Environmental and Socioeconomic impacts of Deforestation.


Food and Agriculture Organization defines forest as land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and canopy of more than 10 per cent. The forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 on the other hand defines a forest as the land which has been declared or registered as forest or woody vegetation growing in close proximity in an area of over 0.5 of hectors including a forest in the process of establishment, woodlands, or thickets. The shared United Nations mission is to promote sustainable forest management and the contribution of forests and trees outside forests to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including by strengthening cooperation, coordination, coherence, synergies and political commitment and action at all levels. Global forest goal target 1 aims at increasing forest cover by 3% worldwide. Specifically goal 1 target 1.3 sets by 2020, implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests promotion, halting deforestation, restoration of degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally

Sustainable use and management of the forests and trees outside forests is vital to the implementation and achievement of the 2030 agenda for the sustainable developments goals (SDGs) and more important the achievement of the SDG 15 which aims at Sustainable management of the forests, combating desertification, halting and reversal land degradation, stopping biodiversity loss. The Constitution of Kenya (2010) requires that the Country increase and maintains tree cover at a minimum 10% of the total land area. Article 69 (1) (b) emphasizes on the need to work to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least ten per cent of the land area of Kenya. In addition, The Kenya Vision 2030 emphasizes on the need to conserve natural resources to support economic growth. The goal is to increase area under forest to 10% by 2030 and sustainably manage natural forest resources for environmental protection and at the same time enhancing economic growth. Moreover, under Medium Term Plan III (2018-2022) the Kenyan government has committed to protect natural forests in the water towers and continued rehabilitation of landscapes to increase and sustain water flow and ecological integrity. Finally, Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016 Section 6(3)(a)(iii) highlights the need to develop programmes for the achievement and maintenance of tree cover of at least 10% of the land area of Kenya. All the above mentioned policies aims at ensuring that forests are protected from destruction and deforestation.


Forests play a key role in providing employment and contributing to country’s GDP. Forest sector alone is estimated to contribute Ksh 7 billion to the economy employing over 50,000 people directly and other 300,000 indirectly. In addition, forest cover enhances landscape resilience to climate change as well as serving as water towers. According to KFS and UNEP report, Kenya’s five water towers namely: Mau Forest Complex, Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, Mount Elgon and Cherangani feed filtered rainwater to rivers and lakes and provide more than 15,800 million cubic meters of water per year, which represents over 75 per cent of the country’s renewable surface water resources.

Kenya’s forest cover is estimated to be about 7.4 percent of the total area which is below the global recommended 10 per cent. Despite Kenya not having attained the recommended minimum forest cover, there has been increased deforestation among the Kenyan forests. Deforestation in the water towers was estimated to be 50,000 hectares, which is equivalent to depletion rate of 5,000 hectares per annum. This translates to a reduction in water availability of approximately 62 million cubic meters per year equivalent to loss of USD 19 million to the economy. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), of the above destroyed hectares, 300,000 were destroyed due to intensive logging, charcoal burning and large scale clearance of wooded areas for tea plantations. A good example is the largest Kenyan forest, Mau which stands at 273,000 hectares with a seven-lake drainage basin covering over 69,000 km2 of which one quarter of its canopy has been destroyed.


According to a joint report by Kenya Forest service and Un Environment programme, deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of 5.8 billion shillings ($US 68 million) in 2010 and 6.6 billion shillings in 2009, far outstripping the roughly 1.3 billion shillings injected from forestry and logging each year. Deforestation alters the natural forest ecology through agricultural, economic and social activities for the sake of development. Agricultural expansion is the major driver of deforestation resulting to 60% of the tropical deforestation with direct, indirect and natural causes such pests, severe droughts, hurricanes and natural fires contributing to the rest. Direct drivers emanate from forest logging, wood extraction, man-made fires, overgrazing, economic developments (industrialization, infrastructure and urbanization), increased populations of herbivorous wild animals and biofuel demand. On the other hand, indirect deforestation agents manifest through overpopulation, forceful or voluntary transmigration to forest frontiers, poverty, lack of land ownership rights, profit maximization from agricultural expansion prompting forest conversion, ineffective interventions like the siloed moratorium, poor governance and capacity constrains among others.


Environmental impacts

Most of the ecological impacts are evident on the atmosphere, soil and hydrology largely because of the forest’s role in providing tree crown cover that intercept the soil from rainfall and wind forces. The unabated removal of forest vegetation cover leads to soil erosion from wind and surface water runoffs that often cause floods with deleterious implications on property and life. In addition, land’s aesthetic value is lost from the removal of vegetation cover and extensive gullies from soil erosion.

Water towers in Kenya such as the Aberdares, Cherangani, Mt. Elgon, Mt. Kenya and Mau Forest may fail to sustainably regulate the flow of water from streams and river resulting to downstream floods in wet seasons creating sediment loads along rivers and water reservoirs. Productive soil nutrients are lost which in turn deposit to fresh waters resulting to turbidity and siltation in water supplies hence increasing water treatment costs and declining inland fishing.

High run-off rates from the erosion of forest floor litter and porous soils impede underground water recharge and storage capacities of water courses. Sediment loads accumulate along water courses particularly where deposition is favorable i.e. reservoirs, dams, meanders and depressions thereby disrupting the effectiveness multipurpose developments and reducing the depths and volumes of water bodies causing them to dry up or become seasonal. Sediment siltation creates negatively affects aquaculture, fisheries, drinking water along with increasing crop and irrigation damage. Irreversible deforestation especially in marginal and semi-arid lands often cause permanent reductions in the water table.

Kenyan forests contribute to the natural carbon sequestration and thus deforestation alters the carbon cycle that increases carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere resulting to global warming. It is estimated that globally the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from deforestation is equal to 25% of emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Erratic weather patterns prevailing in Kenya like extreme floods and droughts have disrupted precipitation regimes and hydrological cycles that have negative implications on food security due to overreliance on rain fed agriculture. Besides crop failures hotter and drier weather patterns heighten desertification, melting of the polar ice caps, ozone layer depletion and raising the seal levels. Adverse deforestation impacts are quantifiable in form of soil moisture, light intensity, relative humidity variances.

Socio-economic impacts

Land-use, population and livelihoods are intricately intertwined and thus a loss of ecosystem goods and services to deforestation has adverse effects on societal livelihoods. Reduced crop yields from the loss of soil nutrients from soil erosion and sediment siltation increase household food expenditure or cost of living hence lowering household incomes. A decline in crop productivity, inhibits agricultural sector growth and constantly impairs infrastructure such as roads and buildings from water runoffs. Nevertheless, the loss of livelihoods emanates from floods in downstream areas that lead to the loss of life and property and displacement of people. Scarce wood and non-wood products, frequent drought and famine, desertification, water scarcity and reduced farm productivity are threats to food security in Kenya. Depressed rivers and streams due to deforestation within the Kenyan water towers reduce hydropower generation that have trickle down effects on the rest of the economy due to power shortages.

Forests conserve biodiversity and act as a habitat for migratory and endangered species. More so, the World Health Organization (WHO) establishes that close to 80% of the world population relies on partial traditional medicine that are lost to deforestation. Thus, deforestation destroys biodiversity in totality and endangered species that could potentially become extinct in addition to negative implications on the present and potential health benefits. Human-animal conflicts arise from forest encroachment that leads to losses in human life and crop land damage. In conclusion, the innumerable forest cover benefits availing industrial raw materials, food security, medicinal value, sustainable livelihood among many others cannot be stressed enough requiring strategies that reverse alarming deforestation rates while putting in place measures that promote sustainable management.


National and county governments should carry out afforestation and agroforestry at individual levels to enhance adequate regeneration after harvesting. Such silviculture strategies should aim at conserving biodiversity, preventing soil erosion, ensuring soil fertility, maintaining on-site and offsite soil quality as well as preserving forest health and potency. Government efforts should be aligned with international initiatives to reduce deforestation rates such as reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) that use monetary and non-monetary incentives to support developing countries to ameliorate deforestation. Besides, increasing forest plantations in marginal, vacant and wastelands to complement protected areas the government would profit from dedicating part of the forests to sustainably meet lumbering demand alongside the establishment of buffer zones/conservation estates in mapped out areas.

The governments should encourage its citizenry to embrace alternative sources of fuel besides firewood and charcoal like gas.

Both national and county governments should impose realistic payments for the use of ecosystem services to boost their actual and perceived value such as ecotourism, insurance and trading services.

Restrictions on forest ownership and use should assimilate the rights of indigenous people like the Ogiek by engaging them in decision making or providing them with alternative tenure systems such as butterfly farming, sericulture, advanced bee-keeping, bio-intensive agriculture technologies and adoption of fodder banks. Advocacy and sensitizations in local communities to create awareness on forest values and other legal and policy issues that encourage sustainable forest management Stringent deforestation regulations (moratoriums and protected areas) be exercised to strike a balance conservation and economic development while designating areas allowed for commercial logging and development purposes besides protected zones.  Deforestation and poverty reduction strategies are trade-offs because agricultural returns are the main deforestation drivers and thus government should consider pragmatic interventions that initially target poverty to curb deforestation while simultaneously preventing declines in agricultural returns. County governments lack experts and resources requiring government allocations that encourage monitoring activities i.e. forest species and extent of coverage that are instrumental in providing information that would support interventions and actions to conserve and ensure sustainability in forest ecosystem management.

 The government should also implement and enforce existing Forestry Act, charcoal regulations etc. through penalties, issuance of licenses and certifications, seizure and permit revocations. Effective government and non-governmental institutions and favorable political will are also beneficial in slowing down deforestation.

by Bonface Munene

This blog first appeared on judithnguli.com

Share on:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin