Written by Henry Neondo
Kenya should seize a unique opportunity provided by the new constitution and public opinion to reverse deforestation in the nation’s water towers, which deprives the economy of almost six billion shillings ($US 70 million) annually and threatens more than 70 per cent of the water supply, delegates said at the end of a high-level dialogue in Nairobi.
Over 200 delegates – including key decision-makers, the private sector, development partners, civil society and international observers – spent three days searching for a concrete way forward to deal with an issue that a joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Kenya Forest Service report issued on Monday revealed causes major economic damage.
The Role and Contribution of Montane Forests and Related Ecosystem Services to the Kenyan Economy found that forests contribute to a wide range of sectors, accounting for 3.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to the current official figure of 1.1 per cent.
The economic benefits of forest ecosystem services are more than four times higher than the short-term gains of deforestation, but trees continued to be felled due to a multiple and complex reasons, including unregulated charcoal production, livestock grazing and human settlements.
Kenya’s new constitution calls for an increase in forest cover to ten per cent, which, coupled with an increasing public demand to halt and reverse deforestation, has the potential to trigger unprecedented investment in the forest sector, the Dialogue’s final outcome document said.
“Kenya has already signaled its intent to build up this natural capital as a vibrant and sustainable engine for growth and prosperity,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “There now exists a unique opportunity to translate this pioneering and commendable intention into implementation.”
“The outcomes of this meeting provide an agenda for moving beyond an era when forests were seen as unproductive land that could be turned into something more valuable by cutting down the trees,” he added.
Sustained high-level political support for and the involvement of the private sector and local communities are essential to bring about the transformation, the Dialogue found.
Alongside the high-level momentum, enabling conditions for better management and private sector investment – such as secure land tenure, good forest governance and law enforcement – should be established, through a clear and conducive legal framework.
“The Government of Kenya has taken many steps over the last few years to transform the management and utilization of our water towers and forest ecosystems,” said Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya. “These public sector steps, for example the new Forest Act, are however just the first steps on a path which leads to our Vision 2030.
“I call upon communities, landowners and the private sector to demand and to push government for the proper implementation of our policies and enactment of such enabling conditions where investments in forests are viable,” he added.
Mr. Steiner also presented a new UNEP publication, Securing Water and Land in the Tana Basin: a resource book for water managers and practitioner, to Minister of Public Works Dalmas Otieno.
The booklet documents field-tested practical technologies from other countries that can be replicated in Kenya to help improve management of water and land resources. Examples of the technologies include bench terraces and tied ridges, sand dams and subsurface dams, flood water management, and improved agroforestry.
The Tana basin is crucial for Kenya, with the river providing drinking water, irrigation and power - with up to 64 per cent of Kenya’s hydropower deriving from dams along the river. However, the river has high siltation due to poor land use and faces a deteriorating water shed.