Working with women to reverse deforestation in Kenya
My name is Gill Withers. Some 40 years ago I travelled from Sudan to Lake Turkana in the north and then south to Nairobi. The warmth of the people I met in Kenya and the beauty of the landscape captured my heart. Across Africa, deforestation and land degradation threaten natural forest landscapes and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them. Kenya’s natural forest land has diminished and continues to diminish at an alarming rate.
My husband and I want to help to reverse deforestation. So we chose to fund an ITF a pilot scheme in Kenya called the Kakamega Sustainable Greening and Livelihood Project. The project started in November 2019 and supports women-led community groups in the Kakamega area to plant trees, protect forests and educate children about trees and the environment in Kenya.
We liked this project because it’s linked to an existing community–led initiative. And we know from personal experience how powerful community action can be. We also liked this project because women are at its front and centre.
The challenges facing women
In Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa, women and girls still spend long hours collecting water and firewood. Household chores limit school attendance and work options. They have less access to and control over the benefits from land tenure, education, and employment opportunities. Women remain underrepresented in decision-making processes at all levels. A project that addresses these issues while supporting trees planting pulled us in.
Partnering with ITF
ITF work really hard to ensure we are kept up to date. We’ve also had the honour of meeting the two key players of this project – being 2020/2021 it all been via Zoom but that hasn’t stopped the warmth and joy of our relationships developing. These two key players are inspiring, engaging and highly skilled women running their projects with hard work, commitment and joy.
Teresa Gitonga is the Programme Manager for the ITF Kenya programme. Rose Wamalwa is the founder and Programme Manager of Women in Water and Natural Resources Conservation (WWANC). Rose fronted the ITF 2020 Big Give Campaign and if you haven’t seen her video yet then we suggest you do!
The project is a wonderful practical way of supporting women, of educating women and giving them the opportunity to experience empowerment. The setting up of tree nurseries and the growing of fruit trees mean the women are earning incomes and providing additional food for their families. The planting of trees for firewood means that the women do not have to travel so far to collect it, and reduces pressure on the forest.
The next generation are also involved through tree planting in schools: providing shelter in the school compounds, and in practical sessions teaching the children about the importance of trees and their forests.
Before the pilot came to an end it was clear the project was doing very well and all the targets were being met. On the back of this ITF decided to use the December 2020 Big Give Campaign to secure enough funding to allow the project to continue for a further two years. The campaign was amazingly successful with 104 donors supporting and raising over £20,000. The work can continue which is wonderful news.
Teresa and Rose are brilliant role-models for the women and we were delighted to be asked if we would like to fund an empowerment training programme for some of the women on the tree planting project. The answer was yes.
Today, we’re supporting an ancillary programme to teach some of the women on the tree planting projects about gender issues and empower participants. Through their role models they will learn about personal, economic, political and socio-cultural empowerment. We hope that these courses will sow some seeds – not tree seeds, but seeds of empowerment that will change their lives and the lives of their children and families.