Forestry research in Kenya was started in 1934 as a unit of the then Forest Department. The unit later became a research branch focusing on applied research on forest silviculture, entomology, pathology and wood utilization. In 1948, the East Africa Agricultural and Forestry Organization (EAAFRO) was established in Muguga under the East Africa High Commission to undertake regional research including; tree breeding, forest pathology, forest entomology and catchment hydrology. In 1973, the research branch was transformed into a Research Conservancy of the Forest Department of EAAFRO.
Following the breakup of East African Community (EAC) in 1977, EAAFRO was disbanded. In 1981, the Research Division of EAAFRO and Research Conservancy of Forest Department were merged into the Forestry Research Department of the newly created Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) was established as a state corporation in 1986 under the Science and Technology Act Chapter 250 of the Laws of Kenya to focus on forestry research. The Act was repealed by the Science, Technology and Innovation Act No 28 of 2013. Kenya Forestry Research Institute is also mandated under the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 to undertake forestry research.