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Leveraging on Afforestation to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change in ASALs in Kenya


Afforestation is a low-cost approach of managing global temperature rise below 2°C. In particular, the process by which afforestation sequester carbon is natural. Trees require less maintenance in addition to offering long term solutions once grown. Forests and woodlands absorb up to 30 per cent of carbon emissions from fossil fuels and pollution by industries (United Nation, 2021).[1] In the upcoming Medium-Term Plan IV (2023-2027), the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry aims to increase forest cover and tree cover towards 17 per cent and 30 per cent targets, respectively. Achieving these targets, however, requires a greater focus in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), which account for over 80 per cent of Kenya’s total land area and are highly susceptible to desertification.

Article 69(1)(b) of the Constitution (2010) gives the State the obligation in respect of the environment to work towards achieving and maintaining a tree cover of at least 10 per cent of the total land area. The Bottom-up Economic Transformation Agenda prioritizes the agroforestry value chain and targets to plant 15 billion trees by 2032. The National Climate Change Action Plan (2023-2027) seeks to mobilize funds for climate finance to establish 5 million or 20,000km square woodlots in drylands.

Achieving the targets requires additional investments. Natural regeneration can aid to incorporate trees into agricultural and pastoral settings in counties such as Turkana. Critical water catchment sites in ASALs, including distinctive ecosystems for example Mt Marsabit and Mt Kulal in Marsabit County, and Mukogodo in Laikipia County require protection and restoration. This blog focuses on leveraging on afforestation in ASALs to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Status of Afforestation in ASALs

The counties in ASALs vary in terms of aridity. Figure 1 illustrates that about 66 per cent of the counties in ASALs (19 out of 29) have not attained the average target of 10 per cent forest cover as aspired in the Kenya Vision 2030.

Figure 1: Forest cover in 29 ASAL counties (%)

Source: County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP) 2023/24-2027/28

The counties with the lowest forest cover are Migori, Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir and Homa Bay. The lowest forest cover in Mandera, Marsabit and Wajir counties can be attributed to low levels of precipitation, with annual rainfall of 612.5 millimetres or less[2]. In Homa Bay and Migori counties, the lowest forest cover is due to high population density[3] of 359 and 427 persons per square kilometre, respectively, thus encroachment of designated forest areas.

Afforestation projects in ASALs

The government is implementing afforestation projects as part of its commitments to the Paris Agreement of 2015 and SDG 13 relating to combating climate change. The projects are done in three categories of forests found in ASALs, which are gazetted, non-gazetted, and community forest areas.

The Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, and Forestry uses digital platform JazaMiti App to reach out to ASALs such as Makueni, West Pokot, Garissa counties, among others, and assists communities in selecting appropriate tree species to plant based on location. This app enables individuals, organizations, and communities to participate in group tree planting events and share updates on tree planting activities, thus contributing to sustainable afforestation efforts.

The Kenya Forest Service assesses the status of tree seedlings production in ASALs through tree nursery registration system that allows voluntary registration of institutional and private tree nurseries. The registration enhances mapping of nurseries to determine their distribution in ASALs and the available seedlings to support afforestation efforts. It also helps in sharing of information on quality standards and certification of tree nurseries among the stakeholders. Another initiative by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute is the digital platform, Kenya Forestry Research Institute App, which monitors the growth of trees over time. This app complements afforestation efforts by collecting real time data on tree planting activities on public and private land and monitoring survival and mortality of trees planted.

Regreening Africa, an organization with roots in ASALs, is committed to restoring 10.6 million hectares of degraded forests and rangelands by 2032. This is in line with SDG 15 relating to sustainably managing forests. A variety of projects being undertaken by Regreening Africa in collaboration with the government include participatory forest management, farmer managed natural regeneration, fruit tree farming, tree nurseries production, and rangeland management. These projects are monitored and evaluated using Regreening Africa App to determine their impact in land restoration in Isiolo, Laikipia, Marsabit, Samburu, Migori, Homa Bay, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Makueni, Kitui and Machakos counties. The drylands restoration project, for example, was designed to help farmers in ASALs practice agroforestry. Regreening Africa App was useful in mapping sites where agroforestry is practiced and assessing the success of the project.

The Kenya National Farmers’ Federation (KENAFF) is carrying out farm forestry and afforestation programmes. The organization works closely with the Kenya Forestry Service to establish tree nurseries and promote bulking of fodder as a tool for livestock-based livelihoods in ASALs. In Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties, KENAFF is applying silvo-pastoral system,  which combines planting indigenous shrubs, herbs, and fruit trees with traditional crops and livestock rearing.

Policy Gaps in Afforestation and Emerging Issues

Inadequate coordination between counties and national government

The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution 2010 provides for the devolution of forestry functions. The county governments in ASALs through their County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) came up with activities aimed at boosting afforestation. These activities include identifying drought-tolerant tree species and propagating them, establishing tree-growing nurseries, creating alternative livelihoods for their communities, promoting participatory forest management, mapping, and establishing forestry resources databases within their counties, gazettement of county forests, fostering nature-based enterprises and rehabilitating degraded sites through green belt establishment.[4]

The national government executes policy decision making in forestry and provides technical support to the counties. However, efforts to build institutional, technical, and human resource capacity of the counties to undertake this devolved mandate are inadequate. The framework of coordination among the various stakeholders, the counties, Community Forest Associations, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, and private sector in terms of managing and conserving forests faces implementation challenges and can potentially constrain the attainment of forest cover targets.

Insufficient resource allocation and mobilization

The resource allocation to forest and water tower conservation was increased by 50 per cent to Ksh 14.4 billion in 2022/23. Further, Ksh 3.6 billion was allocated for financing locally led climate action projects. This is in line with Kenya’s National Determined Contribution (2020), which committed to mobilize about 13 per cent of estimated cost of US$ 62 billion up to 2030 for mitigation and adaptation actions to combat climate change. The remaining 87 per cent will be sought from international support. On the contrary, counties have limited capacity to mobilize financial resources and manage the forestry sector. The ASALs do not have clear strategy in place for accessing funding from local or international markets for mitigating the effects of climate change and benefit sharing mechanisms among the stakeholders, thus limiting afforestation efforts.

Emerging Issues

Climate change

ASALs experience more negative impacts, resulting from climate change when compared to non-ASALs. Scarcity of water and more frequent droughts pose major risks to agriculture, ecosystems, and forestry by lowering tree seedlings survival rate (World Bank, 2021).[5] As a result, biodiversity is reduced, and forest resources are depleted.

Human economic activities in forest areas

External interference poses a problem to effective and efficient enforcement of forest laws and conservation of protected areas by the Kenya Forest Service. A large percentage of ASALs are degraded through deforestation and overgrazing by pastoral communities and wild animals, for example Ndoto mountains in Samburu County. Some forest product harvesters, for example, firewood collectors and charcoal producers, do not obtain permits from the counties or Kenya Forest Service as required. There is no end to the production of charcoal in many areas across the country, despite the numerous bans imposed by counties such as Tana River.

Indigenous trees and vegetation

Indigenous trees such as the Olea Brown Olive and Teclea Nobilis are illegally harvested in forests such as Mt Marsabit. Trees felled are used as building materials, wood fuel and for charcoal burning, among other uses. During droughts, pastoral communities graze their livestock herd inside the forests. This contributes to degradation and loss of biodiversity as cattle feed on regenerating trees.  In addition, occurrence of wildfires due to human activities in the forests, poaching and honey harvesting alter indigenous species diversity, leading to more invasive species such as Lantana Camara. Invasive species can depress indigenous species by competing for the ecosystem.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Afforestation plays an important role in adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change. The public and private sector, and the international community need to work together to finance both adaptation and mitigation climate change actions. To address deforestation and promote sustainable forest management, the government is actively engaged in afforestation efforts, for example in raising awareness using digital platform JazaMiti App and establishing tree nurseries. Planting trees, windbreaks, and live fencing in ASALs is important. To prevent degradation due to overgrazing by livestock and logging of fuelwoods, it is imperative for the national and county governments to establish green belts around settlements by planting drought-resistant varieties of crops, growing native trees and using wild tubers for livestock fodder.

Use of drones can be implemented by the government in mapping forests. Drones can be used in dispensing seeds while monitoring afforestation efforts in real time. This supports informed decision making and sustainable forest management practices. Effective water management in the counties in ASALs by investing in dam construction and rainwater harvesting techniques such as water pans can help address water scarcity and enhance the growing of trees.

Educating communities especially women and youth on the importance of growing trees to mitigate climate change is important. Putting communities at the centre of climate change actions neutralizes the severe effects of climate shocks and empowers communities to make the transition to a greener, resilient, and inclusive future. Further, through Community Forest Associations, local communities can get involved as custodians of forest resources through afforestation and joint monitoring with Kenya Forest Service. Strengthening the ability of communities to adapt can prevent them from losing their livelihoods and having to leave their homes to pursue alternative livelihoods. This can be achieved through diversifying livelihoods from predominantly livestock keeping to other economic activities such as bee keeping, producing hay, and extracting non-wood forest products such as gums, resins, and tannins.

[1] United Nations (2021) Deforestation Factsheet

[2] KNBS (2023), Statistical Abstract. Nairobi: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

[3] KNBS (2019), Kenya Housing and Population Census. Nairobi: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

[4] Various County Integrated Development Plan (2023-2027)

[5] World Bank (2021), Climate Risk Country Profile Kenya.

Authors: Davis Milimo- KIPPRA Young Professional

Casty Mugoh- KIPPRA Young Professional

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