Planting pilot has vision to nurture young tree ambassadors

Guest blogger Joanes Ooko Odero reports from Kenya on a new tree-planting initiative. 

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Joanes Ooko Odero is an MSc student at Kenyatta University, Kenya
11 February 2020
People planting trees

A community tree planting event (Photo: copyright Brian Ochieng Otieno, Loitokitok Community Forest Association

My home is in Kanyakwar, in Kisumu County, a peri-urban and largely cosmopolitan area in Kenya. Most residents have no farming land, or space to plant crops or trees.

And where there are trees – often indigenous species such as Markhaimia leutea, Ficus sicomorus, Rhus Natalensis, among others – they are being cut down to create room for construction: real estate is really booming in Kisumu.

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But felling of trees is causing concern. Trees have powerful aesthetic value; they bring life, beauty and colour. As the trees fall down, so the natural beauty of the region around Kisumu falls away. And there are concerns for the environment, about the cleanliness of the air, given trees serve as important carbon sinks. 

Knowledge transfer

I made it my mission to raise awareness in my community about the benefits of trees and promote tree planting initiatives in my area. But first I needed a model. I began experimenting and came up with a pilot tree-planting programme.

I took inspiration from the voluntary work I do with Loitokitok Community Forest Association, which promotes reforestation and forest management programmes.

Kenya’s Forest Act of 2016 permits communities to form associations with a view to sustainably managing forest resources while being able to support their livelihoods.

It is on this accord that Loitokitok Community Forest Association does lots of progressive work to promote awareness of environmental conservation: communal tree planting programme during the rains, surveillance of the forest boundary for illegal logging, creation of tree nurseries as an income generating venture and bee keeping to protect the indigenous tree species. 

Community members unloading tree seedlings

Community members unloading tree seedlings (Photo: copyright Brian Ochieng Otieno, Loitokitok Community Forest Association)

Through this work I’ve built up knowledge about how to protect and maintain the forest by actively involving children, particularly school-going children, and women’s groups in planting fruit trees. I’ve also learnt more about how to support communities in organising tree planting events, and monitoring behaviorial change among community members with regards to ecological conservation. 

Loitokitok focuses on getting local people directly involved in reforestation: I decided to take this idea home.  

Growing interest in the next generation: ‘adopt a fruit tree’

It is future generations that will inherit the land and the air; they need to understand why trees are such an important part of conserving our environment. So I decided to involve my nieces and nephews.

During the December holidays, I planted 12 different types of fruit trees, including grafted mango, avocado and oranges. I chose these trees because of the nutritional value of their fruit. And as well as a valuable food source, fruit can be an income stream – albeit on a small scale, it can provide a cash boost to low-income earners in the area. 

I assigned my nieces and nephews – aged between four and 11 years – with the responsibility of ‘adopting’ the fruit trees. They are each tasked with taking care of four trees until maturity. They were enthusiastic and readily got involved in the tree planting. I intend to teach them to become young environmental ambassadors in their respective schools. 

Plans to scale up

I have big plans. In the coming years I intend to replicate the idea across the whole community. I’ll seek like-minded partners to donate at least four fruit trees per home and encourage children in households to ‘adopt’ them. 

I’d like to expand the initiative as a method for supporting tree cover and alternative livelihood and nutritional sources through production of fruits. 

I’m excited to see how my pilot goes – so are my nieces and nephews. What about you? Are you involved in any initiatives to help grow your community’s tree population? Or to replenish local forests?

I’d like to grow more trees. And to hear more ideas of how to do this. Do you have any thoughts or experiences to share?

About the author

Joanes Ooko Odero is an MSc student at Kenyatta University, Kenya and a freelance environment specialist

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