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A game of semantics: a political ecology of Kenya's tree planting targets and forest metrics

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Valerio Donfrancesco.

Tree planting targets and forest metrics have become increasingly important in global forest governance, yet political ecologists have shown how they are constructed and how they are wielded as a form of power can be problematic. In this talk, I unpack Kenya’s 10 per cent tree/forest cover target, which was enshrined into the Kenyan constitution in 2010, and has since become a focal point for national tree planting and even broader environmental policy. I will show that the target is fundamentally arbitrary and track how it has been produced and reproduced by various actors since colonial times. I then unpack the wording of the target to understand what actually counts towards its achievement. Here I show how forest cover and tree cover are used interchangeably, causing confusion as to what exactly the target means. Next, I look at the problems with measuring both forest and tree cover in Kenya. The former is laden with issues of varying opaque definitions and datasets, whilst the latter lacks any clear definition or dataset. Lastly, I unpack the impact of arbitrary tree-planting targets and opaque metrics to show how actors can stack varying forest metrics on top of one another to demonstrate that they are meeting the 10 per cent target.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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