4 October 2004

Kenya: I Could Give Up My Seat to Save Forests, Says Maathai

Nairobi — Environment assistant minister Wangari Maathai would rather sacrifice her political career than allow the depletion of forests through the shamba system.

She would not sit back and watch as forests were turned into farms, just to protect her political career, she said at the weekend.

"I'd rather not be in Parliament than allow people to destroy forests. What I am doing is to blow the whistle. I am a watchman and people need to heed my warning," she said during a tour of the Aberdares Forest to show journalists the effects of the shamba system.

The minister has lately faced criticism from her Tetu constituents, following her ministry's ban on non-residential cultivation and grazing in Government forests.

She announced that the Government had started a programme to speed up the recovery of depleted forest cover in the Aberdares, Mt Kenya, Mau complex, Cherangani Hills and Mt Elgon.

Under the programme, communities bordering forests would be encouraged to develop indigenous tree seedlings for planting and the ministry and environment NGOs were looking for funds to buy the seeds.

"If I had my way, these forests would be left alone. There are many other ways of getting food instead of cultivating in forests and that's why we want to involve MPs, church leaders and all other stakeholders in a campaign to save our forests," she said.

She said many MPs advocating the restoration of the shamba system did not know its long-term effects.

The legislator said many streams from the Aberdare ranges were drying up due to destruction of the forest through the shamba system and extraction of water.

"The shamba system does not restore forest but turns it into a farmland. The trees grown under the system are monocultures and are lacking in biodiversity, It's a dead forest," said the MP.

She said tea factories were encouraging the planting of exotic trees that greatly reduced the soil's capacity to hold water.

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