LETTERS: Scale up reforestation efforts in the country

Aftermath of a forest fire. FILE PHOTO | FILE
Aftermath of a forest fire. FILE PHOTO | FILE  

The ongoing discourse on the depletion of forests is becoming part of our national dialogue.

With everyone in the private sector and government adding their voices of concern; one only hopes that they are serious about bringing back our forests, which have over the years been cash cows for politically-connected loggers.

The recent 90-day ban on logging is welcome, but we should have a long-term view of how we can extract ourselves from this environmental madness we have been engaging in for decades now. Trees do not grow in 90 days.

At the very least, the appointment of a task force to spearhead forestation efforts is welcome. For a country whose economic backbone is agriculture, accounting for more than a quarter of our GDP, we must do all we can to restore our forests. The consequences of not doing so are too grave to contemplate.

We must do all we can to make the late Wangari Maathai proud. The Nobel laureate, whose swan song was for us to plant trees, must be unsettled witnessing what is happening to our land.

But how do we restore our green cover to beyond recommended levels? First, the taskforce should, in conjunction with the Land ministry, conduct a thorough audit of all the idle land in the country.

We hear that Kenya has a lot of land that is lying idle. Any land owner that has kept land idle over the last five years for no compelling reason, should be supplied with seedlings from the Kenya Forest Service, to plant on the land.

Not only will this make the land productive in the form of forests, but will be an investment for the land owner once the forests mature.

Secondly, corporates should be encouraged to institute tree planting programmes, not only as a way of demonstrating good corporate citizenship, but also as a matter of business conscience.

When rivers run dry as a result climate change, it affects the livelihoods of millions of people. Form a business perspective, these are workers, consumers and producers.

To ensure survival, businesses ensure that the populace that supports their businesses is able to obtain basic needs, much of which is derived from the earth.

It is instructive that some large corporates, especially agricultural firms that take seriously issues of sustainability, have realized this and have instituted programmes to replenish forests.

For example in its annual report for last year, the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) notes that its managed factories have planted forests on 13,000 acres of land, both for its consumption and for environmental gain.

Safaricom too declares in its 2017 sustainability report that it will seek to reduce its carbon footprint through planting trees. If we can encourage just ten other similar sized organisations to plant trees on such a scale, we surely will have made great steps towards reforesting Kenya.

But the real responsibility of greening Kenya lies in individual Kenyans themselves. The power of one Kenyan above 10 years old to commit to plant even one tree every year at a deforested site will have Kenya become one of the most forested countries in the region within a few years.

Rwanda, with a much lower population than Kenya, has successfully rallied its citizens to engage in annual tree planting days as a matter of national duty.

As a result, the country is reportedly one of only a few in the world with a positive rate of forestation. We should learn from them.

The zeal with which we go out to vote for our preferred candidates during national elections should be similar, if not more than that we should have when planting trees. A politician might not determine your food security, but planting a tree definitely will.

William Ombeko is a farmer and agronomist, Mumias.