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3.7 Country paper: Kenya


Reality and perspectives
Kenya Country Paper
Written by
Ben Wandago
Conservator of Forests,
Forest Department Headquarters,
P.O. Box 30513
Nairobi, Kenya



Realities and perspectives
In collaboration with ICRAF and CIFOR
Nairobi, Kenya, 9-13 December 2002


This paper looks at the types of secondary forests found in Kenya, their extent (in terms of area), and socio-economic and ecological importance. It also looks at the existing knowledge on management of these forests, current management practice and the institutional and political issues that govern management. Degradation and loss of forest cover has been attributed to competing land use from agriculture, industry, human settlements and other infrastructural developments. This continued degradation of the forest ecosystem is now posing a major challenge to the forestry department and other stakeholders, but could be managed to become the so-called modified or secondary forest.

A few lessons have been learnt about the management of secondary forest, and this has a bearing on future policy formulation and legislation. The actual extent of secondary forest in Kenya is not well known though most of them occur in trust lands. There are also no proper management guidelines in place in terms of silviculture, ecology, and succession. Rehabilitation of degraded areas is an ongoing process but needs to be intensified, since these are the areas that form the bulk of secondary forests. Enrichment planting as a rehabilitation measure seems to be the way forward. The level of utilization of forest resources has a direct bearing on rate of modifying the indigenous forests or ecological succession. All illegal consumptive uses such as logging, grazing, poaching and encroachment could be reduced through community participation in forest conservation. It was also observed that not much has been done in terms of resource valuation. Special efforts should be made to quantify both market and non-market forest values to justify funding of conservation. Gender issues need to be covered in relevant policies and the institutions involved in forest management also need strengthening and reorientation towards greater flexibility so as to cope with the emerging challenges like secondary forests.

Although Kenya has some of the most diverse forest ecosystems (with some even qualifying to be called primary unmodified or virgin forests) the forest biological diversity is still not properly protected. A lot still needs to be done to stop degradation, especially in forest land, national reserves and trust land forest. This can be partly achieved by embracing community participation in forest management and also exploring farm forestry as a future source of wood supply. In addition the key policies should enable adaptive strategies that lead to sustainable use and management of secondary forest and they should reflect on the Natural Resources and Environment, Employment and Human Resources Development and Welfare perspectives.


Kenya has a relatively low forest cover. Closed canopy forest covers about 1.24 million ha. Plantations cover 0.16 million ha. The total forest area is less than 3 per cent of the total land area of Kenya. Most of the indigenous forests occur in high potential areas where they are under severe pressure and competition from other forms of land use. They continue to be degraded, but if proper management and control could be installed, they could become the so-called modified (near-natural) or post extraction and abandonment secondary forests. This considerably undermined the prospects for long-term economic growth and socio-political stability of the country.

The Forest Department started with aggressive management and conservation of all public (gazetted) forests to counteract the negative impacts on forest degradation and to assist in the recovery of the forests (development of secondary forest). Its functions include, inter alia, the implementation of appropriate management practices on forest ecosystems and their associated resources to guarantee sustainable supply of forest-based products, while enhancing the ecological functions of the forests. The Department (Government) prepared a Forestry Master Plan in 1994 (KFMP, 1994) to meet these challenges and to guide forestry development in Kenya for the next 25 years (up to 2020). This plan has programmes that address critical institutional, production and environmental protection issues in the forestry sector. The broad objectives of these programmes are to address the threats to the indigenous forests, which form the bulk of modified or secondary forests.

As a follow up to the Master Plan and in line with its recommendations, the Forest Department initiated a series of major reforms in the sector:

There is great pressure on the forests for their potentially arable land. A continuous feedback and harmonization of related policies is vital. Effective management of forests for sustainable economic growth is also dependent on other land use policies, particularly those concerning the environment, agriculture, water resources and energy.

1.1 Brief

In view of the important role forests play in the lives of the people of Kenya, this document focuses on two main areas of interest: Indigenous forest management and Farm forestry, because the potential for secondary forests development is high in these areas.

Under indigenous forests several issues are considered in relation to the development of secondary or modified forests.

Because of the many problems faced in the management of indigenous forests, Farm forestry seems to be the only way forward to meet the future wood demands in Kenya. It is only the farmers who can help close the foreseeable gap between supply and demand of wood and other forest products. It is anticipated that farms and settlement will contribute between 77-80 per cent of the total projected wood production in high potential and medium potential areas between 2002 and 2020 (KFMP 1994).

This report is primarily concerned with areas that have a high potential of developing into secondary forests (i.e. closed canopy forest areas and trees on farms). However, it does also include woodland, thicket and grassland formations especially where they are inter mixed with closed canopy forest and can therefore be considered as a single ecological unit for management purposes.


Using the broad vegetation classification and mapping units defined by White (1983) for the UNESCO vegetation Atlas for Africa, the natural wooded vegetation cover of Kenya can be roughly divided into the following categories:

Forest: A continuous stand of trees at least 10 m tall with their crowns inter-locking.

Woodland: An open stand of trees at least 8 m tall with a canopy cover of 40 per cent or more. Grasses dominate the field layer.

Bush land: An open stand of bushes and climbers usually between 3 - 7 m tall with canopy cover of 40 per cent or more.

Wooded Grassland: Land covered with grasses and other herbs with woody plants covering 10 per cent - 40 per cent of the ground.

The latter three vegetation types may be part of post fire or abandonment secondary forests or they could also be the climax vegetation after succession so they fit the general definition of secondary forests given in the TOR's for this workshop.

In his recent review of different forest types in Kenya, Beentje (1990) identified 16 different formations in the interior and a further seven near the coast. This list combined with an earlier, simpler classification based on the FAO standards, the following forest types exist:

In total, these forests cover over 2 per cent (1.24 million ha) of Kenya's land area. Climate is a major factor determining the potential climax vegetation cover, hence the types of forest and their distribution in the country. The climax vegetation of the total land area, other than forests, is bush land, wooded grassland or desert scrub, corresponding to the situation in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). The ASALs constitute over 80 per cent of Kenya's total land surface area and carries over 25 per cent of the human population and over 50 per cent of the country's livestock population. On the basis of climate, the forests of Kenya have been classified into four major regions (Wass, 1995):

2.1 Coastal forest region

The area of closed canopy indigenous forest is about 82,500 ha or 9.9 per cent of the region with an additional area of 3,200 ha under timber plantations. The remaining area includes woodlands, thicket, grassland and bush. Examples of natural forest areas include:

There are other forests in the Coast that need protection, such as the 67 Kayas, Brachystegia woodlands in Kilifi and riverine forest in the Tana Delta. They are threatened by agricultural expansion and lack of natural regeneration, i.e. they are degraded as opposed to modified. The mangrove forests (54,000 ha) were over-exploited, especially for poles. Salt production and general pollution of the beaches is affecting the regeneration potential of the mangroves.

2.2 Dry zone forest region

The area of closed canopy indigenous forest is 210,000 ha or 0.4 per cent of the total region. This is so because the forests are limited to small islands at high altitude on isolated hills and mountains.

There are several important forest outliers in this region:

Other dry forests like Chyulu Hills, Machakos and Kitui Hills are threatened with overgrazing, encroachment and excessive collection of firewood thus interfering with natural regeneration and succession processes.

2.3 Montane forest region

The area of closed canopy indigenous forest is 748, 500 ha or 18 per cent of the total region. The higher percentage of indigenous forest cover in this region reflects the good potential for closed canopy forest growth but this region also suffers from land pressure hence modified forest. Examples include:

In these large mountain blocks, Bamboo vegetation (Arundinaria alpina) is found over large areas but unfortunately in some areas cultivation is being done up to this zone. This is a very common practice in Aberdares/Mt. Kenya forests where a lot of Swidden fallow secondary forests have developed and streams are beginning to dry up. Other examples are the Cherangani Hills, which is more or less a post extraction secondary forest and the dry Nairobian type forest (consisting mainly of Croton, Brachylaena and Calodendron spp.) that have been exploited and cleared in some portions to give way to settlements.

2.4 Western rain forest

The area of closed canopy indigenous forest in this region is 49,000 ha or 1.9 per cent of the total region. These forests occupy a transitional position between the lowland forests that stretches across Africa from the Zaire basin to Western Kenya and Afro-montane forests of the Kenya highlands. Examples include:

The four forest regions described above are mainly still in a state of being degraded, but removal of the degradation practices, they could develop into post extraction, rehabilitated and post fire secondary forests. There are only a few areas that were cleared for the creation of a tea buffer zone under the Nyayo Tea Zone Development Corporation (NTZDC), established by a presidential order in 1986 (Table 1). Initially the Tea buffer zones were meant to cover some 18,783 ha of cleared forest over the 7 main forests shown in Table 1, but so far only 2,800 ha were planted. The cleared but unplanted area

Table 1: Areas under the Nyayo Tea Zone Development Corporation, and not planted


Total forest area, ha

Planned tea belt, ha

Actual area planted, ha

Secondary forest, ha
















Mt. Elgon










Mt. Kenya/Aberdares





Kikuyu Escarpment










were later abandoned and has now developed into post abandoned secondary forests. Plans are under way to increase the area under tea by 2000 ha in phase II of the NTZDC Project (2003-2008). About 8,000 ha are to be planted with Eucalypts for fuel wood. The remaining area (5,937 ha) will revert to bush under enrichment planting.


Who uses these Forests?

The beneficiaries or users of these forests are quite varied and include the forest dwellers, forest adjacent households, commercial producers and users of forest products, nature lovers and ecotourists. The main users are the sedentary group (forest adjacent households) who rely on all the forest types all year round for their subsistence. The pastoralists only use some of these forests for dry season grazing.

What are the use patterns?

In general communities living within 5 km of the forest boundary make most use of forest resources. It is the peripheral forest areas (within the 5 km radius) that are most heavily used. The implication of this is that individual forests have to be over 8000 ha in area before they can have a real chance of maintaining an undisturbed core zone. The reality is that even in areas like Mt. Kenya with over 210,000 ha, the level of disturbance is as deep as 30 km inside where clearing is done for Bhang growing and illegal logging, resulting in gaps.

The indigenous forests provide not only wood products but a wide range of goods and services to the local users including medicinal plants, honey, thatching grass, fodder, fuel wood, charcoal, sand, saplings, seeds, cultural/ceremonial sites, food (vegetables, fruits, game meat). Both local and international researchers do many scientific and social studies. We also have Carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation as major roles played by these modified forests.

What are the user objectives?

The user's main objective is to satisfy their needs and demands, which can be done under the concept of multiple use forestry. They also want to be considered as main stakeholders with a say in benefit sharing.

Forestry is one of the most important, complex and controversial issues of modern times. How to use trees, forests and related resources to improve people's economic, environmental, social and cultural conditions, while at the same time ensuring that the resources are conserved to meet the needs of future generations, is not an easy task. This is more evident when we look at the rate of deforestation and conversion of forest land to settlements. Nearly 77,270 ha of forest have been lost through excisions and there are still thousands of landless squatters awaiting resettlement on forest land. This is despite the fact that Kenya's forest cover stands at a critical 2 per cent of total land area.

What is the economic value of these forests to the locals?

Secondary forests have a very important economic role to play in the country. A good example is given by the Mau forest complex. This forest complex contains the largest remaining block of moist indigenous forest in East Africa. It forms the upper catchment of Sondu, Mara and Ewaso Ngiro Rivers with so many communities dependant on these rivers.

This is best demonstrated by its catchment protection values that include:

Even though the Mau complex has greatly been interfered with (post extraction and abandonment secondary forest) it shows how important this forest is to the livelihood of millions of Kenyans and Tanzanians. Continued interference in the complex would result in drastic changes downstream like floods, siltation and loss of habitat for wildlife.

What are the main social and economic issues?

The main social and economic issues that need to be addressed include

The ecological importance of these ecosystems has to be taken into consideration when trying to answer the above questions. Most of these forests have undergone secondary succession (it is a more rapid process than the primary succession), due to the destruction and disturbance of existing ecosystems but their potential is there as exemplified by the Mau Complex.


The Forest Department has been involved in the management of secondary forests in the country but with several critical challenges, which include:

Other stakeholders have also been involved in the management of secondary forests. In this category we have private ranches, trust lands under local authorities and Community Based Organizations (CBO). The problem has been weak policies that do not favour private forest owners. The result has been that the land is cleared of all the vegetation and converted to agricultural land. This is a very common practice in ranches that are being subdivided, and in some trust lands under the management of local authorities. There is close to 0.18 million ha of indigenous forest outside forest reserves managed by such stakeholders.

Several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are also involved in conservation efforts, mainly through enrichment planting as part of rehabilitating secondary forests and extension services. The NGOs have been vocal in opposing the forest excisions and change of land use from forestry to agriculture or settlements. Most of them have signed petitions and even contributed towards the forest rescue fund to rehabilitate the degraded sites in addition to educating the masses on the important role forests play in their our lives.


Most if not all of these forests are being managed, whether through use of indigenous knowledge and culture, or with management plans. These forests have been modified at some point so the definition of secondary forests given with TOR applies to most of them.

These forests are managed for the production of timber and other products, for wildlife conservation or recreation. The term "Natural Forest Management" is widely used to describe the silvicultural management of such forests. It is on this basis that field officers prepare Annual Work Plans (AWPs) detailing activities to be undertaken and resources needed to undertake such activities. The important point is that when well managed, these forests usually retain most of the biological diversity and ecological values of primary forests. Mismanagement eventually leads to transformed or degraded forests that have to undergo the long healing process of succession.

The AWPs form part of Forest Department strategy to protect indigenous forests. The plans are drawn up with consideration of other AWPs that address farm and plantation forestry development. The plans are also part of the District Development Plans, which in one way or the other fit in the local land use systems where these forests are found. District Development Plans help in distribution of resources at the District level. This is done under the District Development Committees (DDC) whose main objective is the bottom up approach to planning with each district having the autonomy to set priorities.

The management attempts to create linkages with other sectors in an effort to stop further degradation of forests (e.g. soil and water conservation). Enrichment planting is done in degraded sites like gulleys and dump sites. Innovative forest management methods are introduced, especially those that aim at empowering the local communities to conserve these forests. Management has been biased towards policing and protection since exploitation of these areas was banned. Gender issues are also not well articulated in the few forest management plans already in place. This trend is slowly changing towards the newer concepts like Participatory Forest Management (PFM) and piloting is ongoing in some forests.

A few areas such as Mt. Elgon, Mt. Kenya, Eburu, Namanga, and Arabuko Sokoke already have management plans prepared and are awaiting implementation. These plans have been prepared with involvement of all major stakeholders and thus are linked with other similar management activities in sectors like agriculture. The Mt. Elgon ecosystem integrated management plan (2003 - 2007) includes proposals for management actions that will help preserve the ecological, cultural and economic values of this watershed. The plan also recommends devolution of powers to locals for water systems management. This hopefully will help reduce the degradation of this ecosystem.

The managers (District Forest Officers and Foresters) are professional foresters trained in all aspects of forestry. The only slight limitation is the silviculture of these modified forests. A lot has been written on the management of tropical moist forest but not much has been written on management of modified or secondary forests. As a result most managers adopt the same principles as those applied in "natural forest management" for most of these areas with emphasis on protection and enrichment planting. The earliest and still most common management practice for these areas is "selection system" but the ban imposed on timber harvesting serves an impediment. The poorly controlled application of the "selection system" and its variants has resulted in excessive canopy opening and abundant colonization by pioneer species of little commercial value. Examples can be seen in Mau (Transmara) and Kikuyu Escarpment where Newbotonia macrocalyx, a species of no commercial value at present, has come to dominate. Other active management techniques like enrichment planting, climber cutting and selection of regeneration has proved to be costly and cannot be undertaken on a large scale. As a way forward alternative silvicultural systems need to be developed for the management of secondary forests.

The secondary forests have a lot of potential as some of the degraded sites can be converted to community use zones under the concept of forest zonation. Conversion of these degraded areas of forest to more productive vegetation such as woodlots or grazing (with no permanent cultivation of food crops) is the only way to provide the much-needed resources that will eventually relieve pressure on the remaining indigenous forests. The recolonisation of the secondary forests may eventually lead to reintroduction of some species but whether this change is desirable or not depends upon an informed local assessment.

The ban on logging has proved to be counter productive with time. There has been an increase in poaching and by extension the development of more secondary forests. The biggest constraint is that the excessive nature of past exploitation limits the management options currently available. For most areas the only appropriate recommendation should be a higher degree of protection to encourage natural regeneration. Application of silvicultural practices (enrichment planting) may accelerate recovery, but the financial implication is prohibitive.

Even though Forestry recommended protection, this may not go down well with the local dwellers. Restrictions on access and utilization may create resentment and foster an atmosphere that is non-conducive to forest conservation. Who is the area being conserved for? Emphasis should be on non-consumptive uses.


Policy has been defined as a plan of action, statement of ideas proposed or adopted by any Government. Land tenure on the other hand refers to the way in which individuals or groups in society hold or have access to land including conditions under which such land is held and disposed of. Land use policy relates to the system of laws, rules and regulations and practices that govern the rights and obligations of landowners.

Currently four land tenure systems exist in Kenya namely; communal, individual, family and feudal.

These tenure systems are not mutually exclusive as they are sometimes competing and at times had a far-reaching effect on the adaptive strategies and subsequent management of secondary forests. Land tenure therefore constitutes a very critical subject not only in modern Africa but also in the developing world.

Until recently the Forest Department concentrated most of its activities on the management of forests in high potential areas of the country and protection of isolated hillside water catchment in the ASALs. But with the development of secondary forests a new challenge is emerging.

Kenya's constitution guarantees the right and security of tenure subject to laws and regulations governing the usage laws. This right has been abused in most cases especially in privately owned land as individuals tend to decide on their own which use the land may be put to.

Currently we have the Forest Policy (Sessional Paper No.1 of 1968) with the following main objectives that are relevant to the management of secondary forests:

This policy is not exhaustive enough but it is supported by other relevant policies, which include:

The National Energy Policy - Ensures that the relevant ministries, NGOs and other organizations address environmental problems associated with the supply and use of energy (charcoal and fuel wood). A comprehensive charcoal policy is still lacking.

National Food Policy - This policy summaries the land use situation and the intensity of land use required for self-sufficiency in food.

Environmental Policy - provides an overall strategy for all natural resources sectors, including forestry, and provides a focal point for coordination and harmonization of activities between sectors.

Economic Policies - These policies recognize the important role forests play in the provision of energy, construction wood and environmental functions.

Kenya Wildlife Policy - Addresses resource use conflicts, expansion of arable land and grazing in the parks. Land adjudication and vegetation clearing is the biggest problem in the group ranches where most of the wildlife is found.

Fisheries Policy - Emphasis is on fish farming which is compatible with forestry activities. The Forest Act allows Fish hatcheries in the forest. Controlled fishing along the rivers and lakes can also reduce fuel wood demand for smoking fish and hence reduce vegetation clearing in riverine forests.

On the legal front we have the Forest Act (Cap 385) that has a major shortcoming as it only covers gazetted forests. It does not adequately cover the needs of local communities hence resource use conflict and the development of more secondary forests. The concept of multiple use forestry is not well embraced in the Act. Most of these issues have been addressed in the new Forest Bill.

The forest legislation is fairly comprehensive but spread over various acts, which are not well coordinated. They include;

The Timber Act (Cap 386) - Controls sale and export of timber by means of grading. It can also control the exploitation and expansion of secondary forests.

Wildlife (Conservation and Management) Act (Cap 376) - Is very close to the Forest Act but covers mainly National Parks, National Reserves and Sanctuaries. Limitations are on the rights of use by landowners, and wildlife utilization.

Antiquities and Monuments Act (Cap 215) - Can be used for gazettment of protected areas or threatened heritage, which could be a secondary forest.

Fisheries Act (Cap 378) - Regulates trout fishing in forests and protects fish breeding areas. It is also very relevant to Mangrove management at the Coast.

Agricultural Act (Cap 318) - Promotes soil conservation and prevents the destruction of vegetation. Can check on slash/burn method of agriculture, which is the main force behind the development of degraded forests.

Registered land Act (Cap 300) - Addresses land tenure issues and conservation.

Three other related acts are important and relevant in the protection of trust lands. These are:

Trust land Act (Cap 288) - Makes provision for use of trust land and it can be applied in other areas that are not gazetted like most of the hills with secondary vegetation. The other two are Land Adjudication Act (Cap 284) and Land (Group Representative) Act (Cap 287) - deals with ascertainment and rights of trust lands

Trespass Act (Cap 294) - Is relevant for control of squatters and stopping encroachments on forest reserves. It is not very effective as penalties are low.

All these acts with minor amendments can be applied in the management of secondary forests in the country.

A new policy has already been drafted after realizing the main shortcomings of the old one. This new policy has several objectives and key among them of relevance to management of secondary forests include:

This new policy advocates the "user pay principle", especially for water, to generate revenue for watershed protection. Forest management has previously emphasized utilization with little regard to sustainability particularly with regard to indigenous forests and especially those on trust lands.

A new forest bill (2002) has been put in place to back the implementation of the new policy. It addresses the shortcomings in the present forest act as follows;

This new bill if implemented may stem the expansion of secondary forests in the country and it will also bring other stakeholders into active management of our forests.

In conclusion the implementation of land use policies is dependant on effective mechanisms for achieving adequate policy harmonization. The forest policy and other related policies including those concerning the environment, wildlife, land use, agriculture, water, infrastructure, energy, industry, trade, district and regional development have to be harmonized and coordinated. This will ensure fewer conflicts in sustainable land use management and check on development of secondary forests.



In view of the above issues and for the sake of public sector amenities, the government must continue to be the highest and leading authority in the forestry sector and particularly in areas of policy, law enforcement, licensing forest utilization, revenue collection, research, education and training, related extension and other public services. The Government is also expected to coordinate and provide technical support activities to other development partners. All these activities are geared towards the development of an appropriate multi agency regulatory, planning, implementation and monitoring framework.


1. Beentje, H.J. 1994. Kenya Trees, Shrubs and Lianas: A Field Guide to the Indigenous Woody Plants of Kenya- NMK.

2. Blackett, H.L. 1994. Forest Inventory Report No.11: South Nandi and Ururu Forest -


3. Emmerton, L. & McCarter, P. 1994. Summary of the Current Value of use of the Mau

Forest Complex - KIFCON.

4. KFMP, 1994. Kenya Forestry Master Plan. Department of Forestry, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Nairobi, Kenya.

5. The Forests Act, Cap 385 (revised 1982)

6. The Agriculture Act, Chapter 318, Revised Edition 1986 (1980)

7. The Antiques and Monuments Act, Cap.215 of 1984

8. The Wildlife (Conservation and Management) Act, Cap376, Revised Edition 85 -77

9. The Trust land Act, Cap. 288 of 1962, (revised 1970)

10. The Trespass Act, Cap. 294 of 1963, (revised 1982)

11. The Land Adjudication Act, Cap. 284 of 1968 (revised 1977)

12. The Registered Land Act, Cap. 300 of 1985 (revised 1989)

13. The Timber Act, Cap.386 of 1972

14. The Draft Forest Bill, 2002

15. The Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999

16. The Land (Group Representatives) Act, Cap.287 of 1968 (revised 1970)

17. The Fisheries Act Cap.378 of 1989

18. The Forest Policy (1968)

19. The Kenya Forest Policy (2000)

20. The Kenya Wildlife Policy

21. Wass, P. (1995), Kenya's Indigenous Forests: Status, Management and Conservation. IUCN-ODA- (UK)

22. White, F. 1983. The vegetation of Africa : A descriptive memoir to accompany the UNESCO/AETFAT/UNSO vegetation map of Africa. Natural Resources Research 20, UNESCO, Paris. 356 pp.

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