Improving forest cover requires more than tree planting drives


President William Ruto is set to launch the Forestry and Land Restoration Acceleration Programme to increase Kenya’s forest cover to 30 per cent by 2032 from the current 12.13 per cent.

Coming at the tail end of the five-year National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) launched in 2018, the programme is arguably a more practical and almost an emergency response to the climate change challenges of our time.

The intervention will hasten Kenya’s climate change action through forestry. A quick scan of the performance of NCCAP, especially in the six mitigation sectors set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of agriculture, forestry, industry, energy, transport and waste reveals a stark reality of a plan good on paper but practically inept.

The Forestry and Land Restoration Acceleration Programme targets the restoration of 10.6 million hectares of degraded land for climate change mitigation and adaptation through planting 15 billion trees by 2032.

This, the government believes, will boost its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to climate change by reducing greenhouse gases by 50 per cent.

This is in contrast to the 30 per cent target by 2030 set out in the NCCAP.

There is no denying the significance of this 10-year project, especially in achieving sustainable economic development.

The impacts on climate change mitigation will be significant.

It is what presidential legacies are made of and promises to place Kenya strategically as a climate change champion globally.

However, the government must go beyond just planting trees in realising this ambitious dream.

One of the challenges expected in implementing this project is the socio-economic activities such as subsistence agriculture and settlements in ecosystems.

Land users’ needs must be adequately addressed at the local level to ensure they have alternative and sustainable economic activities that will prevent possible encroachment on reserved ecosystems.

Politics must take a back seat in implementing this initiative.

We have witnessed the role politics played in previous attempts to improve forest cover for instance the NARC government attempts to move illegal settlers out of forests and other ecosystems.

Forest degradation and deforestation in Kenya have been a result of anthropogenic activities. Activities such as small-scale agriculture, infrastructure development, settlements, mining, land encroachment and other economic ventures like charcoal production have been the biggest threat to Kenya’s forests.

Kenya lost approximately 14 per cent of its forest cover between 2002 and 2020 due to such activities.

The people behind such activities still have pressing economic needs to fulfil. These needs will not just varnish because the government has adopted an ambitious conservation plan.

The government must therefore find ways of harmonizing the climate change mitigation plan and social development.

Without addressing this disconnect, we will still have further encroachment or sabotage of the ambitious program.

The programme requires concerted efforts from the national and county governments, civil societies, the private sector, faith-based organisations, village self-help groups, development partners, private citizens and other non-state actors in order to make the desired impact.

The writer is a strategic communication and international affairs professional. 

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