At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was a consensus about the sustainability of wood production from indigenous forests. These forests were seen as very slow growing compared to the fast growing exotic plantations that were tested in earlier trials. Therefore, unlike in other tropical African countries, the early colonial settlers introduced an emphasis on exotic plantation development into the country.
In around 1945, Kenya started the first systematic programme of compensatory forest establishment (i.e. replacing indigenous forests with plantations of exotic species) and replanting of clear-felled industrial plantation areas. Through the shamba system (a form of taungya), workers were engaged for part of the year to cultivate food crops and work on the forest plantations. This inter-cropping of food and tree crops lasted for the first three to four years of the tree rotation, until the tree seedlings were so big that they would prevent a decent harvest of food crops.
Over the course of time, the trees in these forest plantations were well-tended at basically no cost to the Forestry Department (FD) and, under this system, the FD was able to establish a basic national network of industrial forest plantations. The main species planted were exotic conifers (cypress and pines), along with a significant area of Eucalyptus species.
In the early 1970s, in an effort to solve the problem of increased wood demand, the Government decided to seek external capital to finance a forest development programme. This programme was designed to increase the production of industrial roundwood as a raw material base for a domestic forest industry.
The World Bank was the lead financial institution that provided external financing for forest plantation development and it provided funding in four phases as follows:
1970-1974: USD 4.0 million 1975-1980: USD 55.0 million
1982-1989: USD 68.2 million 1992-1997: USD 26.3 million
With this financing, the FD was able to establish 170,000 ha of forest plantations.
From the mid-1980s, there was a steady decline in the strength of the FD as a public body responsible for the management of forest plantations. The main problems behind this were a lack of political support, inadequate budgetary allocations and changes in staff attitudes, skills and motivation. This has led to an inefficient forestry sector. At the moment, there is a large and growing backlog in the implementation of necessary planting and silvicultural operations and the standard of forest plantation establishment work is generally quite poor.
The results of these problems can be seen clearly in recent supply and demand projections for forest products. For example, according to the Kenya Forestry Master Plan (KFMP) of 1994, it is estimated that future increases in wood supply will not be able to keep pace with the projected increase in demand beyond the year 2000. Furthermore, the total national deficit in wood products is projected to rise to 997,000 m3 by 2005 and 6,841,000 m3 by 2020.
Kenya’s closed canopy forest currently covers some 2.35 million ha and is divided into two categories: gazetted forest (1.57 million ha) and ungazetted forest (0.78 million ha). In addition, there is approximately 2.10 million ha of other woodlands, 24.80 million ha of bushland and 10.70 million ha of wooded grassland. A further 9.54 million ha of woody vegetation is also found on farmland and in settled areas (Wass, 1995).
The Kenyan forestry sector has developed into an important national programme that contributes to the growth of the national economy. For example, the estimated value of the production of forest products is Ksh 2.0 billion per annum, which is equal to about 10 percent of the country’s agricultural Gross Domestic Product (KEFRI, 1999).
The FD manages all gazetted forests and, through agreed arrangements, an additional 180,000 ha of ungazetted trust land forest that belongs to local authorities. Within this total, the FD manages forest plantations that cover about 170,000 ha and which are managed specifically for industrial roundwood production. Historically, the FD has been the main producer of roundwood and the FD is both the national forestry authority and the manager of the state-owned forest resource. The FD is financed mainly from external funding, plus some local funding (used mainly for personal emoluments and a small proportion of the operations and maintenance budget).
Forest revenue is derived from the forest areas under FD management. In particular, forest plantations represent the single most important source of revenue collected by the FD. In addition, the FD also collects revenue from forest charges on harvesting in the natural forest and non-wood forest products (minor forest products). The FD does not collect revenue from the production of roundwood or other forest products from the vast areas of bushland and wooded grassland. These areas are under communal land ownership and are generally used by nomadic pastoralists.