Our 20 Million Trees for Kenya’s Forests campaign is well underway, and it is our most ambitious campaign yet! As we are nearing 100 years old, it’s fitting that our Centenary Campaign takes us back to where it all began, in Kenya – 1922.
The aim of the campaign is to plant a total of 20 million trees in and around Kenya’s highland forests, dubbed “Water Towers” because of their vital role in conserving the country’s rivers, lakes and drinking water. The initiative will also help combat climate change, protect forest habitats for rare birds and mammals – while improving food security for some of Africa’s most vulnerable people. Around a quarter of the trees cultivated will be planted on surrounding farmland – to provide food and resources, stabilise soils and increase crop yields.
Kenya’s forest cover became severely depleted during the 1970s and 1980s through illegal activities such as timber harvesting and charcoal burning. Only seven percent of the country’s land is covered by trees – which equates to 67 trees per person, compared with a global average of 420. Many upland forests have been destroyed or severely degraded.
The campaign forms part of a wider strategy by the Kenyan government to meet reforestation targets under the COP21 Paris Climate Summit and the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals.
Phase one of the campaign is being spearheaded by MKEC (Mount Kenya Environmental Conservation), working in cooperation with the Kenya Forest Service, which has set aside suitable degraded land for planting on the slopes of Mount Kenya Forest. They will receive expert technical advice from Botanical Gardens Conservation International and Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).
The first part of this project involves working with local groups of smallholders in 7 different sub locations in Embu district. The community groups are organised in 10 “beats”, each of which consists of at least two groups. Each of the beats has established, and now manages a nursery. Nearly 250, 000 seedlings are being raised in the nurseries including Podocarpus, Prunus, and Croton. In addition to seeds received from KEFRI, the beats are also collecting seeds and wildlings from the forest. They have also received tree planting equipment and an agroforestry manual.
MKEC has also conducted a household survey to find out what motivates people to plant trees on their land. In order to ensure the sustainability of the program, the groups have been encouraged to invite young people in the community to join the initiative.
The other Water Towers being targeted are the Aberdares, Mount Elgon, the Cherangani Hills, and the Mau Complex – as well as Kakamega Forest, Kenya’s only rain forest. Transporting millions of seedlings to deforested areas is a huge task. The sites also need to be visited regularly and monitored to ensure appropriate tree care and protection. Each tree planted will save an estimated 20kg of carbon each year – so that 20 million trees will save 400 thousand tonnes of carbon every year.
As part of the move to include young people in agroforestry and reforestation in Embu County, a parallel program has been launched in six primary schools. My 20 Trees and Me involves selected pupils who will each plant trees which they will then take care of for the rest of their time at school. Planting has already begun, take a look at some photos.