Ideas & Debate

Why Kenya needs to plant more trees, reclaim forests

Krish Hiriani
Krish Hiriani (left), a pupil at Shayona School in Eldoret town, and Victor Imbwaga of Timboroa Primary School plant a seedling during community tree planting organised by bembers of the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in May last year. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA  

You don’t have to look far to appreciate that climate change is real. The country is experiencing more frequent changes in weather patterns that have led to drought and famine on one extreme and flooding on the other. As a result, we have paid the price through loss of life and livelihoods.

No other time has this been more evident than this year. The year started with extreme high temperatures, some of the highest that have ever been recorded.

The rains which normally start in the middle of March began at the end of April, and are inconsistent across the country. Thousands of Kenyans in northern Kenya are already facing starvation as a result of poor harvest last season.

We need to face the reality that Kenya’s climate is rapidly changing. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented strong evidence that surface temperatures across Africa have increased by 0.5-2°C over the past 100 years, and from 1950 onward, climate change has changed the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events. Since 1960, Kenya has experienced a general warming trend, reported as being about 1°C, or 0.21°C per decade.



This temperature increase has been observed across all seasons, but particularly from March to May. Variation between locations has occurred, with a lower rate of warming along the coast.

Rainfall patterns have also changed. The long rains have been declining continuously in recent decades, and droughts have become longer and more intense and tend to continue across rainy seasons. Droughts in Kenya affect about 4.8 million people on average.

Climate change is likely to negatively impact Kenya’s future development and achievement of the goals of Kenya Vision 2030 — the long- term development blueprint — and the government’s Big Four Agenda for 2018-2022 that focuses on ensuring food and nutrition security, affordable and decent housing, increased manufacturing and affordable healthcare.

Kenya’s economy is very dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water, energy, tourism and wildlife, and health.

The increasing intensity and magnitude of weather-related disasters in Kenya aggravates conflicts, mostly over natural resources, and contributes to security threats.

From a geographical perspective, Kenya’s ASALs are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The highest incidence of poverty is found in these areas and they experience greater competition over resources, rising populations and in-migration from the densely populated highlands, and lower access to infrastructure such as potable water, electricity and telecommunication facilities.

I grew up in a forested area and over the years, I have watched it slowly regress into a wasteland.

For far too long, I like most Kenyans stood by idly and watched, complained and assigned blame.


It was always someone else’s problem to solve, more so the government’s; but in our idleness, we have unintentionally made it our problem. Despite their importance in combating climate change, forests in this country face serious threats, ranging from illegal logging, encroachment, overexploitation, overgrazing, forests fires, pests and diseases.

Kenya currently has a seven per cent forest cover which falls short of the United Nations recommended 10 per cent forest cover.

The wanton deforestation and forest degradation in Kenya is largely a result of human activities, although climate change is likely to affect the growth, composition and regeneration capacity of forests, resulting in reduced biodiversity and capacity to deliver important forest goods and services.

Rising temperatures and long periods of drought will lead to more frequent and intense forest fires, rising temperatures will extend the ecosystem range of pests and pathogens with consequences on tree growth, survival, yield and quality of wood and nonwood products, and rising sea levels could submerge mangrove forests in low-lying coastal areas.


If the country is to achieve the recommended UN tree cover of 10 per cent, we need to not only plant more trees but also protect existing forests to minimise the negative impacts on the resources and avoid further degradation and deforestation.

It is time to change the story. Changing the story is, however, not just about planting a tree; it is about growing a tree where it has the most impact. In addition to planting trees within our environment, collectively we need to reclaim the Mau Forest Complex, Mt Kenya Forest, The Aberdares, Mt Elgon and Cherenganyi Hills among the many other government gazetted water towers.

Gachora is NIC Group Managing Director.