My desire to ensure environmental sustainability.

Point blank on environmental issues.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Nyangweta Forest Excision; just a Tip of Conservation Crisis in Kisii County (PART 1)

Kisii County was part of the defunct Nyanza Province, the New Constitution 2010 having introduced devolution. It is probably one of the best placed counties, among the 47, to set good development records owing to its strategic location in the fertile soils of Gusii Land, good rains and consistent and plenty of professionals. The Kisii County Government has many plans and projects that will make it stay true to its mission of “Prosperity for All.” However, some of the projects are quite ambitious, some of which might lead to serious environmental impacts and permanent changes in the county’s natural resource base. One of such projects is a Ksh. 5 billion sugar factory that the County Government wants to set up in Nyangweta Forest, one of the few forests in the county. This is in addition to plans of further excising the forest (Nyangweta), to set up an Agricultural Campus for Kisii University. In this piece, I will highlight how this project affects the already threatened Nyangweta Forest ecosystem, is full of contradictions, with scanty information, and how the County Government has generally failed to conserve and sustainable manage natural resources within its jurisdiction.

The Kisii County Government is planning to excise 120 acres of the Nyangweta Forest, to set up a Sugar Factory, worth Ksh. 5 billion (
The Standard , Capital News). The motion has already beeen tabled in the Kenyan Senate by Professor Ongeri (Kisii County Senator) who said that this will leave only 18 acres of the forest. Although there are no clear statistics about the total area of the forest, an approximation puts it at 138 acres. This means that they are planning to clear over 80% of the forest- literally no forest will be left.

According to statistics, the total forest cover in Kisii County is about 2.6% (8, 540 acres out of total land area of 321,731 acres- 1302 sq. km). The Constitution of Kenya (2010) and Vision 2030 set a target of at least 10% forest cover in Kenya, meaning that each county should contribute to this target. Kisii County is therefore, lagging behind in addressing this target due to various reasons. The most important factor/hindrance, is that the county government seems to not have a FOREST POLICY to guide its forestry operations. If at all the policy exists, it is only in the books and no serious implementation is being done. In the New Constitution 2010, FOREST EXTENSION is one of the devolved functions, thus a responsibility of the county government. The County Government talks of having District Forest Extension Officers (DFEOs) whose mandate is to promote forestry extension in the county. However, it seems these DFEOs, if they indeed were recruited, are not doing their extension work properly. This is going by the current situation of environmental challenges in the county; e.g. ignorant (sometimes intentional) planting of particular trees species in unwanted areas such as planting of eucalyptus in wetlands and other water sources, low forest cover in farmlands throughout the county, drying water sources, and reclamation of wetlands through brick making among other things. Despite the government introducing the three months moratorium, destruction of forests is rife in Kisii County. This tells that the County Government has not displayed any passion or efforts to promote forest conservation and management, but they are willing to excise part of its little forests for establishment of a sugar industry.

In trying to display their efforts to conserve the environment, the County Government is said to have identified 13 forests which they will allocate to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) for conservation and management. The Kisii County Government claims that Former CS for Environment and Natural Resources gazetted some forests within the County, the 13 forests being among them. This is indeed a good move to enhance conservation and management of the forests. However, this Gazette notice is not in the public domain, meaning that this might be false. Actually, information from the forest department in the county says that, “The County does not have a gazetted forest.” This is a total contradiction that calls for careful evaluation of the gazette claims. During his presentation in the Senate, Professor Ongeri noted that the County Government has received a nod from key stakeholders, including the Kisii County Assembly, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from NEMA, approval by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). He also mentioned that the there was public participation from the community members, who also gave it an approval. However, there is no document in the public domain to proof that such activities took place, including the feasibility test document! Why is the County Government hiding such key documents from the public, if at all they are available? If the documents are shelved, they county government should make efforts to avail them to the public through their website. 

According to the Kisii County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP 2013-17), Nyangweta Forest is a GEOLOGICAL AREA that can serve as 1) TOURISM and RECREATION site 2) be used for CULTURAL/HERITAGE issues and 3) Conservation of WATER, SOIL and BIODIVERSITY. This is line with the Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016). So, are the 13 forests the County is allocating to KFS serving the functions as those mentioned above (Nyangweta Forest)? Of course NO, because you cannot replace an Ecosystem Service! You can only enhance it.

The same CIDP (2013-17) report mentions that Nyangweta Forest is threatened with encroachment, overgrazing, and soil erosion. Indeed, the Kenya Red Cross issued a landslide notice in Nyangweta area in November 2015. This already confirms that Nyangweta Forest is an endangered ecosystem, due to mismanagement. Shockingly, there are no recorded efforts of trying to address these environmental challenges, but the County Government wants to go ahead and excise part of this forest. This will only spell doom for Nyangweta area because landslides and other hazards might be the order of the day.

We should not only look at the economic aspects, but also the long term environmental impacts that this project will have on the surrounding community now and in the future!


1 comment:

  1. Indeed if the county government has given a blind eye on the posterity effects of;
    1 cutting down the trees
    2 setting up of the factory
    Then we really need to think twice about the project. We don't want the county to set up the factory which will cause more harm than good to the society and especially on the people of south mugirango constituency.