Sustainable logging on selected forests aims to bring a balance between how people use trees for various purposes such as timber while maintaining the unique environmental and social benefits of the forest.[i] It is guided by principles of selective harvesting and forest management plans. Selective harvesting focuses on selectively removing only mature trees, leaving the rest for sustainability aspect of forest conservation.[ii] Kenya Forest Service has two types of felling plans, one (1) year and five (5) years. These felling plans are from the 10 years forest plantations management plans indicating the annual allowable cut. The plan supports sustainable management as it is used as a tool to ensure that in every particular year, there is mature forest stock that has attained its rotational age to be felled. The plan is based on well-developed harvesting plans, considering factors such as the forest’s growth rate, species composition, and ecological sensitivity.
Logging in Kenya involves various actors. These include foreign and domestic companies who must obtain licenses from the government to harvest timber in designated forests. Community associations are also part of forest management as they protect and consequently benefit from logging. Domestically, sawmillers and timber yard millers log directly after getting permits, or they buy logs from middlemen.
The government plays a crucial role in regulating logging activities through policies such as the Kenya Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016. The Act governs logging and forest management by establishing a framework encompassing guiding procedures for obtaining logging licences, designates areas for logging and conservation. It emphasizes on the importance of conducting logging sustainably. The Act also outlines how community participation through community forest associations can be done. Involving local community and other stakeholders in the logging operations and forest management ensures effectiveness and efficiency. It addresses the social and economic concerns.
Recently, the government lifted the ban on logging in commercial forests to allow harvest of mature trees that were rotting after a long ban. The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) after the lifting of the ban produced a set of rules that will guide the harvesting of 5,000 hectares of commercial forests per annum of the 150,000 hectares of gazetted public forest. The plan gives detail on access, control, monitoring and reporting of actual harvesting. KFS will issue entry certificates that will be presented to station managers before removal of forest products. Additionally, automation of license issuing, and payment of taxes will be done through the forest conservator. Upon completion of logging, exit certificates will be issued as evidence that you have complied with all requirements.[iii] Planting in harvested forest plantations will be done.
Ban on-Forest Logging
Kenya has imposed several bans on logging of forests over the years due to unsustainable illegal logging, which contributed to loss of forest cover. Kenya targets to attain 30 per cent tree cover by 2032. This can only be achieved if logging activities are done sustainably. In the late 1990s, the Shamba system was in place where farmers were allocated the cleared forest sections to do cultivation while replanting trees. After some years, the crops were doing well but tree cover was not growing, thus forcing the government to ban the practice. This led to unstainable management of forest plantations, forcing the government to introduce the ban on logging to give the Forest Department time to reorganize its plantation management strategies.
In 2004, the ban was relaxed, and more stringent measures were introduced to allow selective logging system to promote sustainable forestry practices. The logging activities were allowed under strict supervision and permits were required to do the logging. In 2018, the government again introduced a moratorium that banned logging in public and community plantation forests.[iv] It decided to put the ban into place as forests were being depleted at about 5,000 hectares per annum. This led to an estimated annual reduction in water availability of 62 million cubic metres.
Recurring issues on forest management have necessitated the government to keep imposing the bans. These issues include Illegal logging of indigenous trees, such as cedar, which has been logged at a higher rate compared to the other species. This has been happening despite the government banning logging of indigenous trees in 1986. The Service has also been issuing licenses to some companies to log hardwood trees despite the ban. After logging, most forest compartments stayed for long without replanting, which has been linked to inadequate financial resources by KFS. Poor recording has led to irregular and double allocation of harvesting plantations to millers, who sometimes harvest more than they are required. The millers have also been allowed to use wasteful technologies such as circular saw, bench and tractor driven saw. The KFS are understaffed, and therefore overburdened with enforcement and conservation duties. A taskforce formed in 2018 to investigate issues of illegal forest logging made recommendations on what the services needs to do. Most of the recommendations have not been implemented as the Service lacks enough resources.
Sustainable logging practices are crucial as they contribute to the overall health of forests. It also helps maintain the continuous supply of forest products such as timber without depleting natural resources. It is considered effective if it achieves its objectives and minimizes its impact on the environment. Therefore, the following recommendations are made to ensure sustainable management of forests:
- To ensure enforcement on the ban for indigenous trees, zoning of both indigenous and commercial forests by the Kenya Forest Service is critcal. This will prevent encroachment of the protected indigenous trees and allow close monitoring during logging.
- The Kenya Forest Service needs to establish a framework and procedure to monitor, verify and audit the compliance of licenses and permits by millers to avoid double allocation. Millers also need to use modern technologies that are not wasteful.
- To complement the inadequate staffing and aid forest rangers in carrying out their mandate on enforcement and conservation, the Service needs to explore the use of technologies for aerial and GPS-guided harvesting that can be used to do monitoring and surveillance of forest resources and logging activities. Additionally, it ensures the felling plan is adhered to by the millers as there will be real time surveillance of the activities in the plantations.
- There is need for the government to increase financial allocation given to the KFS to support increased production and replanting of trees. This prevents delays in replanting activities that supports continuity of forest plantations and availing stocks for logging. The demand for importation of timber from neighbouring countries will be reduced and jobs created through the forest value chain.
Author: Jecinta Anomat Ali, Policy Analyst, Productive Sector Department