The Migori County Government has been called upon to fast-track the legislation of a law that would compel farmers especially those growing tobacco to engage in serious tree farming on part of their plots.
‘Mazingira Bora’ Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Willis Ochieng’ says the devolved government must remain focused on issues that will help the region preserve and increase its forest cover for posterity.
In a statement to the Kenya News Agency (KNA) in Migori town, Mr, Ochieng, an environment expert, complained over a delay of enacting such a law even after immediate former Governor Okoth Obado promised to push over the law six years ago, saying the County Government, through the County Assembly must strive to put in place by-laws that will regulate harvesting of trees and promote forest cover in the region.
At that time, Governor Obado said plans were on to legislate laws that would compel farmers to at least grow 20 trees in their small farms to assist them cure their tobacco crop.
However, to date, such an initiative has never been realised and, farmers and charcoal burners have continued to indiscriminately cut trees to the detriment of the local environment.
Mr. Ochieng’ said the by-laws compelling farmers to plant tree seedlings in their small plots will guarantee enough wood-fuel especially to tobacco farmers to cure their crops and in addition help in protecting the local environment.
“The County Government must also think of initiating a vibrant tree seedling project to supply farmers with millions of seedlings for free or at a subsidised price,” he added.
Local environmental experts from both the government and private sector in the past days have expressed concerned at the wanton destruction of forest in the region mainly as a result of tobacco farming and urged the local people to embrace the spirit of increasing forest cover through planting more trees.
Tobacco crop requires tons of wood-fuel to cure in the kilns and farmers have been indiscriminately harvesting trees towards this course but with little efforts to replace the felled trees, reducing the forest cover within the county to below 4 percent against the national recommended 10 percent.
Large scale tree felling within the county has also led to low rainfall, serious soil erosion and decline in land fertility and high river siltation.
Environmentalists have also challenged British American Tobacco (BAT) and Mastermind Tobacco Kenya, the two tobacco buying firms within the county, to also put more emphasis on afforestation programs that would help to preserve and increase forest cover in the region while farmers grow tobacco without affecting the environment.
The interior ministry which is the lead agent in the promotion of good environment through the county commissioner’s office has announced a raft of measures to encourage the local people to plant more trees.
County Commissioner Michael Mwangi Meru, speaking at a separate forum this week, called on the local chiefs and their assistants to be firm on those destroying forests and at the same time directed them to have all their subjects embrace the spirit of planting trees.
A report released recently in the area indicated that forest cover had increased in the region by over 50 percent in the last four years.
However, Mr. Meru says that more effort is required to ensure the region hits the target of six million new trees by the end of this year.
By George Agimba