Facing worsening environmental degradation, the Kenyan government has announced plans to force farmers to plant trees on 10% of their land to conserve soil and water.

AllAfrica.com reports:

“The government has the power under the law to force people to plant trees on their land,” agriculture permanent secretary, Dr Romano Kiome, has said.

Under the Agriculture Act, the minister can institute rules that prohibit, regulate, and control clearing of land in a bid to promote soil and water conservation and prevention of the destruction of vegetation.

Although well-intentioned, such a proposal is not likely to work – because government mandates, well, don’t. (Case in point: car insurance.) If someone doesn’t want to grow trees, they won’t. How will this be enforced? Will the government decide to use its resources to calculate farmers’ tree-to-farmland percentages? Will it fine farmers, and dedicate revenue officers to collecting these penalties?

Obviously, Kenyans do not want their land to be destroyed; however, when forced to choose between planting crops for food or trees for the nation, it’s pretty clear what individuals will choose. Once people do not have to worry about survival, they can focus on environmental concerns.

If the government focused on growing the nation’s economy – through enforcing the rule of law, improving infrastructure and access to markets, and expanding trade – farmers will be able to earn more for their goods and raise their standard of living. Pilot programs that have educated farmers on how to increase yields through crop rotation and fertilizing have shown significant progress — so funding research, development, and dissemination of this information to farmers might be a far better use of the government’s finite resources than tree-counting inspectors.

Kenyans deserve to decide for themselves how much land they feel comfortable using for reforestation, and when they would like to do so. But forcing them to plant trees is akin to taking their land away.