Pressure continues to pile on Parliament to bin the Forest conservation and management (amendment) Bill 2021, with environmental lobby groups and activists among Kenyans wary of the impact it could have on Kenya’s forest cover and wildlife habitats.
If it sails through, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) would lose the power to sanction the variation of boundaries of a public forest or excision of a public forest.
The National Assembly’s Moses Cheboi-led Procedure and House Rules Committee wants a section of the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016 which protects forests from actions that endanger any rare, threatened or endangered species, to be repealed.
The section of the Act the committee wants deleted, Section 34(2) states: “A petition under subsection (1) shall only be forwarded to the National Assembly on the recommendation of the Service (KFS).”
Instead, the amendment would allow any person to petition the National Assembly for variation of boundaries and revocation of registration of a State forest or a portion of the forest. It has been roundly opposed by many of the biggest voices in environment.
Some have argued that it contradicts the government’s land reclamation policy which aims to increase forest cover to 10% by 2022 up from 7.4% at present. Others have noted that it could set a dangerous precedent.
And with elections around the corner, some including National Geographic board member and WildlifeDirect CEO Dr. Paula Kahumbu think powerful individuals could be out to grab Kenya’s forests.
“It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner,” she stated.
Communities living next to forests have also called for the law to be rejected, promising to fight it to the end. There are about 255 CFAs registered by Kenya Forerst Service (KFS).
They warned that the amendment would render CFAs irrelevant.
“The CFAs participate fully in forest protection. If the proposed amendments are allowed, they will be irrelevant,” Friends of Karura Chairperson Winnie Kiiru stated in Nairobi after a meeting on January 26. Present were representatives from Karura, Ngong hills, Ngong road, Loitoktok and Namanga.
Lobby group Nature Kenya wrote: “Deletion of section 34 (2A) will reverse the gains made over the past 15 years in restoring our public forests and water catchment areas. This compromises the protection of these forests, denying Kenyans access to forest goods and services that are critical to their survival.” They urged Kenyans to say no to the amendment.