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From Tree Planting to Tree Growing: A Paradigm Shift Towards 30% Tree Cover

Introduction

The government launched a campaign to plant 15 billion trees in ten years from 2022 in a bid to reach 30% tree cover in Kenya. The campaign aims at reducing greenhouse emissions, stopping, and reversing deforestation. Tree planting has emerged as a powerful sustainable solution to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and reduce environmental degradation. Planting trees not only helps combat climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide, but it also provides a wide array of environmental, social, and economic benefits. Forests act as “carbon sinks,” helping to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This has been proven by studies by institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Trees play a pivotal role in supporting biodiversity by providing habitats for numerous species. Restoring and expanding forest cover can help protect and restore fragile ecosystems, safeguarding endangered species and preserving biological diversity. The focus currently is on planting trees; however, to create and maintain diverse and resilient forest ecosystems that promote the long-term survival of a wide range of plant and animal species, it is necessary to ensure the planted trees grow to maturity. This policy blog aims to highlight the significance of tree growing and advocate for robust policies that promote and support large-scale tree-growing initiatives.

Forest Cover and Emerging Issues

Kenya has had numerous campaigns on tree planting over the years, such as the Million Operation Gavisha 1977, Trees Campaign 2006, The Greening Kenya Initiative 2010 and the Accelerated National Tree Growing Campaign 2022. Despite these campaigns, Kenya needs significant amount of tree coverage.

Kenya has elaborate legal frameworks to protect forests and promote tree planting. The Kenya Forest Policy 2014, Land Act 2012, Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016) and the National Climate Change Response Strategy seek to address how the country can increase tree cover. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides a good platform for counties to help manage community lands. Currently, most of the urban policies that have an element of environmental conservation are at county level. There have been alarming high rates of shrinkage of previously forested areas. The shrinkage rate is estimated at 12,000 ha of forested land annually, attributable to increased wood fuel and charcoal demand, inadequate funds set aside for conservation, population growth, expanding infrastructure, and forest conversion for commercial agriculture.

Resource allocation for tree growing and management has been insufficient. For instance, Ksh 10.15 billion and Ksh 14.3 billion were allocated in the national budget for forest conservation in 2022/2023 and 2023/2024, respectively. This falls short of the required Ksh 600 billion for the ten-year campaign (equivalent to Ksh 60 billion annually) to attain the 30% tree cover. Various counties have also been allocating funds for forest conservation activities as shown below.

Table 1: Forest cover in Kenya (2016-2020)

CountyBudget (Ksh)CountyBudget (Ksh)CountyBudget (Ksh)
Mombasa55,239,000Nyandarua47,604,900Laikipia3,000,000
Kwale31,552,666Nyeri16,802,077Machakos75,660,446
Kilifi5,050,000Vihiga1,500,000Makueni117,036,829
Tana river20,863,077Baringo1,299,950Tharaka Nithi18,206,408
Taita Taveta25,400,000Embu8,409,570Uasin Gishu59,450,000
Migori28,796,400Isiolo43,806,739Wajir184,521,600.00
Nairobi15,048,026Kiambu5,000,000West Pokot12,831,042.00
Siaya3,874,181.00Kisumu945,800Elgeyo Marakwet1,299,950.00
Turkana12,741,052Bomet31,657,200Kajiado136,977,231
Busia10,000,000Garissa81,100,000Mandera24,223,992
Kakamega10,000,000Homa Bay5,000,000Meru11,555,750
Samburu13,183,286Kisii13,500,000Narok400,226,420
Murang’a26,500,000Kitui16,903,341Trans Nzoia260,069,115
Nyamira18,150,000Kirinyaga675,800Nakuru32,240,723
Marsabit39,000,000Bungoma145,246,661Kericho5,000,000
Nandi11,856,164

Data Source: Controller of Budget county budget implementation review, 2021/2022

Table 2: Forest category

Forest Category20162017201820192020
Natural forest     
Indigenous mixed trees3,884.403,925.003,925.003,925.003,925.00
Bamboo5859595959
Mangroves5249494949
Sub-total (natural forests)3,994.404,033.004,033.004,033.004,033.00
Public plantation forests140.8135.1141.6147.6149.6
Private plantation forests5047474747
Total forest area4,185.204,215.104,221.604,227.604,229.60
Grassland and bushland41,100.0041,100.0041,100.0041,100.0041,100.00
Forest percentage7.227.127.137.147.14

Source: KNBS (2022), Statistical Abstract

The major focus of the campaigns has been to plant trees in areas that were previously forested, and in most cases with relatively good amounts of rainfall. However, other frontiers which are the arid and semi-arid lands, despite covering up to 89% of the country land, have not been fully exploited. Forestry and logging activities contributed to 1.6% and 1.7% of Kenya’s GDP in 2020 and 2021, respectively, an indication of the contribution it can give to the economy if well exploited.

In Kenya, the school curriculum includes agriculture as a subject, but it mainly concentrates on crop production, overlooking a holistic approach that incorporates environmental education and ecosystem conservation. The current curriculum equips students with knowledge in agricultural practices but fails to emphasize the importance of environmental sustainability and ecosystem preservation. The result is a missed opportunity of providing a broader understanding of the ecological impact of agricultural activities and fostering a sense of responsibility towards conserving the environment for future generations.

The efforts of the many players involved in tree planting initiatives are not fully synergized. The private sector, the NGOs and the government are all engaged in tree planting. While their individual contributions are valuable, a more collaborative and integrated approach would maximize the impact of tree planting efforts and address environmental challenges effectively.

The minimal incentives to the public to take care of trees has led to increased deforestation through illegal logging. A 2019 assessment by the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) highlights that, out of the 2.59 million hectares of public forests in the country, approximately 408,000 hectares have been degraded through illegal encroachment, logging, among other activities. Ways of taming forests degradation while ensuring sustainable benefits for the public and the community need to be explored.  

Conclusion and Recommendations

To effectively move towards the 30% tree cover, we must start by incorporating environmental education into the school curricula while community outreach programmes can foster a sense of environmental stewardship and empower individuals right from the young age. Increased awareness about tree planting and growing benefits can lead to a broader adoption of sustainable practices and create a culture of environmental responsibility.

Develop and implement comprehensive tree management plans at various levels, such as national, regional, or county level, to guide the long-term care and maintenance of planted trees. These plans can outline strategies for tree selection, planting, pruning, watering, fertilization, pest management, and monitoring. This will ensure that even the arid and semi-arid regions are not left behind in increasing tree coverage.

Allocate sufficient funding and resources to support the ongoing maintenance and management of trees. This includes budgetary provisions for tree care professionals, equipment, training, research, and public education campaigns. The funding can also be secured through public-private partnership agreements. This can be achieved by fostering collaborations between government bodies, private organizations, community groups, and volunteers to share the responsibilities of tree care and management. Local businesses, non-profit organizations, and community stakeholders could support tree growing initiatives through funding, volunteerism, and expertise.

There is need to adopt carbon trading to incentivize tree growing in communities. Carbon trading is where individuals or communities can earn issued carbon credits by investing in carbon projects such as tree planting. The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) entered into an agreement with the global audit firm BDO in 2022 to enable the government agency to generate significant revenue by offsetting carbon dioxide emissions. Under this arrangement, KFS will earn US$ 15 (approximately Ksh 1868) for each ton of carbon dioxide that is effectively removed from the atmosphere through preservation and maintenance of government forests. Adoption of carbon trading by communities can increase revenue and help improve tree coverage. However, to effectively do this, legislation such as the Climate Change Act 2016 needs to be revamped to provide provisions for carbon trading.

Tree growing policies could be integrated within the broader environmental and urban planning policies to ensure that tree care and management are considered in land-use decisions, urban design, and infrastructure development. The coordination of relevant policies such as urban forestry plans, climate action plans, and green space development strategies will also help in achieving the targets.

Authors: Meshack Omega , KIPPRA Young Professional

Elvis Kiptoo, KIPPRA Young Professional

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