Monday, September 12, 2011

Politics and Environmental Conservation in Kenya

Kenya today faces unprecedented environmental challenges which has brought about diseases, poverty and hunger, resource based conflicts among others. Loss of Forest cover and biodiversity, climate change and drying of wetlands are some of the environmental challenges that have led to the current scenario we have in the country. The solution to these lies in the hands of a Kenyan voter though it is strange to say so. As voters, we have a chance to reverse the situation by demanding to know from those seeking the top offices on their position regarding environmental agenda. Just like any other development agenda in the country, environmental agenda should be prioritized as majority of the citizens depend entirely and directly on Nature for livelihood and survival.

Proper Leadership, political will and resources are required to restore dry rivers, protect water towers, return integrity to our soils, provide sufficient water for human consumption and irrigation, and regularize rainfall patterns.Perhaps, we can borrow a leaf from our northern neighbour, Ethiopia, which, though impoverished and experiencing some of the world's worst famines, pulled an incredible feat, increasing its forest cover from just three per cent in 2000 to nine per cent last year. During the intervening period, Ethiopia undertook massive tree-planting campaigns to bring its forest cover to internationally accepted levels and restore lost biodiversity. A UN report indicates that Ethiopians planted 700 million trees in 2007 alone in its efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

There is no doubt that the political leadership can play a critical role in mobilizing both urban and rural populations to adopt cost-effective lifestyles and appropriate technologies friendly to the environment. The government should also consider incorporating environmental education in Schools from the lower level as this will enable the children grow up to be responsible, caring and knowledgeable adults who will be custodians of our planet. Lastly, sustainable development should be upheld as it focuses on the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their needs and in that case, if we destroy the environment now ,the future generation will be adversely affected and suffer due to our actions.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Statement on Biodiesel Production in Kenya

Bio-fuel in Kenya is just about to acquire a new meaning when the government releases the regulations for blending with the fossil fuels together with the Policy . This means that vehicle owners and manufacturers who use combustion generators may use either diesel or petrol that has already been mixed with bio-fuel at one of Kenya’s three fuel depots.

For a country that has never had commercial use of bio-fuel and its farmers have never grown bio-fuel crops for commercial use, there are important facts about the bio-fuel crops that require to be known.

Africa has various bio-fuel crops that are used to produce bio-fuel. They include; Jatropha Curcas, Croton, Castor and Candlenut, best used to produce biodiesel that can be used alone or as a blend with fossil fuels ( there are other sources as well)
Others are sugarcane, sugar beet and cassava used for producing ethanol and can be used as a blend with fossil petroleum to power engines.

In some countries in Africa however, there has been a major misunderstanding on the Jatropha crop and as farmers prepare to be the major suppliers of bio-fuel, it is important that some facts about these crops are known.

In the case of Jatropha, it is not indigenous to Africa but it is a crop that just like maize or what has been naturalized. In parts of Kenya say Meru, Kajiado and Ngurumani Jatropha now gross naturally.

Jatropha is not an invasive species as alleged in some quarters. In Kenya and the East African region for instance, no evidence of its being invasive has been recorded for over a century, according to Africa Centre for Technology Studies. Its cultivation in this region has so far showed that the crop can be controlled mechanically; by pruning or cutting it down.

Jatropha is a tree. It contributes to the Afforestation of a country like Kenya whose forest cover has dropped from recommended 10 per cent to 1.7 per cent. The production of seeds for biofuel is an added advantage.

In the climate change carbon trading market, some western companies have invested in Jatropha plantations in Africa to offset their own carbon dioxide emissions.

In Kenya, Jatropha is mainly grown in Kitui, Thika, Namanga, Kajiado, Malindi, Nyanza, Nakuru, Marakwet, Naivasha, in the coastal regions and in Meru. By 2008, it was estimated that close to 3,860 acres of Kenyan land has been covered by the plant. The area has since increased tremendously.

Other qualities of Jatropha include:

  • It grows on rocky land and lasts for about 50 years;
  • It is drought resistant; and relatively easy to grow and manage ( we have practically proved this)
  • It seed cake can be used as fertilizer or processed into livestock feed after treatment
  • It does not compete with food production directly; it is not edible and grows in areas unsuitable for food production. It intercrops well with food crops ( practically proven)
  • Its oil burns 80% cleaner than fossil fuels
  • It can be used as a hedge therefore keeping animals away from destructing other crops( animals do not browse the plant ( practically proven ).
  • There are many other advantages of the plant.

Other Factors

  • For a practical and economically viable biofuels plantation, we recommend an intercropping system of Jatropha, Candlenut and Castor as it enables an all round seed production. Croton can be grown on its own and be an economically viable venture for production of biodiesel.
  • The success of Production of Biodiesel in Africa is depended on a critical mass of the feedstck. We therefore encourage Governments in Africa to formulate ideal policies that shall deliberately advocate for mass production of feedstock by establishing nuclear estates and encouraging farmers around such areas using the out-grower system. Such systems must not destroy the existence of Biodiversity in which case a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment must be carried out. A strategic Environmental Impact Assessment may also be carried out that will lead to zoning of areas suitable for various plants. The income arising from the production of biofuels must be extended mostly to the farmers and all in the entire value chain.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Creating a vibrant wood industry

Kenya needs 6.4 billion trees to achieve the desired 10 per cent forest cover, but for sustainable growth, it will need to push the cover to 40 per cent.
The 10 per cent is the minimum standard forest cover worldwide per country which should be maintained at all times.

The additional 30 per cent is for commercial purpose and is meant to protect the 10 per cent from depletion.

Sweden has a 60 per cent forest cover, one of the largest in the world, and has maintained this growth for a century now. Forests are the most important natural resource in Sweden; they contribute 12 per cent of export income and employ more than 100,000 people.


When comparing with Sweden, a forest takes 80 years to mature, while in Kenya it takes only about 10 to 15 years. Cold climatic conditions in Sweden inhibits growth of trees, while warm climatic conditions in Kenya enhance speedier growth.

Achieving a 10 per cent forest cover will mean that each Kenyan will be required to grow 13 trees per month for two years. Growing trees as opposed to planting trees — the former means tending a tree to maturity while the later in the act of the plant into the ground.

'‘Planting a tree takes about five minutes, growing a tree, however is a different matter. It takes resources, commitment and time to care for a tree to maturity and that is the method we should be adopting,” says Isaac Kalua the founder Green Africa Foundation.

The question therefore is how will Kenya grow its 6.4 billion trees?

First, it is possible to achieve the 10 cent forest cover in two years, of course with everyone’s participation. Secondly for sustainable forestry, Kenya should target an 80 per cent forest growth.


This will mean private-ownership of forests; in Sweden for example 51 per cent of forests are owned by private, small-scale owners often known as ‘family forestry’ which translates to about 350,000 private owners. The private companies own 24 per cent and the state 25 per cent of the country’s forest.

In other words, Kenya needs to create a forest industry, which entails producing forests for timber, medicinal value, wood-fuel and charcoal production, for carbon sequestration, and also a large source of seedlings.

Agroforestry is an ancient agricultural farming practice in Kenya, which incorporates both food farming and tree-planting. But most farmers would rather invest in food farming or livestock because of the high economic value attached to the by-products.

Farmers therefore need to buy into the idea of tree-farming and that trees have economic value.

‘We concentrate on fruit trees and trees that produce oil. The tree-seedlings we give farmers are drought resistant, take less time to mature and produce in large quantities,” explains Kalua.

The government’s forestation policy is now encouraging agroforestry as a strategy to achieve a forest cover of 20 per cent by 2020.

There are currently 19 carbon sequestration projects in Africa, seven are based in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In Kenya the project is at the Lake Victoria basin (Western Kenya Integrated Ecosystem Management Project).

The World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund is currently the biggest investor of carbon sequestration. International prices for carbon credits range from $3.50 per ton in America and $15.80 per ton in European markets. Africa has yet to benefit in the international carbon credit market.

Kenya’s charcoal industry is estimated to be worth Sh 30 billion, provides employment to 700,000 people and supports 200,000 dependants currently.

Unfortunately because it is unregulated business, the government losses Sh 5.1 billion in tax and is a major contributor to deforestation in Kenya.


The Ministry of Environment is currently developing strategies for sustainable production and utilization of woodfuel, promotion of efficient wood energy technologies and use of renewable energy and regulation of the production of can marketing of charcoal.

The largest quantity of charcoal comes from arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya. Eighty per cent of Kenya’s land mass is arid and semi-arid, and therefore forest production geared toward woodfuel can be created in these regions.

The planting for 6.4 billion trees and creation of a forest industry will prompt the demand of tree- seedlings. There is need of establishing commercial tree-seedlings of exotic and indigenous tree-species by private owners.

The cost of tree-seedling ranges between Sh10 to Sh 1000, indigenous trees being more expensive.

Kenya’s unemployment rate is at a staggering 40 per cent, each year 750,000 graduates are released in the job market. The forest industry and the green business can easily absorb them.

In spite of the economic opportunities available, the biggest challenge to attaining Kenya’s forest growth, is the lack of forest education coupled with a disdain attitude towards tree-planting.

'‘Tree-planting was used as a punishment in schools. The student grows to hate a tree as the tree grows; the tree becomes a constant reminder of his or her punishment. Once the student leaves school, he continues to have a negative attitude towards trees and therefore fails to understand its importance,” says Kalua.

The Foundation, he explains, has established a Green Schools project. “The idea is to plant positive environment conservation seeds in the minds of the young through educational programmes.”