Kenya’s tree cover now stands at 12.13 percent while forest cover is at 8.83 percent up from 5.9 percent of 2018, the National Forest Resources Assessment (NFRA) Report 2021 states.
Within these percentages are 7,180,000.66 hectares, where up-to 37 counties out of the 47 (79 percent) have a tree cover percentage greater than 10 percent. Additionally, the statistics indicate that the country has a tree cover per capita index of 1,507.48 m2 per person.
Under national forest cover are 5,226,191.79 hectares that represent 8.83 percent of the total area. Forest cover is unevenly distributed across the country with the central region, parts of western and the coast region being the most forested parts of the country.
This means that Kenya has attained and exceeded the constitutional threshold of having 10 percent tree cover as obligated in Article 69, Section 1 (a). The achievement has also responded to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive in early 2019, to meet 10 percent tree cover by 2022.
According to the report, counties in the top ten tier of tree coverage were Nyeri (45 percent), Lamu (44 percent) Kirinyaga (30.3 percent), Elgeyo Marakwet (29.9 percent, and Meru (29.6 percent). Others were Embu, Murang’a, Kilifi and Nyandarua with 29 percent, 27.8 percent, 27.75 percent and 27.5 percent, respectively.
In the list with least tree cover were Marsabit (2 percent), Mandera (3.6 percent), Wajir (4.4 percent) Siaya (5.2 percent) and Machakos with 6 percent. They were followed by Isiolo, Taita Taveta, Uasin Gishu, Busia and Kisumu (with 6.7 percent, 6.8 percent, 8 percent, 8.39 percent and 8.8 percent) respectively.Within the total national tree coverage, were 88,123,836 tree seedlings which were planted between 2017 and 2021 by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), to meet its natural forest restoration and rehabilitation and restocking of commercial forest plantation needs.
Top ten forest cover players interestingly, posted some variance where Nyeri had (40.8 percent), Lamu (32 percent) Kilifi (26.25 percent) Nyandarua (26.2 percent), Bomet (24 percent) Kirinyaga (23.6 percent), Samburu (23 percent), Kericho (20.6 percent) Elgeyo Marakwet (20.5 percent), and Mombasa 19.59 percent.
Those with the least forest cover were: Siaya (0.2 percent) Migori (0.3 percent), Busia (0.56 percent), Wajir (0.98 percent) Marsabit (1.11 percent), Mandera (1.46 percent), Kisumu (1.55 percent), Machakos (2.59 percent), Homa Bay (3 percent) and Taita Taveta (3.4 percent).
From the aforesaid, it is indicative that the proportions of total land area under forests and tree cover vary significantly by ecological regions and counties. Of significance is that 21 counties have forest cover above the national forest cover (8.83 percent), while 26 counties’ forest cover fell below the target.
During the presentation of the NFRA Report at State House on May 27 this year, President Kenyatta continued with the national tree planting campaign by flagging-off, the distribution programme that aims to ‘green’ a total of 4,800 schools countrywide, institutions of higher learning, the National Prisons Service, regional and development authorities as well as County governments.
“The tree cover assessment was a milestone for the country, as it was ‘the first ever to be undertaken in Kenya’s history’ and would henceforth act as a baseline for future assessments,” Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) Mr. Julius Kamau submits.
Kamau attributed the assessment’s accuracy to technological advancement that was enabled by high resolution satellite imageries facilitated through the Joint National Mapping (JNAM) Project under the Office of the President. JNAM partnered with KFS in providing high-resolution satellite imageries and Geographic Information System (GIS) experts to complement the undertaking.
“The assessment deployed cutting-edge technology that involved use of high-resolution satellite imagery and highly competent personnel under a multi-Agency approach to determine the status of tree resources in the country,” explained the CCF, adding, KFS intends to up its game by deploying unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) for forest surveillance with the support from development partners.
Woody perennial plants of at least 2m in height with one or several stems, having a definite crown, that also include bamboos, palms, fruit trees and excludes non-perennial nonwoody species such as banana and tall shrubs or climbers were assessed to give the tree cover.
Similarly, forest: referred to as land area of more than 0.5ha, at least canopy cover of at least 15 percent, trees of minimum 2m height in situ, which is not primarily under agricultural or other specific non-forest land use, were assessed to give the forest cover.
Worth noting also, is that among the factors that also contributed to the attainment of the 10 percent target, was the reclamation of over 55,000 hectares of encroached forest land in Maasai Mau, Eastern Mau, Kirisia in Samburu County, Cheptais in Bungoma County and Saboti Forest in Trans-Nzoia County.
Other notable achievements are the annual emission reduction from these forests estimated to be 7.42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Similarly, creation and expansion of urban green spaces for the enjoyment of the public, has seen the rehabilitation of the following; Michuki and City Parks in Nairobi; as well as the Nairobi and Eldoret Arboretums.
The Assessment Report launch clocked in yet another growth point, where the Head of State raised the bar to 30 percent tree cover by 2050. While upping the target, the President underscored the importance of forest ecosystems in supporting ecological niches.
“Such ecosystems act as reservoirs of biodiversity, are water catchments and they support livelihoods and economic development,” he reiterated.
Setting the pace on the road to achieving the accelerated target, the President launched the Sustainable Tree Growing Fund whereby, the private sector pledged more than Sh. 6 billion towards the tree growing campaign. He also led in planting of 200 ceremonial trees in the State House grounds and flagged-off tree seeds to be planted by various institutions countrywide.
It should be recalled that the journey of ‘greening Kenya’, was equally captured under the foundational projection for the attainment of the tree and forest cover – the economic blue print, Kenya Vision 2030. This roadmap set a goal for the country to increase the area under forest to 10 percent by 2030 and sustainably manage natural forests for environmental protection and enhanced economic growth.
Under the social pillar, providing Kenyan citizens with a clean, secure, and sustainable environment by the year 2030 was the driving aspiration. To achieve this, the nation set goals such as increasing forest cover from less than three per cent of its land base in 2007 to 10 per cent by 2030.
Some of strategies employed to achieve these goals, include promoting environmental conservation. In this regard, the government through the 2019 National Strategy for achieving and maintaining over 10 percent tree cover by 2022, committed to restore 5.1 million hectares of degraded landscapes as a contribution to the Africa Forest Landscape Initiative (AFR100), and 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the forest sector by 2030.
Whereas, Kenya has a negligible global GHG emissions of less than 0.1 percent, the successive climate change impacts over the past 10 years has resulted to socio-economic losses estimated at 3 – 5 percent of the GDP annually. This does not only pose a major threat to livelihoods of majority of Kenyans but also an impedance to realization of Vision 2030.
In order to fulfill its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to climate change, and to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 as a commitment to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the polices and interventions being implemented inform the determination. In another aspect, Kenya has enhanced its disaster preparedness in all disaster-prone areas. This is aimed at improving the capacity for adaptation to the impacts of global climate change.
What do all these policy implementation and achievements translate to, in the larger country’s economic picture? Significantly, is the contribution of the environment and natural resources sector to the economy, in which, the Economic Survey 2022 indicates that Gross Value added increased by 17 per cent during the review period to Sh. 435.7 billion from Sh. 372.5 billion recorded in 2020. The overall share to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the sector went up marginally to 3.6 per cent in 2021 from a contribution of 3.5 per cent in the year 2020. The turnover means that this eventually trickled down to the population, improving their economic and social well-being.
Elsewhere, to the ordinary population, trees are essential in balancing ecosystems. They make our daily lives easier by providing us with wood and poles for construction, fence posts, fuelwood and charcoal, not to mention fruit, fodder, medicines, gums and resin, all for home consumption and/or sale, the report says.
It is no wonder then, that moving beyond the successful implementation of the National Strategy for achieving and maintaining over 10 percent tree cover by 2022, KFS has made several recommendations, key among them: fencing of all critical forest ecosystems, including; Mt. Kenya, Mt. Elgon, Mau forest complex, and Cherangany, among others, to enhance ecological integrity as well as sustainable provision of ecosystem goods and services.
Further, Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs), including learning and research institutions, with large and un-utilised tracks of land, are being asked to put at least 15 percent of their land area under tree and forest development for environmental integrity, climate change resilience and commercial purposes. County Governments, are also being challenged to develop their respective County Forest Programmes (CFPs) and allocate not less than 3 percent of their total annual budget for their implementation.
Community involvement and participation is critical in this ambitious plan to enhance environmental conservation. Community Forestry Associations (CFAs) are therefore being strengthened in their governance structures, capacity building and establishment of 750 nature-based enterprises to improve livelihoods and enhance resilience to climate change impacts.
To achieve the above objective, the government has introduced social fencing through participatory forest management, where KFS collaborates with forest-adjacent communities in protection, conservation and management of public forests. These communities form a non-physical barrier that helps to protect forest resources against illegal activities and degradation. They in turn benefit from various user rights including nature-based enterprises for livelihood improvement.
An expansion of the curriculum and scope of the 4K Clubs (‘Kuungana, Kufanya, Kusaidia Kenya’) to create awareness in tree growing in institutions of learning, is also being considered.
To cap it all, and in keeping up with global signage, instrumental to environmental conservation, protection and preservation, President Kenyatta has reiterated the country’s resolve to continue honouring its commitments as the host of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Habitat headquarters and to remain a leader in global environmental action.
By Nancy JN Mathu