By Waweru Wairimu
They are a common sight in parts of Isiolo County: Machete and axe-wielding men walking inside bushy areas felling trees and shrubs that will be incinerated into pieces of charcoal.
It is this well-known norm that fuels demand for charcoal that has caught the eye of the Kenya Forest Service officials in the county.
And now County Ecosystem Conservator Geoffrey Mwaura has warned residents against wanton felling of trees for charcoal, blaming it for prolonged drought cycles experienced in the region.
While warning of stricter measures against charcoal burners, Mr Mwaura appealed to locals to plant more trees during the ongoing short rains in an effort to increase the forest cover.
He singled out the community at Ngaremara area, who are popular for charcoal burning, an activity mostly undertaken by women.
He appealed to residents to seek alternative sources of income.
Many area residents, who also practise pastoralism, rely on charcoal burning to provide for their families due to poverty.
“Ngaremara is known for tree felling, charcoal burning and sale and it is time our people plant more trees and protect the existing ones in an effort to stem climate change,” said Mr Mwaura.
A Form Three student, Lilian Akal, recently started a 10,000 trees greening initiative in the area where forest cover is threatened by massive deforestation.
The KFS official advised Turkana women to form groups and start tree nurseries, assuring them that his office will assist them access better markets.
Continued cutting down of trees, besides contributing to increased globally rising temperatures, he said, threatens pastoralism as greenland pasture will dry up and get depleted.
“It requires all of us to end the practice but residents must first change the mindset and see other opportunities they can reap from,” he said.
Reliance on charcoal and firewood is highest in Africa and Asia, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2018 report.
Destruction of forests for charcoal burning is prevalent in the county with charcoal burners involved in cat-and-mouse runs with KFS and government officers.
Mr Mwaura said his office was committed to assisting residents plant as many trees as possible through provision of free tree seedlings.