Kenya turns to shamba system in bid to increase tree cover
As Kenya looks to improve its forest cover, the shamba system has been floated as a key stepping stone of realising that dream. The Kenya Forest Service says the country will use the shamba system to enable it meet its goal of increasing tree cover to about 30 per cent by 2032 from the current forest cover at 8.83 per cent. As part of its climate change mitigation strategies, the country is undertaking a national agenda to plant a total 15 billion trees. The trees are being planted in degraded ecosystems and replanted in cleared plantation forests. The shamba system, which has existed for years, has become divisive and the source of national uproar mainly due to its misinterpretation as a scheme to sub-divide public forest land for agriculture. “We’re not giving up forest land for agriculture. It is important for Kenyans to understand that all the forest plantations that we have in Kenya today were established through the Shamba system currently known as Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS),” acting Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) Alex Lemarkoko said. “We allow the practice only in areas where we have plantations. And it is basically a long-term investment by the government when planting trees that’ll eventually get harvested for very specific reasons such as timber, pulpwood and other forest products. In fact, we also have those from which we harvest gums and resins for use in the pharmaceutical industry and sweet-making industry,” explained Lemarkoko. The country has approximately 152,000 hectares under plantation forests out of the 2.6 million hectares of forest area, making up about 6 per cent of forests. The KFS has plans to establish a further 54,000 hectares of commercial forest plantations in unstocked areas and degraded natural forests using among other approaches the shamba system-PELIS. PELIS was re-introduced after enactment of the Forest Act of 2005 as a governance scheme by KFS to help increase forest cover and restore degraded forests in the country. It is currently being practised in seven out of 10 Regional Forest Conservation Areas (RFCAs) of Central Highlands, North Rift, Mau, Eastern, Western, Nyanza and Nairobi. “They’re allocated plots on which to plant the tree seedlings. And on those same plots alongside the seedlings they plant their crops…they take care of the two concurrently until the trees are around three to four years old, which is when the tree canopy closes,” explained the CCF. “Both KFS and the communities benefit from the scheme. Cultivation of crops is allowed to continue for just those three to four establishment years.” The programme is supposed to help tame illegal forest invasions. KFS benefits from ‘free labour’ hence low plantation establishment costs and high tree seedling survival, while in turn providing the forest adjacent communities a source of livelihood and ensuring national food security. “Also, the very basic idea behind having plantations in our forest ecosystems is for them to serve as buffers to our natural forests. We use these plantations for the production of timber and wood-based products and help avoid illegalities of communities looking for the same materials from indigenous forests,” said the CCF. “PELIS areas contribute to about 40 per cent of the food supply for the forest families that reside around forest areas.” The Shamba system has undergone its fair share of upheaval over the years as a result of among other things poor management, arbitrary government pronouncements suspending it and abuse by communities. According to the Chairman of the Forestry Society of Kenya Benjamin Wamugunda, the first government ban on the shamba system was instituted in 1988 in an effort to drive squatters out of forests. The system was re-introduced in 1994 as non-resident cultivation with the aim of replanting clear-felled plantation areas. It was again outlawed in 2004 due to cases of farmers illegally extending into natural forests and riverbanks while replanting stalled. In 2008, it was re-introduced as PELIS. “It is unfortunate that we even went to the extent in the last few years, of importing charcoal from Uganda,” said Dr Wamugunda, as he recalled with nostalgia Kenya’s heydays as a forestry products exporter. “There is no reason why we should import wood, paper or any other forest products. We should be way ahead of everyone else as far as timber products are concerned. In 1982, we were self-sufficient, and were exporting timber to the rest of the world,” he said.