afrol News, 20 October - After months of hue and cry from local communities and conservationists, the Kenyan government has lifted a ban imposed five years ago prohibiting harvesting of mangroves. The well-meant ban had only hurt coastal community livelihoods.
The 1997 ban, exacerbated by a national ban on exploitation of all forests, "almost crippled the socio-cultural and economic activities of Kenya's coastal communities, who rely on mangrove wood for construction of houses and their fishing boats," reported the conservation organisation WWF today.
Coastal communities heavily rely on mangrove forests and wanted the ban reversed to enable them repair their dilapidated houses and boats so that they can get on with the business of their lives. Environmentalists, on the other hand, observed that Kenya's mangrove forests were healthy where a controlled extraction was done.
Latest reports had also indicated that merchants out to capitalise on the desperate situation had been spotted offloading illegally harvested mangrove poles under the cover of darkness on some of Kenya's beaches.
Mangrove trees tolerate the high salinity levels of the ocean and twice daily flooding by the tide. Their wood is heavy and highly resistant to pests like termites. Their roots and branches break up wave action, providing sheltered waters for spawning fish and a wide variety of other sea creatures and birds.
While forest and marine scientists concur it is important to safeguard mangrove resources from threats, they want this to be informed by comprehensive information on the status of mangrove resources, according to WWF.
- The general reason given for the ban was over-exploitation, but there wasn't enough scientific information on Kenya's stocking densities and growth rates of mangroves, or the levels of exploitation, says Mr Jared Bosire, a mangrove expert with the Mombassa-based Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.
In 1998, WWF funded a survey in Kiunga, in the extreme north of Kenya, to take stock and map the mangrove resources. The survey revealed that most areas had viable mangrove forests that could support controlled extraction, while others were badly damaged requiring restoration.
Lamu district, where Kiunga is found, has 70 percent of Kenya’s mangrove forests, and eight of the nine of mangrove species of east Africa. It was also here that illegal logging had been observed most frequently during the ban.
- While restrictions on mangrove use are necessary in severely degraded areas to give them time to regenerate, local communities whose subsistence hinges on mangrove resources should not be put at risk, says Dr Amani Ngusaru, Coordinator of WWF's eastern Africa marine programme. "What we are really encouraging is sustainable use as the best management practice."
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