By Faith Atieno
Forests in Kenya, categorized into natural and plantation forest- farm trees, currently provide a substantial amount of wood and are considered in the wood supply data and analysis as they have shown to be a vital source of wood in the future.
Despite the global land area forest cover being at 31%, according to Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO] 2020 statistics, Kenya’s forest cover stands at 7.2% or about 3,467,000 hectares.
Deforestation and forest degradation continues to take place at an alarming rate thus significantly contributing to a loss of biodiversity, climate change, decline in agricultural production among others, prompting the need to find solutions on how to ensure forests sustainability
“To conserve our forests, comply with their biodiversity issues and ensure our ecosystem becomes sustainable so that it can provide the services needed and at the same time supply our demand for wood, we need to invest in commercial forestry,” said Vincent O. Oeba, Kenya Forestry Research Institute[KEFRI] representative, during the first Kenya Commercial Forestry Investment Conference and Expo.
Commercial Forestry- the systematic planting and growing of selected trees in the forests which can be commercially exploited such as bamboo and mahogany- becomes one of the solutions that can be able to enable an ecosystem to continue providing the services but at the same time find alternatives that can be able to sustain the existing demands, he said.
According to a global trend study prepared by United Nations Environmental Program-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the tree population is decreasing in billions due to a rapid increase in demand for forest wood products hence, jeopardizing the ecosystem.
Oeba stated that there are 64 million jobs provided by the forest sector and 1.6 billion people depend on forests therefore, the aspect of Sustainable Commercial Forestry(SCF), should be put into consideration.
SCF is the management and conservation of our forests to ensure the balance of the needs of the environment, wildlife, and forest communities while still profiting from the production and sale of timber and other forest products, such as nuts, fruits, oils, among others for future generations.
According to the representative, some of the applicable management practices include; afforestation and reforestation of the degraded lands, carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation and adaptation, private sector development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement among others.
Trees help to regulate the global climate, absorbing nearly 40% of the fossil fuel emissions produced by human beings hence, they have the capacity to sequester the carbon dioxide from the ecosystem as they absorb the gas during photosynthesis and turn it into solid carbon through the growth of leaves, wood and bark, he stated.
He remarked that it’s unfortunate in Kenya and Africa in general, there exists little to no comparative information on carbon and timber investment (carbon pricing) in major plantation tree species that are commercially grown to supply forest wood products.
Carbon pricing-capturing the external costs of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions- helps shift the burden for the damage from the emissions back to those responsible.
“Studies show that if the carbon price is high, forest owners might find it profitable to give up some timber returns in exchange of carbon dioxide returns or modify forest management regulations in order to increase carbon” added Oeba.
He noted that to attain the constitutional requirement target for a 10 percent tree cover by 2022 and for the role of forestry in climate change mitigation and adaptation to be realized, carbon pricing remains a key planning tool.
Emphasizing on the issue, KEFRI’s representative highlighted that achieving the overall goal of SCF and optimizing returns from both ecosystem services and wood supply, the global policy on carbon markets and trading need to be developed to guide the carbon based investment in forestry.
The Kenyan government through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry need to provide education to tree growers and those in the business on the carbon markets and trade.
In support of the SCF idea, Julius Kamau, the Chief Conservator of Forests[CCF], Kenya Forest Service[KFS] stated that carbon pricing is the future prospect as it has economic, social and climate-smart transformation in a broad range of areas.