Why The Current Debate on Kenyan Forests Must Go Beyond the Timber Dollars

This week the gov­ern­ment lift­ed the log­ging ban, allow­ing for the har­vest­ing of some trees in our forests. Away from the heat­ed debates, this devel­op­ment has trig­gered a ques­tion in my mind- just how valu­able is a tree? Well, trees indeed have mul­ti­ple val­ues, but my mind has been focus­ing on a sin­gu­lar one, their price­less val­ue. One large tree can sup­ply up to four peo­ple with oxy­gen for a day, the old­er the tree the more oxy­gen it releas­es. As such, trees essen­tial­ly breathe life into us. They keep us alive. We should nev­er for­get this.

Trees also pro­vide us with the tim­ber that is used exten­sive­ly in mak­ing fur­ni­ture and in the con­struc­tion sec­tor. Accord­ing to the Forestry and Log­ging Glob­al Mar­ket Report 2023, the glob­al forestry and log­ging mar­ket is worth USD1 Tril­lion! So lucra­tive is this sec­tor that as per data from Inter­pol, the ille­gal tim­ber indus­try is worth a stag­ger­ing USD 152 bil­lion per year.

Sad­ly, these stratos­pher­ic fig­ures have pushed many to per­ceive trees mere­ly as a source of tim­ber dol­lars. But as we have already estab­lished, trees breathe life into humans by pro­vid­ing oxygen.

Accord­ing­ly, every ful­ly grown tree mat­ters. Not only does it pro­vide oxy­gen, it also absorbs more than 21 kilos of car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere. You can­not put a price tag on that ecosys­tem ser­vice! Notably, our total pro­tect­ed Gov­ern­ment For­est area strict­ly under the care of Kenya For­est Ser­vices (KFS) is a pal­try 2 per­cent. KFS is of course doing tremen­dous work with com­mu­ni­ty for­est con­ser­va­tion efforts.

I am there­fore great­ly encour­aged that Kenya has com­mit­ted to plant­i­ng 15.7 bil­lion trees by 2032 to reach a 30 per cent of tree cov­er. Our Pres­i­dent as a green cham­pi­on led from the front when he plant­ed 56 trees on 22nd Decem­ber, 2022 to mark his 56th birthday.

Yet our 30 per­cent tar­get still falls short of the more 50 per cent cov­er in at least 15 African coun­tries. In fact, the Equa­to­r­i­al Guinea, Gabon, Guinea Bis­sau, Liberia and Sey­chelles, exceed 70 per­cent for­est cov­er! Our 2032 thir­ty per­cent tar­get should there­fore be a mere start­ing point.

There is yet anoth­er val­ue of forests — the non-tim­ber for­est prod­ucts, which are them­selves a bil­lion-dol­lar industry.

Accord­ing to the Kenya Forestry Research Insti­tute, glob­al­ly, non-tim­ber forests prod­ucts are worth USD115.5 to USD117 bil­lion annu­al­ly. Unlike tim­ber, whose val­ue ends after a tree is cut down and sold, non-tim­ber prod­ucts are self-replen­ish­ing! In oth­er words, that USD117 bil­lion isn’t a one-off rev­enue but a con­sis­tent revenue.

For exam­ple, accord­ing IMARC lat­est report, the annu­al glob­al hon­ey mar­ket is expect­ed to reach USD 12.2 bil­lion by 2028. It takes about four months to pro­duce hon­ey. If Kenya dras­ti­cal­ly steps up its hon­ey pro­duc­tion by tak­ing advan­tage of our forests, then in the long run we will earn sub­stan­tial­ly more mon­ey from hon­ey than tim­ber. Oth­er lucra­tive non-tim­ber for­est prod­ucts include mush­rooms whose glob­al mar­ket is expect­ed to grow to USD 85 bil­lion by 2026 accord­ing to CAGR. Fur­ther, the glob­al herbal med­i­cine mar­ket on the oth­er hand is esti­mat­ed to rise from the cur­rent USD 200 bil­lion to USD 284 bil­lion in 2028. For­est adja­cent com­mu­ni­ties in places like Elbur­gon, Mt kenya regions, Mau and Kakamega can earn much more mon­ey from non-tim­ber for­est prod­ucts than from tim­ber. More­over, such prod­ucts are bet­ter tai­lored for small­er producers.

We must there­fore do every­thing pos­si­ble to increase our for­est cov­er instead of decreas­ing it.

The cir­cum­stances that informed the ban on log­ging in 2018 are still valid today even as effects of cli­mate change put more pres­sure on liveli­hoods cost of liv­ing. Fur­ther the 26 pow­er­ful rec­om­men­da­tions made by the hon­or­able 2018 task­force on For­est Recours­es Man­age­ment and log­ging activ­i­ties are yet to be imple­ment­ed. We are greater and safer keep­ing our hands off our forests. If we can import maize and sug­ar, why not import tim­ber as we increase our for­est cov­er? Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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