyattas and settled in the forest, leading to extensive forest degradation and soil erosion.

Although Arabuko Sokoke covers only 7,621.8 hectares, it ranks as the second most important for threatened bird conservation in sub-Saharan Africa.

The forest holds a very high diversity in terms of habitats, fauna and flora.

However, the forest is being threatened by Illegal logging of indigenous trees through collusion with KFS officers.

The task force has proposed for a total ban on the logging of cedar trees on public, private and community lands.

The shocking report also unearthed how the government is losing revenue running to billions through undervaluation.

In Elgeyo Forest Station instance, KFS staff are said to have colluded with saw millers.

In one of the forest compartment named 4(C), 221 trees declared at Sh 6,090 per tree for total value of Sh 1,345,890 had been captured.

However, the actual number was 1400 trees valued at Sh 8,526,000.

This represents a loss in revenue for the government of Sh 7,180,110.

"In another compartment named 10(A), 3,000 trees were declared at Sh 10,017 per tree, for total value of Sh 30,051,000.However, the actual number was 9,475 trees valued at Sh 94,911,075.This represents a loss in revenue for the Government of Sh 64,860,075,"the report says.

Compartment named 10(H) had 7,800 trees declared at Sh 8,500 per tree, for total value of Sh 66,300,000.

However, the actual number was 14,700 trees valued at Sh 124,950,000.

This represents a loss in revenue for the government of Sh 58,650,000.

In a similar case compartment named 5(A) captured 2,200 trees declared at Sh 13,485 per tree, for total value of Sh 29,667,000.

However, the actual number was 5,200 trees valued at Sh 70,122,000, representing a loss in revenue for the government of Sh 67,155,300.

This amounts to a total loss of Sh 197,845,485 in four forest plantation compartments alone.

Charcoal burning and wood carving by the neighbouring communities also threatens the forest.

The unsustainable exploitation, tourism development and large-scale infrastructure also threatens Mangrove forests.

In Lamu County, where a significant proportion of the mangroves is found, it was found that the local communities are sustainably managing the mangroves as a key source of livelihood.

However, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-EthiopiaTransport project threatens the mangrove ecosystem.

The task force now wants Tobiko to constitute a new KFS Board after the term of former board expired March 31.

The board will commence immediate administrative investigation process for the sixteen suspended officers of KFS.

On March 12,several senior KFS officers were asked to step aside for a probe to be undertaken.

They include Emilio Mugo(Chief Conservator),Esther Keige(Corporation Secretary) and Victor Kobia(Procurement), Wasike Simiyu(Head of Plantation) and Patrick Nyagah(Head of Finance).

However, Kobia and Keige were reinstated by labour court.

Some 26 other senior foresters across the country that include have either gone on compulsory leave or been interdicted by KFS.

Tobiko has also been tasked to establish an organ with powers to undertake public vetting of serving KFS personnel.

This will help to eliminate malpractice by officers, instill an ethical culture within the service and restore public confidence in the Institution.

The task force was also taken aback after finding out that some of the forests only exists on paper.

For instance the Kitalale Forest (1,860 hectares) which is still gazetted as Forest Reserve but is entirely settled.

Other forests that only exists on paper include the Manzoni and Mautuma blocks ,totaling 2,862 hectares.

In Ol Pusimoru Forest Reserve, approximately 20,155 hectares have been adjudicated, settled and title deeds issued

The task force found out that the Enosupukia Forest was in 1980s 7,941 hectares.

However, it has lost 98 per cent of forest cover due to encroachment and agricultural expansion.

The current forest cover stands at 183 hectares.

Marmanet forest in the other hand was 30,488 hectares in 1990.

By 2010, the forest had lost 12,459 hectares of its cover.

Community forests-Maasai Mau (Narok County) and Mt Kulal (Marsabit County)- have also not be spared by degradation.

The two are largest community forests covering approximately 45,800 hectares and 45,763 hectares, respectively.

Maasai Mau is one of the 22 forest blocks forming the Mau Forests Complex.

The task force found out that the forest has been extensively impacted by illegal settlements, deriving from the ballooning of five adjacent group ranches during the sub-division of their land.

Based on the interpretation of satellite images, it is estimated that 13,281 hectares have been destroyed between 1973 and 2014 for illegal settlements in the Maasai Mau forest.

A detailed report produced by the Interim Coordination Secretariat in 2011 indicated that 7,864 families have settled inside the Maasai Mau forest.

Of these families, only 421 have title deeds.

During the subdivision and ballooning of the five adjacent group ranches, 4,242 hectares were allocated to 13 companies and business names, and that among the beneficiary companies, five have no record in the Registrar of Companies.

In addition, the task force unearthed massive illegal logging of cedar trees at the Maasai Mau in the unsettled area of the forest, as well as large herds of livestock.

The wanton destruction has had adverse impacts ranging from loss of wildlife, reduction of forest cover, degradation of water catchment and depletion of water resources.

In Mau Forest Complex for instance,a 2016 intensive ground survey revealed that there is no sign of large mammals in 17 of 22 forest blocks.
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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:May 2, 2018
Words:1744
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