What is the shamba system?

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Shamba means farm in Kiswahili.

The controversial shamba system also known as Pelis (Plantation Establishment for Livelihood Improvement Scheme) has been implemented in Kenya by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in one form or another for over 100 years. When properly practised, the shamba system moves farmers into nearby degraded forest to plant and tend to tree seedlings whilst planting their own crops among the seedlings. They are then to move off the land once the forest has matured. So in theory, the system allows optimum production of food crops along with forestry species from the same land and thus meets most of the social and economic needs of the shamba farmer.

It’s possible that the PELIS system is working elsewhere in Kenya, however, at Mount Elgon where the Ogiek people are based, KFS are moving farmers into intact indigenous forest. These farmers then clear the forest to create farms, destroying indigenous forest while providing a revenue stream for those in KFS. The clearing of these indigenous forests also means monotone plantations for use by commercial timber companies spring up, again providing KFS (or KFS staff) with cash. These plantations are environmentally harmful as they cannot provide the ecologically crucial functions that an intact biologically rich indigenous forest ecosystem can provide.

The shamba system has come up against plenty of criticism from environmentalists, even Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai condemned it, calling it destructive and responsible for making East Africa’s indigenous forests and water security vulnerable.
John Chumo, secretary of the National Environmental Complaints Committee (NECC) said “This is the most abused programme in the forestry sector. As the national committee handling environmental complaints, we have discovered that the programme has bred corruption where foresters allocate themselves huge chunks of forest land and there is a reluctance to plant and tend the tree seedlings.” What’s more, KFS have recently been found responsible for depleting Kenya’s forest cover.

The below map shows the areas (the bounded areas in red, listed on the side) where the KFS have been destroying (or allowing the destruction) of indigenous forest, through the Shamba system. The Ogiek have been able to map this forest destruction thanks to training and provision of necessary equipment and so have been able to bring it to the attention of the County Government and other critical actors.

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