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Policy Research Report: At Loggerheads? (2006) Radio show: Prof. Wangari Maathai & Kenneth Chomitz

13TH NOVEMBER, 2006 FROM 9.30PM – 10.30PM




Kenneth Chomitz 

Prof. Wangari Maathai

Prof. Wangari and Ken Chomitz






Host:Tell us, Prof. Wangari Maathai after your spirited fight in Kenya on forest conservation, what you would say the situation is like in Kenya as we speak today.
Prof. Wangari:I would say that as you see for yourselves there are some areas where we have really made progress. For example we have planted trees and avoided soil erosion; we have also made our people to get firewood with ease. All the same, there are areas that we are doing so badly.  For example our forests are still getting down. Also we can see the way floods is a big problem especially in the coastal area as we speak.  Also this lake that people really relying on i.e Lake Nakuru is drying up. This is affecting even the wildlife that relies on it for survival.  All in all, in some areas we’re doing great and others we really need to pull up our socks.
Host:Soon our visitor Kenneth will be able to enlighten us on the relationship between poverty and soil conservation.
Host:  (After the commercial). The Nobel Peace Laureate has given us the effects of cutting down trees on our environment. Lake Nakuru is almost drying up. The question Mr. Kenneth is, what is the relationship between forest conservation and poverty, and how can the people benefit from these trees that they see around them without necessarily cutting them?
Kenneth:Well, the relationship between conservation and poverty is different in different places, there are places in the world perhaps in Africa and elsewhere in other continents where rich people are responsible for cutting down forest, so the conservation involves restraining people who are grabbing others' resources. In many parts of  Africa though, the forests are being cut by poor people who are doing it to make a living, and so people can benefit if they are given alternative agricultural  pursuits elsewhere, and are rewarded for conserving the forest instead of cutting it down.
Host:What are these alternatives that you are talking about?

Well, there are ways to intensify agriculture, to boost the productivity of agriculture in lands that have long since been converted instead of cutting down the few remaining forests.

Host:  Prof. Wangari Maathai maybe you could tell us more on this system that we know as Shamba system. What is this system?  Could it be the system that Kenneth is talking of?
Prof. Wangari:  Truly, I have tried for a long time to talk about the Shamba System. And I have tried to explain. It seems that people are adamant or ignorant not to understand this system.  Shamba system as the name implies, this is a piece of land that we have prepared for crop production. As it is, when colonialist got this country,  they took our indigenous forests  as a good haven for planting trees that they could use for their economic benefit, mainly in building of houses. They also thought of electrification and telephone. As such, they wanted to use trees that they understand best. They brought trees like pines and other species from Australia like Eucalyptus. What they did is to get into our indigenous forest, cut them down and planted foreign trees.  They then asked the people around the forest,to get into those forests and grow their crops, so that the foresters could later plant the trees designed for timber. People were supposed to take those pieces of land like normal “Shamba” but instead of them tendering to those crops, they took them to plant cash crops like coffee. This is where the problem came in.  Thirty years ago, all these trees were cut and sold. 

Then the people would go back and grow crops again as we would do it normally with no trees.  That is why am saying, we removed and cut down our indigenous trees and made it a shamba for foreign trees.  There are two repercussions for this:back to top - green

One,  Indigenous forests are supposed to provide us with water because, when it rains,  the water rain gets down to the soil and tomorrow, we will rely on it in form of rivers. If you don’t have these indigenous forests, when it rains, what we have instead is floods as it is the case today.  Then you will remain with mountain with no rivers.  That is why at times you see rivers drying and rainfall reduces.  That is why we are saying, let us stop using our indigenous forest for a place to plant other species of trees. Let us plant the trees that we used to have those days.  These trees that we are planting  these days, that we are using for economic benefits,  let us plant them in designated shambas and plant them when ready, but let us not touch our indigenous forests. 

Host:  It is my hope that you as the listener can tell the difference between indigenous trees and foreign trees. The indigenous trees used to be used by our fore fathers for medicine and can stand any kind of weather.  Maybe Kenneth you could still tell us what you feel about the shamba system. You have heard one, two, three things about the system, what do you feel about the whole idea?  Can it work in Africa, can it work in Kenya for example?
Kenneth:  Some aspects of the Shamba system have contributed to deforestation of Kenya’s few remaining forests. In my view in Kenya and other places where the forests are down to the last few shreds, it’s very important to preserve them for their environmental values, their values to the society, the source of recreation in eco-tourism, water, biodiversity, so these lands are precious. The challenge is to understand the pressures which are leading people to cut down the forests, and gather society together to provide those people with the alternatives in preserving the forest.
Host:  Why do you think it has become so difficult for us to convince people to save our forest,  why do we  have to use a lot of time, a lot of time, a lot of energy the way you are doing, the way the professor is doing on the this particular issue?  Is it that the people Africa are ignorant, the people in Kenya are ignorant? Are they listening?
Kenneth:This is difficult worldwide, this is not just a problem of Kenya. This is happening everywhere. In Brazil, there are active civil society organizations that have taken 15 or 20 years of these kind of campaigns to slowly bring society around to understand the value of the forest. It takes long work.  It takes convincing, because  the benefits of the forest are not immediately obvious.  You have to wait for years to understand what happens to  local climate, what happens to water flows, how species go extinct when you don’t realize what you’re doing. So this is a genuinely hard problem for people to solve and it takes inspiring leaders like Prof. Wangari to keep delivering the message.
Host:For these years, you have been carrying a thorough campaign for people to save our forests. What would you say has been your greatest impediment in pushing your agenda across?
Prof . Wangari  

The greatest problem that I have encountered here in Kenya and in Africa as a whole, first is lack of understanding just like Kenneth has put it, many people cannot see how the environment gets destroyed.

The people who are destroying our environment are the ones who are destroying our environment, aren't the ones who suffer the consequences. It’s the generation that follows. When the environment is destroyed, this is normally a very slow process. If you are not careful and keen, you might never notice. 

The current generation, when they are looking at Mt. Kenya, they cannot notice the way the ice is melting. They don’t know how the situation was 60 years  ago,  this is the time that I was a small child.back to top - green

They cannot even remember how the situation was when my mother was young.   They are thinking that the ice cover was the way they are seeing it as of now.  If you try to tell them that the world is getting rotten, and that the melting ice is affecting many rivers, they will never understand. Our greatest problem in the world is to make people understand, so that they can take precautions.

The second problem is that many people in the world are very selfish. People are not keen about what will happen tomorrow. If one is interested in a shamba, and he/she notices one in Karura,   they will buy the land and cut down all the trees despite its importance to the people in Nairobi.  If people want to cultivate potatoes, they just get into mau complex  or any other area,  clean the forest and go on with planting.  This kind of a person is not concerned about tomorrow. This mau complex is important because its rivers feed people in Molo and Lake Nakuru that feeds million of flamingoes that attract many tourists.

This money that the tourists bring is what is used in making our roads, schools, medicines in hospitals etc. People are ignorant about all this.  They are only thinking of themselves, their stomachs and their crops. Convincing people to stop being selfish is quite hard for me.

Host:  Maybe, Mr. Chomitz you could tell us more about your book that   you have written called at At Loggerheads. Tell us about the title and more on agricultural expansion, poverty reduction and environment in tropical forests.
Kenneth:The title I confess is colloquial American English, it means to be at odds, in conflict there is  a pun on the word "loggerheads". Throughout the world, there’s conflict over forests, and the book says that this is a big problem for forests, poverty and deforestation, that  there are people with different claims on the forest and they need to work out some way to equitably share the wealth of the forests and preserve its environmental benefits.  The book is about  forest poverty, it is about 800 million people who live in the world’s tropical forests and wood lands and depend on those forests for their livelihood, and it’s about deforestation. The world is losing an area the size of Portugal every year, an area of tropical forests, this causes all kinds of local damages like the ones that Prof. Wangari described, changes in water flows, smog, smoke erosion and it causes global problems - twice the carbon dioxide emissions of all the world’s cars and trucks put together.  So the book talks about the causes of these problems - when the causes of poverty and deforestation are the same, and when they are different, because sometimes they are quite different. It stresses the need for institutions that help people work out their conflicting claims over the forests, and help people access the wealth of the forest without destroying it, and it talks about the new opportunities to use global carbon finance to provide incentives to keep the forests standing, the forests are worth more alive than they are cleared and dead.

Prof. Wangari Maathai, please at this juncture, tell us more on this campaign that you recently launched on one billion trees that are to be planted in several parts of the world.

Prof. Wangari:

Thanks. Recently in conjunction with United Nations Environment Fund  and ICRAF and also the Green Belt movement,  we have tried to strengthen issues that are being discussed at Gigiri on climate changes.  As you heard in the press, global warming is becoming a nuisance to many.

This is why we need to do something so as to get things back to normal.  This is why we thought of planting trees as part of the solution to this menace.  It is because the root cause of this warming is carbon.  This carbon emanates from the combustion of petrol that we use in our cars, aeroplanes, or even fire wood. The same emanates from combustion of petrol that we are using to run engines. The trees that we are seeing are green in colour.  These trees can easily absorb this carbon. If you plant a lot of trees, you will absorb this carbon from the atmosphere and transfer it to trees.  When this happens, our atmosphere will be pure and the warming will reduce. For us ordinary citizens that don’t own cars or aeroplanes, we can save this situation.  In fact, it is said that though we don’t have cars and aeroplanes, the effects of global warming will first affect the African, then other continents.  It is important for us to do every thing possible to save ourselves and the world in general.  One thing that we can easily do is to plant trees. All of us definitely can plant trees.  The world population is about 6 billion. If one billion people plant one tree each, we will have planted a billion trees.back to top - green

Host:Professor, I  want to ask you  to tell Kenyans how you are planning to conduct this campaign. Many of them I am sure would want to participate. What countries are you targeting?
Prof.  Maathai

What we are requesting is the citizens of all the countries in the world, governments, companies, churches, to help all those people that are interest in this project to plant trees.  People can do it individually or do it as cooperatives. Then they will register themselves in the UNEP website

By registering, you will have joined people in the world and you will have participate in this historic event.  I know that people in Kenya can use Greenbelt to plant 3 million trees and will be registered in that website.  In the whole world, there are so many groups that will plant trees, we are asking all to register and participate!

Host:  Time for call- ins
Caller 1: Alexander Makhamala – KakamegaQuestion: Professor Wangari Maathai should tell us about different type of trees and    
what trees should be planted in what areas.  At our place there are trees that  are affecting and drying our rivers. Where should we plant these trees.
Caller 2: Olunga Paul - TesoQuestion:  Professor should tell us more about a disease t hat has really affected the
type of tree that we call blue gum – what should we do.
Answers from professor  At our place in Nyeri, these trees are called (Minyua Mai) a kikuyu phrase to mean water consuming.  It is because they really consume a lot of water. I am disturbed because these were brought here by Europeans and they did it with no bad intentions. They aimed at cultivating crops easily using tractors. They wanted to grow wheat and maize.  If we really want to save our rivers, these trees should never be planted next to our forest. Also let us not plant these trees in river sources.  These trees are supposed to be planted in dry areas because they have very deep roots.  In river sources let’s plant indigenous trees.  This is why God planted them at river sources! If God knew that we would benefit from Eucalyptus, He would have brought these trees in Africa!  That is why Eucalyptus will do well in Australia and Pine in Europe.

For the listener who is concerned about a disease in trees around his area, all I would advice you to do is to see a forester in a D.Os. office or DC, they will give you direction. The foresters can also advise you on the trees to plant. Green Belt movement can also give you this information and also seedlings free of charge. 

You can also meet in various groups e.g  youth groups,  women’s groups etc, if you are stuck on the trees to plant, you can write to green belt movement on the address P.O. Box 67545 Nairobi.back to top - green

Host:Kenneth, what do you think is the best way of improving forest governance in Africa and in Kenya in particular and is there a way that we can involve the community in governing public forest.

I think this takes creating institutions at all levels, at the local level, at the national level, and even at the international level.  There are some interesting experiences in South Asia which might be relevant to Kenya where similarly there are a lot of government forests, the government didn’t always have effective control over them, they restricted the ability of the local people to benefit from the forests.  There has been a big movement over the last 10-15 years for government communities, all the stack-holders to sit down together and work out how to manage the forests for everyone’s benefit.  At the national level, there are some interesting examples from Cameroon, other places where transparency of information, good monitoring of forest cover, registrations of lands that everyone can monitor, helps in improve the forest management.  And at the international level, since the world benefit from better climate, mobilizing that interest in keeping the forests standing.

Caller 3:
Abdi Aziz – Korogocho

Question:  We are interested in planting one million trees, remind us of the UNEP
Caller 4:  Nicholas Kanyeki – RongaiQuestion:  We have a group  in Rongai center Mikasa self help group and we have 7000 seedlings.  I want to know from professor, how we can get support so that we can plant these trees in Rongai constituency.
Caller 5:  Mwendwa – isioloQuestion:  can we be given seedlings to plant and participate in this campaign

Caller 6: 
Paul Ikenye – Katakwa

Question:  is there any relationship or any kind of coordination between Green belt movement and BAT  in planting of trees
Answers from Prof. Wangari Maathai

Nicholas in Rongai – Green Belt movement has already visited Rongai and educated people in coordination with area MP Alicien Chelait. You can write to us as Green Belt Movement or get advice from other groups that have worked with greenbelt movement.
For Mwendwa Green Belt Movement does not provide seedlings for this campaign. what we are doing is to help people with information on how to prepare their own nurseries and then we will buy the seedlings from them  to be used in this campaign.

To answer Paul Ikenye BAT is planting trees that we are opposed to i.e., the ones that are being bought from other countries for now we don’t have any relationship with BAT. Where these people are planting their trees is in Tobacco farms and we know that tobacco has been banned in countries like America unlike here in Kenya.

Host:  As we wind up Professor, in areas like Nyeri farmers are being advised to buy trees that will grow fast from South Africa and that Tea factories would later buy these trees when they mature at a good price to use them in tea processing. What is your take on this?
Prof.  Wangari:In fact I have traveled in these countries and also visited Cape Town where this is being done. In South Africa people have uprooted the trees that they are selling to us from their water sources to save their rivers but we are blindly buying these trees and planting them here in Kenya near our river sources. My fellow Kenyans lets not think about today and forget about tomorrow.back to top - green































































































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