Kenya: A critical mass of participants in a public forum in an exercise on environmental audit on forest plantations in Cherangany ecosystem have lauded the commercial forestry approach for transforming the lives of resource adjacent communities. Noting that the trees are planted by the Kenya Forest Service, they said the Service should not be stopped from harvesting the same trees.
Forest plantation establishment is entrenched in the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016 that provides that all plantation forests in a public forest shall be managed on a sustainable basis for the production of wood and other forest products and services for commercial purposes.
This fact was further emphasized by University of Eldoret’s Dr Bernard Orori Ondengi who said that forest plantations are specifically for commercial purposes hence, growing of the crop must be undertaken professionally for optimum benefit, and utilized for the right purposes.
Public participation has been sighted as a key tenet in undertaking environmental audits of forest plantation management within specific forest ecosystems. All forest plantations are issued with Environmental Impact Assessment certificates, hence are required to periodically have environmental audits undertaken.
Noting the uniqueness of each ecosystem and, within the framework consent entered between Kenya Forest Service and National Environment Management Authority in the year 2014, it was agreed that KFS undertake EIA at the ecosystem level totaling to nine ecosystems.
These ecosystems include the Cherangany forests, Mau forests, Mt. Elgon forests, Kakamega forests, Aberdare forests, Mt. Kenya forests, Machakos County public forests, Kitui County public forests, and Makueni County Public forests.
Environmental audits are undertaken to establish the impact of outcomes of undertakings in environment spaces. It is applied to assess actual impacts of project activities and the mitigations therein.
The nationwide exercise that began one of its aspects that is public participation earlier today, witnessed commercial forestry stakeholders within the Cherangany ecosystem meet in Uasin Gishu County. The entities included representatives of the County Commissioners and County Governments of Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, representatives of leaders in the National Assembly and Senate, Regional Forest Conservators North Rift and Mau.
Additional stakeholders included the Kenya Police Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, NEMA, Law Society of Kenya, Chairpersons of Community Forest Associations, Forest Station Managers, County Forest Conservators, Director of Public Prosecution, youth representatives, Persons Living with Disability, Timber Manufacturers Association, and Water Resources Authority.
Participants noted multiple benefits that have accrued for communities in matters plantation forestry. These include improved livelihoods and food security, and benefits accrued from collecting firewood from the non-merchandisable parts of harvested trees.
They said that it is heartbreaking to see over-mature plantation trees going to waste with diseases, while others are felled by wind.
The exercise as per the requirement of the law must be led by an independent auditor for the initial environmental audit. In this case, Joseph Machua of the Kenya Forestry Research Institute environmental auditors are leading the process.
The stakeholders were stratified into groups that generated information that will be analyzed by the independent environmental auditors, and submitted to the relevant authorities. These processes will lead to KFS being issued with a compliance certificate from NEMA.
The meeting in Uasin Gishu was hosted by KFS Regional Forest Conservator Anthony Musyoka.