Residents of Isiolo town and other towns in the county have been using firewood and charcoal for many years but at the time, charcoal burning did not have much impact on the forest cover because it was practiced at subsistence level.
However, the activity has now taken a commercial angle, posing a serious threat to the forest cover especially the acacia tree that is the major target for charcoal burners with charcoal from Isiolo being sold as far as Nyeri and Meru counties.
According to the local community, the acacia tree is very important to them because it provides shade during sizzling sunshine besides providing seeds that are consumed by the livestock during dry spells.
The tree takes between 150 to 200 years to mature and hence anybody planting the tree only hopes to benefit future generations.
According to the Chairman Nasulu Community Conservancy, Omar Godana Dida, the acacia tree takes very long to mature; with charcoal burning taking a commercial angle, unscrupulous people have almost depleted the forest cover that are now causing prolonged droughts in Isiolo county.
The areas affected include Biliqo Malala in Bulesa, Manyatta Zebra, Buffalo Springs’ Game Reserve especially through the Chokaa gate, and Mulango area in Burat ward. The deforestation especially the cutting down of indigenous acacia trees is alarming, says Dida.
Dida calls on the county government to intervene and save the acacia tree by taking stern measures against charcoal burning and also by employing people to take care of trees planted during various tree planting initiatives in line with Vision 2030 on environmental protection.
He called on the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to enforce the law that requires any person cutting down trees whether in gazetted forests or otherwise to seek for a permit from the KFS office or else is arrested and prosecuted.
A resident of Kinna ward in Garba Tulla sub-county, Hussein Salesa Jarso says since the times of their ancestors, the Acacia tree known in Kiswahili as ‘mgongochuma’ was very important since its seeds, used as food for wildlife and livestock, is produced during dry spells.
Jarso says that a mature acacia tree has very strong hardwood timber that can be sold even abroad to earn foreign exchange. It is unfortunate that its cover which was almost 90% in Kinna when he was born has now been depleted to less than 20 per cent, he says.
The cutting of the trees has affected the water catchment area of Kinna area that used to produce crops such as arrowroots, maize, mangoes, paw paws and even sukuma wiki. The water table has gone down and cannot support farming, said the concerned resident of Kinna.
The Waso North Conservancy Deputy Head, Jonah Babu said it is unfortunate that Isiolo County has no gazetted forest with all the forest cover being under community land.
Waso North Conservancy cuts across the counties of Isiolo, Samburu and Marsabit but only Isiolo County has no gazetted forest. According Babu, Samburu has the lion’s share with 300,000 hectares and Marsabit 15,000 hectares of gazette forest cover.
The Conservancy deputy head said the Isiolo forest consists of woodlands in areas bordering Nyambene forest in Meru County and along the Ewaso Nyiro River that transcends both Isiolo and Samburu counties.
The KFS officer said with the population explosion that is hitting Isiolo town as it approaches its city status, infrastructural developments are putting pressure on the resources especially the indigenous trees as charcoal burning turns commercial.
He further disclosed that climate change that is prevalent in many parts of the country and the world at large has had negative effect on the natural vegetation of the world and Isiolo is not an exception.
He however, agreed that although it is the responsibility of all Kenyans to conserve the environment, ignorance and extreme poverty by many Isiolo residents is behind the diminishing forest cover,
The officer further disclosed that although there are laws protecting the forests inadequate, KFS staff and hostile communities in the county have contributed to destruction of forests for charcoal burning.
Other stakeholder expected to support KFS in protecting forests have not done much. Community forest associations are reluctant to disclose those involved in charcoal burning to enable KFS take action against them, said Mr. Babu.
He said since the protection of forest cover is a devolved function, the county government is expected to spearhead the activity but this has not materialized because politicians interfere with the activity by protecting residents of their areas of representation in charcoal burning.
The forest officer called on the county government to put into effect the Transition Implementation Plans (TIPs) formulated by the KFS to protect the forest cover in all the counties in the country.
He further disclosed that it is not only the acacia tree that is endangered adding that quite a number of people have been arrested transporting sandal wood from neighbouring counties but politicians have frustrated efforts to prosecute them successfully.
Things are taking even a worse scenario with farmers from Kambi Sheikh outskirts of Isiolo town complaining that herders have invaded their farms without their consent, and allowing their cattle and goats to feed on their vegetables besides cutting down their trees to feed their livestock.
David Mwirigi, a farmer from Kambi Sheikh had planted many trees for timber which is his only source of income, but the trees were cut down and destroyed to the extent that they will not grow again.
He disclosed that he reported the matter to the nearby police station but the police took no action. Mwirigi is pleading with the government to give them protection for their farms.
However, Isiolo County Police Commander Charles Ontita said there have been a few complaints from some farmers but none of them has recorded a statement and unless they report when the animals are in the farms and arrests are made, there is no one to prosecute.
Ontita however, agreed that investigations are still ongoing and anyone found culpable will be prosecuted and will face the full force of the law.
Source: Kenya News Agency