Today, the globe is faced by a myriad of challenges among them climate change and environmental degradation. In response to these challenges, environmental protection has received significant global attention. While environmental protection entails a wide range of actions, forest and forest cover forms a major front of action.
The essence of forests cannot be overstated, they are among the world’s most productive land-based ecosystems and are essential to life on Earth. Besides, they act as Carbon sinks absorbing roughly 2 billion tonnes of Carbon Dioxide each year. Due to the essence of forests in environmental protection, the United Nations through the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 provides a framework for action at all levels to halt forest degradation and manage all kinds of forests and trees outside forests sustainably.
While calls to halt forest degradation are on top gear, human beings continue to depend on forests for timber, raw materials, energy, food among other uses. Reports indicate that over 1.6 billion people’s livelihoods around the globe depend on forests. Trade in forest products by 2004 was estimated at $327 billion with an annual value of wood of over $100 billion being sourced from forests.
Beyond the direct benefits of forests to human beings, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations highlights that forests and trees support sustainable agriculture by, for instance, stabilizing the climate and soils, regulating water flows, providing shade as well as providing a habitat for the natural predators of agricultural pests and pollinators. As such, forests can be seen to help ensure food security for hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
These figures coupled with goals across different countries to increase forest cover has paved the way for commercial forestry. In Kenya for instance, the constitution through Article 69 (1) (b), emphasizes the need to increase and maintain a tree cover at a minimum of 10 percent of the total land area. Moreover, commercial forestry in Kenya is in tandem with the government’s Big Four Agenda. To be specific, the government’s housing goal depends on the forest sector to provide inputs in the form of timber, pulp and poles among other inputs.
Similarly, the goal to achieve Universal Health Care will depend on the success of the forest sector to provide raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry, absorption of pollutants and herbal medicine. The manufacturing sector will benefit from the forests through provision of raw materials, energy and water sources. Lastly, the goal to make Kenya a food secure country will depend on forests to conserve water, increase household incomes and employment among other contributions.
Notably, partnering with small and medium-sized enterprises in commercial forestry will help close the wood supply gap in the country while at the same time increasing the forest cover. Besides, working with SMEs will improve returns for the commercial forest growers and consequently increased investment in forestry. Among the other benefits of partnering with SMEs in commercial forestry include increased employment opportunities for the Kenyan population, better productivity owing to the collaborative research opportunities and reversed forest degradation.