By GITONGA MARETE firstname.lastname@example.org
The establishment of a 400-acre private forest valued at over Sh500 million on an island in South Coast has sparked controversy between two government agencies.
While the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) says the over 300,000 eucalyptus tree plantation in Funzi Island poses great danger to the environment, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) says the project is within recommended parameters of setting up a forest.
The investor, Mr Alessandro Torriani, cleared a forest he says was a bush about three years ago, and planted the eucalyptus trees. But Nemasays the cleared forest had indigenous trees, some of them nearly 100-years-old.
According to the environment watchdog, establishment of a plantation of such magnitude requires an environmental impact assessment study, which was not done.
In a report Nema carried out last September, the agency says planting eucalyptus trees — which need a lot of water for survival — might compromise the ecosystem on the island.
“The residents have raised major concerns and fear that depletion of ground water as a result of the tree species being introduced and degrading of the natural habitat which is home to a number of animal species will adversely affect their lives,” Nema says in the report.
But according to the officer in charge of Kwale Gilbert Imbwaga, the plantation was established with the blessings of KFS.
“There is nothing wrong with eucalyptus trees so long as they are planted in the right areas and we have no problem with this particular plantation,” he said.
Mr Torriani said on phone that he had invested heavily in the project and intends to use the trees to generate power for use in his Funzi Keys hotel.
“We use generators that burn 6,000 litres of fuel each month (costing about Sh500,000), but in four years, we will use the wood to produce our own power,” he said.
However, Mr Martin Shimba, a Nema enforcement officer, said they had asked the investor to stop further planting pending an assessment of the project’s impact on the environment.
“We will carry out a detailed joint inspection with lead agencies, including Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), KFS, Fisheries Department and the Ministry of Lands,” he said.
Report Courstesy of Daily Nation