Forests in Kenya worth much more intact

In a landmark report, the Kenyan Government and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) addressed the importance of forests to the well-being of the nation, putting Kenya among a ground-breaking group of countries that aim to center development plans around its natural landscape.

Loita hills forest in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

“For the first time in history, the real value of just one element of Kenya’s natural capital has been captured in economic terms and in the language that the engineers of Kenya’s economic recovery can understand,” Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust, told MongaBay. “The study … is an enormous breath of fresh air.”

The report states that forests provides for the country not only in timber and other forest-based products but in water storage from the rainy season, and links to a decrease in malarial disease (which costs Kenya’s government millions per year in health costs).

The forests produce “direct economic value for citizens,” says the report. “The negative effect of deforestation to the economy [is] more than twice the cash revenue of deforestation.”

“Not only has the real and enormous value of forests been revealed”, says Kahumbu, who was not involved in drafting the report. “By mainstreaming forests as a significant contributor to the economic recovery of Kenya, the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has been able to capture the attention of the President and Prime Minister of Kenya to justify enormous investment in the protection of Kenyan forests”

True to point, the UN report concludes with a list of recommendations for decision makers including: incorporating economics for sustainable forest management, stronger regulation of forest use, encouraging investment in the forestry sector in order to increase efficiency in production, and allowing for adequate regeneration after timber harvests.

Kahumbu calls it, “a win-win for environmentalists and economists. … a great moment not only for forests, but for all natural resources in Kenya, and the lessons from the study are relevant across ecosystems and Africa.”

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