Category Archives: Forest loss

Perfumery sends Sandalwood numbers down

Kenya is losing the Sandalwood tree (Osyris lanceolata) to illegal harvesting. The harvesting – initially reported in the Chyulu hills – seems to have escalated and has now been reported in Kajiado, Taita, Amboseli and surrounding ranches, Samburu, Koibatek, and Kikuyu Escarpment and many other areas. In most areas it’s being harvested without much control.

Sandalwood is exploited for its essential oils used in perfumery. The heartwood of the trunk, main branches and roots contain an essential oil. The oil blends so well and with many fragrance materials that it has become a common blender-fixative used in countless perfumes.

The problem first existed along the Kenyan-Tanzania border, with most of the exploitation occurring in the Chyulu hills where the tree still grows in abundance compared to the other areas.

The tree grows to a height of 1-6m, but it’s the roots that are most favored. The essential oil concentration is highest in the roots, followed by the trunk. The tree is dioecious (male and female on separate trees) and the female is most preferred as it is said to have a better quality of heartwood.

Under normal conditions young trees grow slowly, only gradually developing a core of heartwood. Uprooting the tree is therefore seriously depleting its numbers. As the tree is also parasitic and regenerates via shoots from exposed roots, this mode of harvesting will undermine regeneration.

It is believed that the tree is being traded in Tanzania. The sharp rise in extraction in Kenya is linked to over exploitation coupled by strict surveillance in Tanzania. The tree is being harvested in Kenya and exported through various undisclosed routes to Tanzania. After value addition (semi processing) the products are re-exported to Indonesia, India, South Africa, France, Germany and eastern Asia countries for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry.

A taskforce of government institutions was formed to look into the harvesting and trade of sandalwood. In its preliminary survey report it says that poverty in the areas where this species occur is an underlying factor that might make the fight against the illegal trade difficult to win.

Communities in these areas are living under extreme poverty and are ready to undertake any kind of business to earn a livelihood, even when they are being exploited. For example, communities around Chyulu National Park earn KShs 4 to KShs 7 for every kilo harvested, which the middleman sells at Kshs 80 Per kilo. Successful intervention measures therefore would have to address poverty, and other sources of livelihood.

Propagation of the tree is also being researched at by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute. For now surveillance is being stepped up and appeals have been made to relevant authorities, such as the Kenya Ports Authority, to block the points of exit.

This post first appeared in an issue of KFWG’s Misitu News.

Post election violence: Impact on forests in western Kenya

We are involved in mapping the impact of post election violence on forests in western Kenya. This is part of a project funded by the Finnish Embassy in Kenya, through the WWF East Africa Regional Programme, that is being carried out by five NGOs – WWF, KFWG, Nature Kenya, IUCN and Forest Action Network – and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

Last month we traveled to North and South Nandi forests and parts of the Cherengany ecosystem where the impacts were most felt. There we witnessed destruction of forests plantation through illegal clear – cutting and burning. There were also instances of burning of forest stations and displacement of forest staff. Things are more or less back to normal. However, KFS still has to deal with lack of housing and offices for some of its staff.


Photo: What remains of the Cerengoni forest office

After the mapping, the team will embark on community forums and peace building efforts.


High profile attention on the Mau Complex forests

The Government has sworn to act to save the Mau Complex forests. Prime Minister Hon. Raila Odinga who chaired a meeting over the Mau said the Government was treating the matter seriously and was determined to come up with a solution.

“We are concerned about the situation in Mau and want to find a solution to the increased human activity there,” the East African Standard quotes him.

KFWG member and UNEP Policy and Programme Officer, Mr Christian Lambrechts, gave a presentation on the status of the forests and raised alarm over the future of projects that depend on the Mau Complex.

Read more on this latest development here at the East African Standard online edition.

A copy of a report from an aerial survey of the Mau forest complex authored by UNEP, KFWG and Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority can found on the KFWG website at this link.

Peace at last but counting the losses

Like everybody in Kenya we are sighing with relief; peace at last.

Sadly, the violence led to great losses in forests. The impact on forests has demonstrated how urgently forest issues need to be addressed. Forests have been invaded by illegal loggers, been torched, in some cases settled and cleared for cultivation, forests infrastructure in some areas has been completely vandalized and or/destroyed. Kenya Forest Service staff comprising foresters and forest guards were displaced from their work stations while others were threatened to stay away. This left the forests open to abuse and it has led to destruction of forests . KFS has lost millions of Shillings as a result of illegal logging.

However, KFS did a commendable job in responding to the crisis sending out rangers to priority areas and sounding out donors to fund restoration efforts. Currently a number of Civil Society organizations including KFWG are working with KFS and some donors to see how best urgent needs can be addressed.

The Forestry sector – in particular the newly created Kenya Forest Service – urgently needs funding for its operation and the political will to support it to serve its mandate. But, ultimately, as Kenyans, we must make sure we show respect and protect forests as we are so utterly dependent on them. We here at KFWG believe its our duty as all Kenyans.

Loggers capitalise on violence in North Rift to venture into forests

The Daily Nation reports that loggers have taken advantage of the post-election violence to venture into Forest Reserves in Keiyo, Marakwet, Uasin Gishu, Baringo, Nandi North and South districts. Some forests were set on fire and hundreds of hectares were destroyed. Baringo district commissioner Hassan Fara says the Government lost more than Sh2 million in the last two weeks of violence through illegal logging and burning of public forests. Area district forestry officer Daniel Too says illegal loggers took advantage of the violence to invade Katimok forest and cut down the endangered sandalwood trees, among other species. You can read more here

Kenya’s forests affected by post election chaos

Kenya’s forests, just as its people, have felt the impact of the violence that followed the disputed 2007 elections. The National Geographic reported that the forest dwelling Ogieks have been threatened and some members have lost lives as a direct result of the violence. The National Geographic says, “The Ogiek, best known for their traditional methods of beekeeping, have become caught up in ethnic clashes following the vote, resulting in the deaths of nine tribal members at the hands of police, according to leaders. The killings may have been retribution for the tribe’s support for opposition candidate Raila Odinga, leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), in the recent election, tribal officials say.”

Elsewhere in Bomet, the Daily Nation (18 January 2008) reports that more than 2,000 exotic and indigenous trees worth more than Sh1.2 million have been destroyed by illegal loggers.

“Bomet District forest officer William Cheptoo said the loggers had taken advantage of the post-election violence to deplete the Chepalungu government gazetted forest. He explained that the forest was left unguarded after forest guards fled.Three months ago, members of the local community said to have opposed the conservation of the forest, invaded Chelelach forest station, which is part of the expansive Chepalungu forest block, and killed a forest guard. Speaking to journalists in his Bomet town office Thursday, Mr Cheptoo said the loggers were extracting timber and fencing poles from the felled trees.
More than 100,000 tree seedlings planted six months ago were uprooted, he added.”

And today, the Daily Nation reports that a forest in Nyeri district has become the dumping ground for bodies by unidentified killers. The killings are unrelated to the post elections violence.

We are saddened by the loss of lives and the terrible impact the violence is having on the country, its people, its economy, resources and its future. We pray along with all Kenyans that a solution will be found soon.

More forest destruction, this time from Rumuruti forest, Laikipia District

Sorry to be bring you more bad news.

We have received some information about the continued destruction in Rumuruti forest. Below are excerpts from part of the report:

Rumuruti Forest Reserve (6,217.8 hectares) straddles Salama and Marmanet locations, North- East of Nyhururu town, Laikipia West District. The forest extends along a large section of the Uaso Narok River, the main tributary of the Uaso Ngiro.

The forest is a dry upland forest with podocarpus occurring along the Uaso Narok River. The forest was once intact with a closed canopy comprised of the following dominant species: Juniperus procera, olea europea ssp africana, Podocarpus latifolius, Podocarpus falcatus, Warburgia salutaris, Prunus africana, Cassipourea malosana, Trichocladus ellipticus, Vepris simplicifolia, Ficus thoningii, Calodenrum capense.

On the 25 November, 2007 we walked a recce transect for approximately one hour up the East bank of the Uaso Narok river, starting not far from the old forest station, and then walked for another hour South on the West bank walking North to where we started. We recorded recently felled trees and trees in the process of being cut.

The felling of large podo and cedar trees on our two-hour walk was extensive. Most of the destruction of large mature podo trees was on both banks of the Uaso Narok River from the old forest station going north. This felling was extremely recent with some trees being felled as we walked, suggesting massive demand and a complete break down in law enforcement. There were also older signs of forest destruction and the overall pattern is fairly typical, with Olive trees targeted initially (for charcoal), then cedar and podo. Not a single mature Olive tree was seen during our survey.

Our informants told us that timber from the podo trees is being sold locally in Rumuruti town, mostly for furniture making. Apparently one podo tree cut and split will be sold for Ksh 1,000/=. The cedar trees are being cut up for basic fence posts and for sale as timber.


Species being destroyed
West bank of Uaso Narok River
Juniperus procera (cedar) 19 mature trees cut down
Podocarpus falcatus (podo) none seen.

East bank of Uaso Narok River
Juniperus procera (cedar) 41 mature trees cut down
Podocarpus falcatus (podo) 22 mature trees cut down
Podocarpus falcatus 3 in the process of being cut.

Other species damaged
Prunus africana – we noticed many large stumps of trees cut in the last 5-10 years. Very few standing trees seen.
Olea europea ssp africana – tremendous damage to the olive population. All the stumps seen were in large areas all along the river. The stumps were at least 3-4 ft in diameter. These trees were all burnt to make charcoal.
Warburgia salutaris – There were several very large stumps of Warburgia cut several years ago. We recorded very few young trees coming up. No mature trees seen.

The forest is a critical catchment of the Uaso Narok River, on which many of the residents of West Laikipia District and onto Samburu District depend. At the current rate of the felling, there will be no mature trees standing in a year’s time. This forest has a chance to regenerate if the destruction can be stopped immediately. There are many saplings of the key species growing; some of them are at least 7-10 ft tall.

The Rumuruti Forest Association was set up with the help of the Kenya Forests Working Group in 2001. This is comprised of some very dedicated members who live around the forest reserve. However they are unable to do anything about the current level of destruction as they do not have the capacity or resources to enforce the forest, which they are dedicated to protecting.

Suggested action
Law enforcement is needed immediately to stop any further illegal logging.

A perimeter electric fence would help protect what remains of the forest, and would reduce human elephant conflict, a major source of grievance among the people surrounding the forest.

We are putting this up for information. Follow up action is being taken.

Maasai Mau Forest still in deep, deep, trouble

The Maasai Mau Forest covers 46,278 hectares, and is located some 17 kilometers north of Narok Town, near the world famous Maasai Mara National Reserve. It is part of the larger Mau Forest Complex, Kenya’s largest forest block and East Africa’s largest single block of closed canopy indigenous forest.

Once pristine, Maasai Mau has become the target of unfortunate land allocations, which have resulted in massive destruction. By February 2005, when an aerial survey was conducted resulting in the publication of the Maasai Mau Forest Status Report, the western part was heavily destroyed. At that time, the forest was being actively cleared with smoke billowing above the forest canopy.

In 2005, the government took action against further destruction of the forest, evicting nearly 10,000 people from the affected area. The controversial evictions, reported to be unnecessarily brutal, resulted in a court case instituted against the government that now stops it from taking further action, including further action against people who are returning to the forest and carving out new plots.

A visit in September 2007 by the KFWG and journalists from the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation recorded intensive farming, timber sawing and charcoal burning. Those interviewed said they had bought the land and will not leave unless the Government compensates them and offers alternative land.

The illegal sale of the forest land by unscrupulous persons is the genesis of the problem. While most of the forests in the Mau Forest Complex have been gazetted and are managed by the Kenya Forest Service (former Forest Department), the Maasai Mau Forest is Trust Land, managed by the County Council of Narok (NCC), which also manages the Maasai Mara National Reserve. In 1999, the Council gave consent to surrounding group ranches (owned communally) to be subdivided and sold to members. After consent was issued, government officers, politicians, private surveyors and influential people increased the sizes of the group ranches far in excess of their registered areas. The additional land in the forest was then sold to unsuspecting outsiders who had no information about the forest. Most of them say they sold their farms at their original homes and used the money to buy land in the forest.

The government had agreed to offer alternative land to people who had title deeds to their forest plots. That exercise never took place. Further promises have been made by a variety of politicians and officials.

Now deeply suspicious of these promises, the evictees would rather stay put in the forest, unless a solution is provided. Meanwhile, the forest continues to suffer.