The Kenyan government has halted the transportation and export of Kilifi baobabs to Georgia and has ordered an investigation into how a foreign contractor obtained permission to transport the ancient trees out of the country.
Kenya’s President William Ruto directed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to investigate whether Georgy Gvasaliya had the proper permit to extract the trees from Kenya under the Nagoya Protocol, an international agreement that regulates the conditions for the export of the trees. genetic resources, which are included in Kenyan law.
The protocol requires communities to give pre-informed consent to any export, and an agreement between the taker, the government and the community, on how the benefits are to be shared.
The move followed the Guardian’s report last month about growing concerns about the clearing and transport of trees from the Kilifi region, on the Kenyan coast, at a time when the country is trying to restore lost forest cover. Kilifi has experienced the third highest tree cover loss in Kenya in the past two decades.
Baobabs can live for thousands of years, are drought resistant and provide habitats for a number of species. They produce fruit that is high in vitamin C, antioxidants, calcium, potassium and fiber, and the powder contained in the fruit is used in smoothies and porridge. The bark has medicinal properties and oil from the seeds is used in beauty products.
Outrage over the export of the trees and debate among Kenyans about the need to protect the country’s environment and resources drew the attention of the president, who this week intervened in the export of the eight baobabs.
Ruto tweeted: “There must be sufficient permission and an equitable formula for benefit sharing for Kenyans. Furthermore, the exercise must be in line with the government’s agenda to plant 15 billion trees in the next 10 years.”
Shortly after posting the tweet, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry issued a pronunciation that said the environmental impact assessment permit issued to Gvasaliya in October, which allowed the trees to be uprooted and exported, had been given “irregularly”.
The ministry halted shipments with immediate effect and said the trees would not be allowed out of the country until export agreements were “regularized”. It said action would be taken against any government official who failed to follow proper procedures in processing the permit, amid public calls for accountability.
Sofia Rajab, a human rights lawyer, said: “We must answer for the mistakes in the system that made this possible.”
The Guardian has learned that the eight trees were exported to the Shekvetili Dendrological Park, owned by former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was involved in other tree uprooting activities along the Georgian coast.
Environmental groups welcomed the government’s announcement.
“This is a clear message to the world that the exploitation of Kenya’s biodiversity can only take place if Kenyans are meaningful beneficiaries,” said Gus Le Breton, chair of the African Baobab Alliance. “It has major implications globally for reiterating the importance of the Nagoya Protocol to regulate trade and biodiversity.”