The Kenyan Parliament is currently reviewing an amendment proposal to the Forest Conservation and Management Act which gives the Kenya Forestry Services (KFS) authority over boundaries and excisions in state forests. The Forest Conservation and Management Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to repeal Section 34 of the Act that protects forests from activities that may endanger any rare, threatened or endangered species.
The principal object of the Bill is to streamline the procedure for petitioning Parliament under the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016, by proposing amendments to Section 34 of the Act to subject petitions seeking the variation of boundaries or revocation of public forests to existing requirements under the Petition to Parliament (Procedure) Act, 2012, and the Standing Orders of the National Assembly.
This means that if enacted, KFS will lose powers to sanction the variation of boundaries of a public forest or excision of a public forest.
Currently, any petition to Parliament seeking to vary boundaries of a public forest or the revocation of the registration of a public forest or a portion of a public forest must also demonstrate that the exercise will not adversely affect its value as a water catchment area and prejudice biodiversity conservation, cultural site protection of the forest or its use for educational, recreational, health or research. In addition, the said petition must be in concurrence with the KFS following an environmental impact assessment and stakeholder consultations.
In a statement by Nature Kenya, the Executive Director, Dr. Paul Matiku, stated that it was dangerous to weaken the laws that protect our forests. “It is dangerous to entrust the remaining forests to parliamentarians alone. World nations just agreed in the 2021 Climate Change meeting (COP26) to protect, conserve and increase tropical forests in order to reduce climate change. Kenya promised to halt deforestation by 2030. Removing Kenya Forest Service from decisions on forest boundaries is ill advised, ill-timed and will expose Kenya’s forests to greedy individuals whose actions could damage Kenya’s water catchment areas, hydro-electricity, irrigated food and thereby human well-being and economic development.”
Such amendments will not only reverse the gains made over the past 15 years of restoring public forests and water catchment areas, but will in essence be detrimental to the forest conservation efforts currently underway such as the National Tree Planting Campaign as well as be in contravention of international treaties and conventions such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) among other international commitments to safeguard biodiversity.