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Cry to save East Africa’s forests

Worried about the diminishing water catchment ecosystem that is essential for agriculture, two institutions want the East African Community (EAC) governments to step up vigilance on the region’s forests to curb further destruction.

The East African Farmers Federation (EAFF) and the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor) have subsequently called on EAC through the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) to fast track harmonisation of relevant laws in the management of forests and natural resources.

“Deforestation is on the increase due to changes in land use, especially cropland expansion into forested areas, illegal logging and trade in forest products,” EAFF chief executive Stephen Muchiri said at the World Agroforestry Centre, Gigiri, during a recent forum to oversee amendments of some clauses in the EAC Forest Management and Protection Bill 2015.

He said increased deforestation is affecting important sectors such as agriculture and tourism that support the region’s gross domestic product. In the EAC, about 22 per cent of the total land area, excluding water bodies, is under natural forest.

An estimated 60 per cent of all of the carbon that is absorbed by forests is emitted back into the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change. Muchiri said though the natural forest cover is commendable, there is still need to increase the land under forests because of rising deforestation.

“EAFF is aware that farmers are one of the main culprits when it comes to cutting down trees. This is mainly to create more land for farming, or to use the wood as a source of fuel as more than 90 per cent of households in the region rely on firewood.

Therefore, the interaction between forestry and agriculture is very clear; we urgently need to manage our forests sustainably and to find alternative sources of fuel,” he said.

Cifor team leader Dr Esther Mwangi said the bill will go a long way in protecting the lives of the marginalised groups as well as ensuring livelihood of EAC people is not affected.

“Cifor is urging the policy makers and practitioners of the bill to consider the role of tenure rights and reforms, climate change challenges, timber trade and certification as well as business models in the forestry sector when designing a benefit-sharing mechanism in the Bill,” she added.

EALA MP and Tourism and Natural resources committee member Christopher Bazivamo says the Bill seeks to provide guidelines and regulations of management and protection of national forests and trans-boundary ecosystems in the community and regulate trade in forest products.

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