“Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”
For many forest adjacent communities living around Mount Kenya the forest is their lifeline. It provides them with many products including water, firewood and timber. But, they have witnessed chunks of this once vast expanse of indigenous trees fall prey to over-exploitation and have felt the subsequent negative impacts – a constant reminder of the need to conserve the forest.
Drawing strength from their unity, communities have come together to form Community Forest Associations (CFAs), which are spread across Nyeri, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Embu and Kirinyaga counties. Nature Kenya is currently working with 27 CFAs around Mount Kenya with a cumulative membership of 67,500, including women, youth and persons living with disabilities.
Initially, the only focus of CFAs was to set up tree nurseries and propagate indigenous seedlings. They would then plant the seedlings in degraded forest blocks in their respective areas. Through training facilitated by Nature Kenya, and made possible by a project funded by the Darwin Initiative, CFAs have now started selling tree seedlings as a livelihood activity.
Growing interest in forest restoration
“Corporate bodies and people from further away are now complementing our efforts by providing implements like seeds, watering cans and growing bags. Our terms of service are very flexible and once the seedlings are ready for planting they can buy them at a discounted price. Also, we are at liberty to sell the remaining seedlings to other interested buyers at a cost we determine,” says 64- year old Elizabeth Kiogora, a member of North Imenti CFA.
The contribution of community members like Elizabeth does not end at the seedling propagation stage. Partnering organisations also engage the communities in clearing areas for planting, pitting and in the planting. CFA members are also hired to weed, replace dead seedlings and to nurture the tree seedlings until they are strong enough to grow on their own. During the short rains season (October-November) in 2019, Nature Kenya, with support from partners, mobilized 22 CFAs to plant 401,500 indigenous trees on 401 ha of degraded forest land.
Nature Kenya is also helping CFAs to establish other nature-based enterprises like beekeeping, eco-tourism and avitourism to supplement their livelihoods. Activities deemed as destructive to the forest are not permitted and CFAs are encouraged to diversify their sources of income by engaging in activities that promote forest conservation. “I was lucky to secure a piece of land close to the forest where I have set up a small woodlot. After doing some research on beekeeping I decided to put up a beehive in my woodlot as an experiment. Now I have two beehives, from which I get good returns. I have taken it upon myself to start educating fellow CFA members on beekeeping,” says 52-year-old Dorothy Naitore, a member of the Meru Forest Environmental Conservation and Protection CFA.
Dorothy also points out that it was only recently that members of her CFA realised that they had very beautiful nature trails in North Imenti. She has also noticed that birds are slowly returning to the areas that the CFA have restored.
“You can only appreciate the results of all the conservation work when you walk around the forest. Our next big plan is to engage in ecotourism. I think once tourists see the transformation, they will be encouraged to join us in restoring the Mount Kenya forest,” says Dorothy.
Both Dorothy and Elizabeth say that the fear of losing the glorious forest was what pushed them into conservation despite their advanced age. As if reading from the same script, the two agree that it should not take bad experiences like drying rivers for people to start conserving forests.