A landmark study of Kenya’s high-elevation forests shows that the economic cost of deforestation in the East African country exceeds national gains from forestry and logging by more than four-to-one, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported.
“Deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of 5.8 billion shillings ($68 million) in 2010 and 6.6 billion shillings in 2009, far outstripping the roughly 1.3 billion shillings injected from forestry and logging each year,” according to a UNEP news release on 5 November on the joint UNEP-Kenya Forest Service (KFS) study.
The economic impact of Kenya’s five montane forests – called ‘water towers’ as these forests store water during the rainy season and release it slowly, thus ensuring water flow during dry periods – are assessed in the study, entitled The Role and Contribution of Montane Forests and Related Ecosystem Services to the Kenyan Economy.
In his comments on the report, UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, recognized rehabilitation work Kenya has undertaken in the Mau Forest Complex, one of the so-called water towers.
“Kenya is today underlining its determination to be among a group of pioneering countries putting its nature-based assets at the centre of its sustainable development ambitions,” he said.
“The findings of this report are based on the best international analytical methods and the latest environmental and economic evidence,” he added. “It is these kinds of cutting-edge assessments that are inspiring more and more countries in Africa and beyond towards the opportunities presented in a transition to an inclusive Green Economy.”
Ongoing work by KFS, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and international partners has additionally found that the contribution of forests to Kenya’s income is undervalued by 2.5 per cent, according to UNEP, which added that this means that forests actually account for an estimated 3.6 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product.
Kenya Water Towers, Forests
The UNEP-KFS report is being launched to coincide with the beginning of the Kenya Water Towers, Forests and Green Economy National Dialogue, the UN reported.
It says the five water towers – Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, Mount Elgon and Cherangani complete the list – provide more than 75 per cent of the country’s renewable surface water resources annually, by feeding more than 15,800 million cubic metres of filtered rainwater to rivers and lakes each year.
However, deforestation has occurred from activities such as unregulated charcoal production, logging of indigenous trees, marijuana cultivation, cultivation in the indigenous forest, livestock grazing, quarry landslides and human settlement.
“Between 2000 and 2010, deforestation in the water towers amounted to an estimated 28,427 hectares, leading to reduced water availability of approximately 62 million cubic metres per year,” UNEP stated.
Since Kenya’s economy is highly vulnerable to water availability, inflation spiked above 10 per cent on three occasions between 2000 and 2010, “each time driven by drought combined with increasing crude oil prices and weaker exchange rates,” UNEP said.
Private consumption accompanying a doubling of household demand within the last 10 years has largely driven deforestation, the environment agency noted.
“Fuel wood and charcoal represent the most important energy source for the population, at 75 per cent, and the forestry sector creates both formal and informal job opportunities, especially in rural areas,” UNEP said.
However, it added, while forest products bring in one-off cash to the national economy, they also “encourage illegal deforestation activities and create huge economic damage through the loss of regulating services.”
According to UNEP, the report found that the “cumulative negative effect” of deforestation on the economy through a reduction in regulating services was an estimated 3,650 million shillings per year, which was “more than four times the cash revenue of deforestation.”
While UNEP recognized Kenya’s efforts to expand rehabilitation programmes in all water towers, it also highlighted various report recommendations calling for more action.
Among them is a call for sustainable forest management that UNEP said included selective thinning regimes, protection against uncontrolled settlements, adequate allocation and policing of water withdrawals, and improved management of degraded land.
A Roadmap to Reverse Deforestation
On 7 November 2012, the top United Nations environment official called on Kenya to act on a “roadmap” for reversing deforestation in the East African country, saying the document – produced following a national dialogue on the economic value of Kenya’s high-elevation forests – offers a “unique opportunity” for implementation.
“The outcomes of this meeting provide an agenda for moving beyond an era when forests were seen as Achim Steiner said at the conclusion of Kenya Water Towers, Forests and Green Economy National Dialogue, a three-day gathering at UNEP headquarters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
The meeting focused on Kenya’s five montane forests, also known as ‘water towers’ due to the fact that these forests store water during the rainy season and release it slowly, thus ensuring water flow during dry period, according to a UNEP press release.
Kenya’s new constitution calls for an increase in forest cover to ten per cent, which, coupled with increasing public demand to halt and reverse deforestation, “has the potential to trigger unprecedented investment in the forest sector,” UNEP noted, in relaying a key point of the final outcome document of the National Dialogue.
“Kenya has already signalled its intent to build up this natural capital as a vibrant and sustainable engine for growth and prosperity,” Steiner said. “There now exists a unique opportunity to translate this pioneering and commendable intention into implementation.”
More than 200 delegates – including key decision-makers and representatives of the private sector, development partners and civil society – used the National Dialogue to map a way forward to overcome an economic deforestation deficit that a joint UNEP-Kenya Forest Service report, released on Monday, showed to be more than four times greater than gains from forestry and logging, the UN reported.
Steiner also presented Kenya’s Minister of Public Works, Dalmas Otieno, with a UNEP publication focused on Kenya’s Tana Basin, whose river is an important source of drinking water, irrigation and power, but which also has high siltation due to poor land use, and faces a deteriorating water shed.
The booklet, Securing Water and Land in the Tana Basin: a resource book for water managers and practitioner, documents field-tested practical technologies from other countries that can be replicated in Kenya to help improve management of water and land resources, UNEP said.
2012 Human Wrongs Watch