Kenya mulls bringing back 'shamba system' into forests

Tuesday June 13 2023
shamba s

Red cedar trees planted together with crops under the ‘shamba’ system at Ontulili Forest, Kenya on March 21 2018. PHOTO| PHOEBE OKALL | NMG


Kenya is considering inviting the public back into forests via the shamba system as it works towards raising tree cover from the current 8.83 percent to 30 percent by 2032.

The country is aiming to plant 15 billion trees to restore degraded ecosystems and replant cleared areas.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) says it plans to establish 54,000 hectares of commercial forest plantations in the unstocked areas within degraded natural forests using the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (Pelis), a scheme introduced after enactment of the Forest Act, 2005 that allows forest adjacent communities to cultivate agricultural crops during the early stages of forest plantation establishment.

According to Acting Chief Conservator of Forests Alex Lemarkoko, the 'shamba system' has been maligned yet it is responsible for current tree plantations in Kenya.

“All the plantations that we have in Kenya today were established through practice of shamba system and Pelis. We allow the practice only in the area where we have plantations through planting trees that eventually are harvested for very specific reasons such as for timber.”

Read: Greening Mt Kenya, one seedling at a time


Age-old practice

The country has approximately 152,000 hectares of forests under plantation management out of the 2.6 million hectares of forest area. Of these 12,093ha are under Pelis, serving approximately 49,000 households.

At a meeting with the media that had representation from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute and Forestry Society of Kenya at the end of May, KFS noted that forest plantation establishment in Kenya through non-resident cultivation has been undertaken since 1910 to raise productivity of forest plantations and increase availability of wood.

Through the symbiotic system, communities plant tree seedlings and take care of them while farming on the plots for three to four years until the tree canopy closes.

Read: Africa's forest cover drops despite greater efforts to save trees

KFS benefits from ‘free labour’ hence low plantation establishment costs and high tree seedling survival, while providing communities a source of livelihood.

The government banned the system in 1988 in an effort to drive out squatters from public forests. It was re-introduced in 1994 as non-resident cultivation and again outlawed in 2004 due to cases of illegally extending into natural forests and riverbanks. In 2008, it was re-introduced as Pelis.

Due to lack of clear policies and guidelines the systems have been abused and stopped several times resulting in huge planting backlogs amounting 31,780.3ha in 2018 of unstocked plantations.