The key to a greener planet is in our hands…
My name is Aida Tamulyte. I’m a Machine Operator at Clipper Teas in Dorset. Last year, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of two employees from Wessanen UK to go and see first-hand the projects we are supporting through our partnership with International Tree Foundation. I set off from the UK with my colleague Beth for a life-changing experience and the challenge of planting 100 trees for Kenya’s forests.
After a long day traveling at last we are in Kenya! We are met at the airport by ITF staff Paul and Naomi and driver Ben. We set off for a four-hour trip to our hotel in Embu, on the slopes of Mount Kenya.
Melody Waterfalls Ecolodge is stunning. The rooms are basic, but the views across the valley are breath-taking.
We are here to meet the communities planting trees as part of ITF’s Centenary Campaign: 20 Million Trees for Kenya’s Forests.
ITF’s local partner organisation Mount Kenya Environmental Conservation (MKEC) met us at Melody Waterfalls, and we enjoyed a beautiful walk to the waterfalls in the valley. MKEC are working with local communities on Mount Kenya to restore degraded areas of the Mount Kenya Forest, and to plant trees with communities on farms. They also run a schools’ project. I can’t wait to see their work with my own eyes.
I was woken by the cockerel at 5:30am long before my alarm! It is wonderful to be surrounded by nature, little technology, no internet, no television… Just nature, relaxation and peace!
Today we visited two tree nursery groups: Wamiti Women Group and Muthithu Adult Group. The Wamitu women met us with songs, dances and big smiles. It was entertaining and fun, and we all felt very welcome.
Wamiti is just one of ten community groups who are managing their own nurseries, raising seedlings to be planted in the forest and on farms. MKEC coordinates and trains the groups, as well as supplying them with good quality seed to sow.
Tree planting involves a substantial amount of work – from raising the seedlings in community nurseries to digging holes on the planting sites and actually planting, watering and monitoring the trees.
The Wamiti Women’s Group own a communal tea plantation behind the tree nursery, bought through their joint savings. They showed us how to pick tea leaves – which is not easy! Tea is harvested by hand, and only the top young and juicy leaves are picked.
We then walked across beautiful landscapes to meet Muthithu Adult Group. We crossed so many tea plantations, it felt like I was in tea heaven!
In the afternoon, we visited Kagumori primary school. The kids met us with smiles and welcome songs and showed us how to plant trees. We had a great time and I was satisfied with my first tree. This was just the beginning of getting ready to plant 100 trees for Kenya’s Forests.
Our day finished with a presentation from ITF about their Centenary Campaign – 20 Million Trees for Kenya’s Forests. It is an ambitious target, but extremely worthwhile. Kenya has less than 7% tree cover, yet forests are vital in conserving the country’s rivers, lakes and drinking water. By planting 20 million trees, ITF community partners will also protect forest habitats for rare birds and mammals and improve food security for households living in proximity to the forest.
Today we visited Kathangariri tea factory. Wessanen UK buys tea from this area of Kenya, so it was great to see how tea is processed before it arrives in the UK where I am responsible for bagging it up at the Clipper tea factory in Dorset.
The tea is bought from ‘buying centres’ where local farmers sell it by the kilo. The factory process is complex and involves cutting, drying and sorting the leaves. The whole process uses a lot of wood, and it was interesting to see that the tea companies are raising and planting their own trees.
In the afternoon we visited an agroforestry farm in Kariri village. I was really impressed by the farms. Local people grow all kinds of fruits, vegetables and trees, as well as keeping goats and chickens… Most Kenyans have very small farms which are their main source of food and income.
We then visited a coffee factory. Coffee trees benefit from shade, so they work well on farms that use agroforestry. Taller trees give shade as well as providing other products such as timber, fruits, fodder and mulch.
Today is the big day – it is the Tree Challenge Day!
Yesterday we helped to load 1,500 trees onto a lorry. We walked to the planting site today and were given a quick training session from the Wamiti Women Group. Planting trees isn’t hard, but to use a machete required some skill.
It was actually very quick work, and we enjoyed spending time in this magical place in the Mount Kenya Forest.
I managed to plant 22 trees and Beth planted 57, so we were getting closer to our 100 trees!
Mount Kenya Forest is one of the largest, most ecologically significant and commercially important natural forest areas in Kenya. It is considered to be among the highest priority forests for national conservation. It is also one of the most threatened forests in the country because of its commercially valuable reserves of indigenous timber, and due to the large human population living in the landscape around its fenced boundary.
Our team met with forest rangers and we started to walk to last years’ planting sites, to see the trees planted with support from Wessanen UK. It was great to see that most of the trees are well and looking strong. I was counting how many trees hadn’t survived and found just 10, which I think is a very good result!
We walked a lot and were very tired by the end of the day. On the way back through the forest we were lucky to see black and white colobus monkeys. They live in the canopy and move about by running along branches, making impressive leaps from one tree to another.
We were treated to a celebration meal at the ranger’s headquarters. Everything had been cooked by local women outside on an open fire and tasted delicious.
After dinner we joined in dancing with the locals with what energy we had left. I like watching Kenyan dancing and everywhere we go it is dances and songs. I love it!
Today was the last morning at Melody Waterfalls, we set off north to another planting site in the Timau area. Before leaving, we planted some trees at the ecolodge as a reminder of us. I hope one day I will be back to see how my trees are growing.
After travelling around Mount Kenya, we meet Mount Kenya Trust (MKT), ITF’s second local partner. Mount Kenya Trust was established in 1999 to protect the forest, wildlife and people living around Africa’s second highest mountain. Wildlife poaching, illegal logging and water extraction are some of the activities that still threaten the mountain resources and biodiversity today.
The Mount Kenya Trust team showed us their very well organised tree nursery. We bought some trees to plant back at the Timau River Lodge – everywhere we have been so far, we’ve planted trees! Me and Beth still needed to plant more trees to reach our target of 100. After today’s planting we had reached 96 trees. One day left in Kenya and still four trees to go!
Our amazing trip is coming to an end. We drove to Karuri tree planting site in the morning. Here, we saw trees planted through previous projects… and planted more trees. I am very happy to say that we did it. Together with Beth we reached our target of 100 trees for Kenya’s forests. It was a good team effort!
The Mount Kenya Tree Challenge was the best experience of my life. It was so interesting to spend a week with the local people and organisations, community members, school kids and of course our group made up of ITF, TreeSisters and Wessanen UK.
I was impressed by how passionate local people are when talking about the importance of the forest and trees. Everyone was so kind, generous, friendly and happy, and they made us feel welcome. Most of Kenya’s rural people are poor by our standards, but they have a big heart and it is very inspiring.
I am really proud that Wessanen UK are supporting ITF. It is so amazing to be a part of this great campaign. With just a little help from all of us we can do so much for people, wildlife and biodiversity.
By supporting ITF and planting more trees we are slowing global warming, giving homes and jobs to people, giving them food, timber for furniture, firewood and other products, providing homes for animals, birds and insects and much more…