Graft, incoherent policy bane of forest conservation

Friday, March 1st, 2024 11:47 | By
President William Ruto planting a tree after commissioning Grain Bulk Facilities in Embakasi on Friday, April 28, 2023. PHOTO/Print

Revelations by Auditor General Nancy Gathungu that expenditure of Sh140.6 million on the national tree planting campaigns could not be verified due to lack of supporting accounting documents is the latest confirmation that President William Ruto’s often-stated resolve to deal with corruption is not intended to go beyond the political posturing for which he is well-known.

In December 2022, Ruto launched the 15 billion tree planting campaign with the noble aim of mobilizing Kenyans, non-governmental organisations, national and multilateral agencies, and the private sector to raise the forest and tree cover.

According to the 2021 National Forests Resources Assessment Report, Kenya’s forest cover stood at 8.83 per cent, a remarkable improvement from 5.99 per cent in 2018.

Kenya targets to attain 30 per cent tree cover by 2032, a feat that can only be achieved if logging activities are done sustainably. President Ruto and his administration have been flip-flopping on forest conservation and management policies.

After ascending to power through a populist campaign agenda, Ruto and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua continue to behave like the proverbial hyena that split into two trying to follow two goats at the far end of two paths branching off from a main road.

President Ruto has remained beholden to Western nations that tacitly supported his candidature in an attempt to wrestle business interests believed to be controlled by China.

On the international stage, the President postures as a Pan-Africanist, openly telling off the West over supposedly lopsided arrangements that subsist between global financial institutions and the global south.
Back at home, his financial policies, including punitive taxation policies are dictated by the very institutions that he claims to loathe.

When he finds himself in the company of his erstwhile supporters, aka hustlers, he easily forgets his environmental conservation stance and begins to advocate for the shamba system or agroforestry.

In its Bottom Up Economic Transformation Agenda 2022–2027 or the Plan, the Kenya Kwanza alliance pegged its environmental conservation and climate change mitigation policy proposals largely on agroforestry. Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees are grown around or among crops to create a diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable land-use system.

In Kenya, the practice of agroforestry has been christened the shamba system, a form of tree-crop production in which small-holder producers are allowed to farm in the forests and along the forest margins.

Most Kenyans remember the shamba system for its destructive and adverse effects on forest cover under previous administrations.

For instance, on September 24, 2023, Gachagua made the first ever boldest government statement on to reintroduce the shamba system, only to claim that he had been misquoted four days later.

This set the stage for the continuing state of confusion, ambiguity and flip-flopping that has become the trademark of the Kenya Kwanza government policy on forest conservation.

A taskforce appointed in February 2018 to look into the Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities put the blame squarely on the Kenya Forests Service (KFS) board, accusing it of mismanagement and the subsequent depletion of forest cover under the shamba system.

In June 2023, President Ruto reiterated Kenya’s commitment to the prevention of global warming at the Global Citizen Festival in Paris, France, only to make an about turn in July announcing that his government had lifted a six-year ban on logging, adding that it was “foolish” to have mature trees rotting in forests while industries lacked timber.

—The writer is the Executive Director of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre
[email protected]

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