Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai has asked the government to promote growing of bamboo to replace eucalyptus.
Maathai accused Minister for Forestry and Wildlife Noah Wekesa of failing to curb eucalyptus in highlands despite the tree's ability to destroy water sources.
"Bamboo can play a big role in preserving water and in construction," she said yesterday at the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) offices in Nairobi.
Nema had invited Maathai, who is one of its major critics, as part of its new strategy to work with civil society groups in conservation.
Maathai said the government should discourage all species of eucalypts in highlands and water catchments.
Some species have been proven to adversely affect the soil, the water cycle, biodiversity and local vegetation.
Her criticism comes after Wekesa launched in Nyeri guidelines for farmers who want to plant different species of eucalyptus.
"The tree was unfairly demonised before research had been done on its true effects on the environment," Wekesa said two weeks ago.
The ministry supports eucalyptus away from water sources saying it is a good buffer for indigenous forests. Wekesa said eucalyptus fulfills local timber demands because it grows fast.
However, Maathai said bamboo has proved equally useful in many countries including Asia where it is widely used for construction.
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth and takes in little water. It is used in construction, food, for flooring and medicine.
Because of its extensive root system, it holds soil together and stops erosion. In Japan bamboo is planted on hill sides to stop landslides during the rainy months.
Yesterday, Maathai praised efforts by the Ministry of Environment to list all wetlands in Kenya for their protection.
Nema is undertaking the inventory exercise.
Nema chairman and former parliamentary Speaker Francis Ole Kaparo said they were now embracing organisations that have previously been critical of the authority.
He complained the authority, which routinely takes blame for destruction of wetlands, is poorly funded and has a small workforce.