Collecting seeds to restore Mount Kenya forest

John Mwithimbu spreads out the freshly collected heap of Syzygium guineense seeds to dry on a mat outside Imenti Forest station offices. The sun is blazing hot and the Community Forest Association members are streaming in for a brief meeting. As is the norm, each is carrying a heap of wild seeds collected from the forest. The seeds are part of the many varieties of indigenous tree seeds aired out to dry every day at the forest station.

Collecting wild seeds for propagation in Mt. Kenya forests is part of the ambitious initiative by Nature Kenya targeted at restoring degraded parts of the forest – a critical water tower.

“Every member collects seeds from the forest, which are then dried out and propagated into seedlings. The seedlings are planted in degraded parts which have been marked,” explains Mwithimbu.

Once the seeds are dried, CFA members sow the seeds in nurseries. The germinated tree seedlings are tended by CFA members who have mastered the art of tree seedling propagation.  Mature seedlings are sold to individuals and organizations for replanting.

The seed collection initiative also seeks to address the challenges of sustainability and viability of seedlings that do well in Mt. Kenya forests. Initially, restoration initiatives in Mt. Kenya relied on purchasing seeds from elsewhere. This posed a challenge of low growth rates, as some tree species sourced from outside did not do well. Now, community members collect seeds directly from the forest.

Sebastian Kiogora, the chairperson of the CFA, said that wild seed collection, introduced by Nature Kenya to involve communities in sustainable efforts to restore the forests, is also a revenue-earner. ” CFA members get proceeds from selling these seedlings to individuals and organizations.”

On the other side of Mt. Kenya, members of Hombe Community Forest Association are also documenting the progress of their conservation efforts. At Hombe, tens of nursery beds alongside beehives dangling from trees tell the story of a restoration initiative targeting 6,200 hectares of degraded forests in Mt. Kenya.

“We collect these seeds as members and propagate them. Besides restoration, it also generates revenue because we are integrating it with bee-keeping,” says Mary Muriithi, treasurer of Hombe Community Forest Association.

“The seeds we used to purchase failed to grow and through training from Nature Kenya, we started collecting our own from the forests and propagating them. When we do this ourselves, we get to know the specific sites where certain trees grow,” says Louise Ndegwa, secretary of the group.

Milka Musyoki, a community liaison officer from Nature Kenya, said communities play a key role in restoration of the water tower, by providing seedlings and removing the aggressive Lantana camara which is spreading within the forest.

“While the communities help to restore the forest, they also have to benefit. Activities that generate money include tree nurseries and bee-keeping,” she said.