Nairobi — A project to increase the national forest cover from 1.7 to 10 per cent will be funded by the African Development Bank.
It will ensure the Government's participation and ownership in implementing the project, said ADB official Chiji Ojukwu yesterday.
But the borrower must sign the agreement in 180 days or it will be cancelled after a three-month notice to the borrower.
"This is an unpleasant situation, which we must avoid, as it amounts to a loss, both to the bank and to the Government, and denies benefits to the people whose poverty the resources seek to alleviate," said Dr Ojukwu.
The Green Zones Development Support project will be run jointly by the Nyayo Tea Zones in the Agriculture Ministry and the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.
It comes on the eve of plans by Environment minister Kalonzo Musyoka to reintroduce the controversial Forest Bill for Parliament's approval after it was rejected last June.
The Bill was tabled by the then Environment minister, Dr Newton Kulundu, and could only be brought back for debate six months after its defeat.
It seeks to establish, develop, conserve and rationally use all forests.
The Nyayo Tea Zone Corporation was established in 1986 to protect and conserve forests by setting up tea belts to separate them from the farms.
The forests project was unveiled by Agriculture minister Kipruto Kirwa, who praised the corporation for being among the 25 parastatals making profit.
The minister described conservation as "a key area in development", saying it was central to many sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, water and tourism.
Said the minister: "The Government acknowledges that forest degradation is a major environmental problem in Kenya.
"It has impacted negatively on the potential of agricultural lands, thus causing siltation in rivers and loss of biodiversity."
Mr Kirwa regretted that the country was way below the UN's recommended forest cover of 10 per cent, and cautioned that even the current cover was threatened.
The minister appealed to educational institutions, particularly schools, with big pieces of land to set aside some for trees.
He said forests should be keenly conserved and protected, particularly the indigenous ones, which act as water catchment areas.
Yesterday, the chief conservator of forests, Mr David Mbugua, told the more than 100 participants in a workshop at Utalii Hotel, Nairobi, that a sessional paper on the sector had been prepared and was waiting for Cabinet approval to be tabled in Parliament.
Mr Mbugua was confident that the ADB-backed project was being launched at the right time, when the legal framework was changing to boost the sub-sector.
The joint project would help to conserve the natural forests while improving the lives of the communities living near them, said the Nyayo Tea Zone managing director, Dr Anne Kinyua.
She said a tree farmer could grow 2,500 trees on one hectare for five years and earn Sh10,000 for each tree or Sh25 million in total.
"By involving the local people, we envisage empowering them to appreciate both the importance of the forests and also to participate in conservation activities that will generate income," said the MD.