Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Carving face extinction Wooden carvings are hot selling products throughout the world. Unfortunately, the popularity of the product may also lead to its downfall. The Kenyan wooden carving industry is a good example of the above dilemma. A series of projects funded by the WWF, UNESCO and other agencies have revealed that trade in wooden carvings has given major impetus to rural development in Kenya by creating opportunities of employment and earning foreign exchange through exports. On the other hand, it has also led to massive felling of trees setting the pace for a major ecological disaster. Subsequently it may result in massive unemployment because for thousands of wood carvers, no wood means no work.

One of the major victims of over exploitation of nature has been the muhugu tree which provides beautiful golden wood. Virtually all the muhugu trees have been felled in the Karura forest, which is less than a kilometre away from the headquarters of Kenya's forest department. According to the researchers, this specie grows very slowly and it will take a century for it to reach just 40 centimetres in diameter.

Unless the problem is tackled on a war footing, Kenya will be facing a major crisis. According to conservationists, what is needed is a change in attitude of wood carvers and buyers. Some steps have been taken in this direction, like creating awareness among the carvers through theatre, campaigns among the buyers and importers where they are advised not to buy products made from the wood of rare trees. In this direc tion, posters conveying positive messages on the need for responsible buying are being produced and extensively distributed. Another significant step taken towards preservation is to invest certain percentage of earnings into nurseries. And the fact that nurseries are planting trees in Kenya, is an encouraging development.

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