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Feb 28, 2016 8 Min Read

It’s Time to Start Planting!

I will never forget the first time we visited the North Marmanet forest with the team of Kijani pioneers; passionate and energetic youth that wanted to make a difference and bring change. The memories of our first meeting with the local community is still fresh in my mind; especially chatting with one Turkana man named Pojos. He stood up, looked straight to our face and said in Swahili ‘sisi sote tuko nyuma yenu’, to mean “you all have our support”. By this time we were deliberating on which restoration strategy we could use to rehabilitate the degraded forest. I remember Tobias, one of the Kijani co-founders, sitting with the whole team at Laikipia Comfort Hotel in Nyahururu as we resided for the evening, reflecting on our meetings. We pondered the days happenings and exploits are knew that this was a good start.

When we got back to Nairobi, we developed three methods to determine what would be the best reforestation strategy. First was online research. Daniel (another co-founder), Dickens (who later became Manager of Public Relations), and Haron (later our legal advisor) spent most of their time in the office glued to the computer in trying to understand prevailing successes, challenges and emerging trends concerning reforestation and reforestation efforts in Kenya and Africa. We wanted to know the best methods to grow back indigenous forests, and how this could be done in a way that could empower the local community and secure the lasting preservation and conservation of the rehabilitated forest area.

Dickens was soon very interested in learning all he could about the “stinging nettle” shrub, or Urtica massaica, a non-timber forest product (NTFP) that could benefit the community. David, on the other hand, focused on bee-keeping due to the fact that many communities have good knowledge and skills in it. Other volunteers from Kenya, Germany and the U.S. took a look at other projects from web design, grant-writing, and more. Daniel looked into scores of other NTFP products and grappled with the question of sustainability – how could we approach the forestation effort in a way that local communities could benefit and also learn to value and preserve the forest through their own initiative.

David meets with Mary Gatei from the International Small Group Tree Planting Program (TIST)
David meets with Mary Gatei from the International Small Group Tree Planting Program (TIST)

It was this driving question that led us to consult with all the experts we could possibly meet. We took our time to book several appointments and conducted interviews with specialists from the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), Kenya Forest Working Group (KFWG), Forest Action Network (FAN), Green Africa Network, A Rocha Kenya, Mother Earth Network and many other organizations. Dr. Mercy Gichora, the then Forestation Expert for the Ministry of Environment, was put in touch with us through our resident forestry expert – Urs from Germany – and invited us to represent the youth at the National Forestry Program workshops (i.e. a series of meetings held by stakeholders in forestry aimed at crafting a collaborative strategy for sustainable forestation in Kenya and to achieve 10% forest cover in Kenya by 2030). These were the months that shaped the team as we learned to understand the challenges and opportunities behind this initiative that we were about to undertake. One key lesson resonated through all of our meetings; it was that “community members must be on board our project!”

The third method we used was to travel extensively; we visited successful community-led initiatives aimed at sustainable forestry and forest conservation. We visited small group farmers and tree-planters with the International Small Groups Tree Planting Project (TIST) in Meru, the Elephant and Bees Project in Voi, the world’s first ever REDD+ forest conservation project in Kasigau, as well forest stations run by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in different parts of Kenya such as Shamanek and Bahati. Every Tuesday we would meet together, share our findings and continue to deliberate about the best strategy to sustainably rehabilitate the North Marmanet forest.

During our first year and a half, we traveled a lot throughout Kenya by public transport to learn from other organizations and experts
During our first year and a half, we traveled a lot throughout Kenya by public transport to learn from other organizations and experts

After a year and a half of deliberation, learning and research; a year where we won the Judges and Popular Choice Award in the Land Use category of MIT’s Climate CoLab competition, established our office, started a tree nursery, received our NGO certification, and were semi-finalists for two years running for Echoing Green’s Climate Fellowship, we have found our “silver bullet” – forest farming!

Today, we have received funds from Bright Hope World to train 60 community members in conservation farming and agroforestry in 2016. We also have a tree nursery established that will provide the 12,000 indigenous trees that the community members will plant and nurture in the 60 acre rehabilitation and farming area. This simple approach empowers the community through farming of staple foods using the “Foundations for Farming” method, reduces the cost of forestation by spreading the cost of tree care and maintenance to the local community in the agroforestry model, and is realistic for an organization of our size and capacity.

Our first training workshop and planting is scheduled for March this year, at the onset of the long rains.

Team member Urs at one of Kijani's meetings in 2014
Team member Urs at one of Kijani's meetings in 2014

After over two years of planning, research and grant-writing, it’s now time to start! We all cannot wait to “break ground” and finally see the fruits of our labor realized through real impact and change. Of course, there is still lots to learn, but we see this as a significant milestone and the opening of a new chapter for Kijani.

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