Kenya’s new constitution, passed by 67 percent of voters in the August 5th referendum and effective from August 27, 2010, brings significant change to the nation’s political structure. The new framework reduces the power of politicians and places checks on Presidential authority. Parliament will be divided into the Senate and the National Assembly, the cabinet will be halved and all ministers drawn from outside Parliament, and there will be no prime minister. The new constitution also has immense implications for Kenya’s forests, giving KOMAZA reason to celebrate.
While Kenya has maintained a Forest Act since 1962 (revised in 1982, 1992), the previous constitution made no direct mention of the environment or forests, and the country’s trees have steadily disappeared. The alarming rate of destruction climaxed around the year 2000 when the government of President Daniel arap Moi declassified 87,000 hectares of forests. Between 2000 and 2005, 16,000 hectares were cleared. Today, Kenya’s closed forest cover stands at less than 2.5 percent.
While national forest protections were long inadequate, the tide has shifted significantly since 2005 with the passing of a new Forest Act in 2005 and Vision 2030. Now, Kenya’s Constitution builds on this progress.
Forest Act 2005
The 2005 Forest Act underscored the importance of forests for poverty reduction and development, highlighting the government’s role in sustainable land use and forest management. The Act also encouraged private sector and community participation in forestry, as well as training, education and extension services to promote farm forestry – exactly the principles KOMAZA applies to make microforestry a reality. Fostering a newly proactive approach, the Forest Act established the Kenya Forest Service to manage the country’s forest resources; today, KFS extends even into the remote areas where our farmers live.
In 2007, the Government of Kenya launched its vision for national development over the next twenty years. The ensuing Vision 2030 and its first five-year plan set environmental objectives with a specific focus on forests. They are closely aligned with KOMAZA’s own goals, weaving together a forestation, conservation and poverty reduction. The objectives include the following:
- Increasing forest, tree cover and wood production especially at the farm level
- Conserving and rehabilitating the remaining natural forest for biodiversity conservation
- Enhancing participatory forest management
- Ensuring that the forestry sector contributes to poverty reduction
The vision also sets specific goals within these objectives, such as reacquiring illegally allocated forest land, rehabilitating degraded areas like the Mau Forest Complex and increasing overall forest cover. In a developing democracy, this kind of supportive political framework is critical for KOMAZA’s smooth operations and expansion across the country.
The New Constitution
Four articles in the new constitution specifically address the environment, going so far as to allow individuals to seek legal redress if their environmental rights are infringed. Moreover, Article 69 outlines the obligations of the government in respect to environment, asserting that “The State shall ensure sustainable exploitation, utilization, management and conservation of the environment and natural resources and ensure the equitable sharing of the accruing benefits.” The constitution also mandates that the State increase tree cover to 10% of Kenya’s total land area, the minimum recommended for ecological sustainability. Our farmers’ trees, undoubtedly, will help the nation realize its promise to the people and environment.
How KOMAZA fits in
One of the most important ways that KOMAZA’s work fulfills the mandate of the new Constitution lies in our efforts to slow deforestation of remaining indigenous forests. In Ganze District, where poverty drives deforestation and disappearing trees invite desertification, we have already transformed over 400 acres into thriving microforests, focusing primarily on drought-resistant eucalyptus.
According to a guide produced by the Kenya Forest Service, “the greatest positive contribution of eucalyptus is perhaps in replacing indigenous species for fuel-wood, thereby preventing further degradation of natural forests. Although it is claimed that there is limited biodiversity in eucalyptus plantations, their cultivation saves biodiversity elsewhere by preventing the destruction of natural forests. Furthermore, certain Eucalyptus species, by quickly producing firewood, would eliminate the causes which frequently may have led to land degradation and desertification.” We are thrilled by Kenya’s increasing political and institutional support for the nation’s forests, and we are determined to be part of the solution.