Embracing New Approaches to Landscape Restoration
I was travelling to Nyahururu town in Laikipia county, and on my way I was enjoying the beautiful scenic features of my beloved county while trying to digest an interesting phenomenon. Namely, I was pondering how organizations will sometimes adjust their approach or tactics towards achieving their objectives in a flexible manner, but will remain militantly committed to their vision. I looked at our driver and thought of times when other matatu drivers have used different routes yet eventually each one of them arrived at the same destination. These matatu drivers will over speed, overtake and even take short cuts with little restraint but the final goal remains fixed. This, I thought, is an apt representation of the life of a start-up organization.
This time round I was going to Nyahururu not to plant trees in the forest, nor to have an interview with the locals or local administration but rather to mobilize, organize and train farmers on conservation farming techniques. Kijani had identified a need; landscape restoration strategies that are implemented without integrating livelihood improvement components in the methodology are bound to lack buy-in from the community. These projects support a worthy environmental ideal, but are likely to face countless challenges including the potential for total failure. For sustainable landscape restoration to occur, community members need to be on board, and for this to happen tangible economic benefits need to be secured in the model. This day we were training farmers on conservation farming as model for sustainable livelihood improvement and engaging them in tree planting activities. The vegetables grown using the conservation farming techniques enable community members to reap immediate profits from market sale of their produce, providing a means of family sustenance while the trees grow and become economically viable. I arrived in Kwanjiku (the local town center) around midday, engaged farmers and informed them of our training the following day.
The training began with our facilitators taking the farmers through the theory behind conservation farming. This part of the training was an eye opener for participants, as they realized that it is possible for any farmer to implement the techniques with little outside input or expensive materials. For example, compost can be created from animal and plant organic matter, and the no-till methodology simply requires a shift in traditional farm practice. The training focused on timely farmland preparation, mulching, making of pesticides using locally available material, how to make compost manure from leaves of tree and lastly how to plant trees and integrate them in agroforestry systems. These farmers were later trained practically on how to carry out these activities in a demonstration plot, then organized into groups to make them mutually responsible to implement the methods on their own farms.
Amazingly we realized all farmers wanted to plant trees, not because they were told to do so or due to climate change and degradation of forests, but because they were shown how they could reap immediate benefits from conservation farming while at the same waiting for a long term benefits of trees. I would never have crossed my mind before that training community members about conservation farming could be related to agroforestry. Just like the matatu driver who takes a different route to reach his destination, so as Kijani we are continuously evolving in our knowledge of the most effective means to restore landscapes in a sustainable way.
Two things have been confirmed to me; livelihood improvement is pivotal to success, and community members will plant trees on their land if it is complemented by a more immediate means to improve their livelihoods. Motivating farmers to plant trees through training on conservation has proven to be a concept which can be embraced. By taking this approach one will see a change of mindset which will later transform to paradigm shift; a community which will embrace tree planting not as a one-off activity but as a way of life.
Although we changed our tactics we are still stubborn with our vision of landscape restoration through tree planting.