Forests in Kenya historically have been under a constant threat of destruction and most have already either been destroyed or considerably degraded. The extent of this destruction, however, never really dawned on me until I visited the Enoosupukia Forest Trust Land area, situated on the southern end of the Mau Escarpment located in southwest Kenya.
My visit was in response to a request from the Ministry of Environment, which had been approached by the local community for assistance. What was formerly a 4,000-hectare closed canopy forest had been cleared more than 15 years ago and now lay bare – with only tree stumps and isolated trees dotting the landscape. The impact on the local community was enormous given the primary livelihoods were subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry.
When I spoke to some of the community members, many recalled a time when they enjoyed uninterrupted supply of water from the numerous rivers and streams originating from the area that had since dried up. Some also remembered spotting wildlife that flourished in the dense forest that existed not too long ago. Most importantly, they remembered never having to worry about food. The ecological devastation of the area has made them look back to these good old days longingly.
Many parts of Kenya are facing similar ecological ruin. President Clinton and the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) recognized that the loss of forests is both a driver and a result of poverty, and that a sustainable solution is the only way to break this cycle. We are therefore developing an approach that helps to tackle climate change and that also delivers economic and social benefits to the local community.
In September 2009, we formed a partnership with the Green Belt Movement and the local communities to establish a multi-pronged approach in rehabilitating the Enoosupukia Forest Trust land. Together, we are working to plant trees on the Trust land, which will be the major means in mitigating greenhouse gas emission, and will also enable the community to access carbon finance. We are also establishing community woodlots and agro-forestry farming systems to foster the sale of wood and surplus farm produce. This will increase yields and the median income per family five-fold.
An important co-benefit of the project, once complete, will be enhanced resilience to climate variability and change. Over the last few months, we have worked with the Green Belt Movement to establish 45 tree nurseries with an average of 1,120 seedlings each, train 200 community members on civic and environmental education, and form 10 Tree Nursery Groups. We continue to be actively engaged with the local community in order for them to participate in this effort.
The Enoosupukia area may be relatively small compared to the hundreds of thousands of hectares that need to be reforested. But CCI and its partners are working to establish a sustainable model that Kenya can adopt in the rehabilitation of other parts of the country, while simultaneously addressing the twin issues of climate change and sustainable livelihoods.
Jackson Kimani is the director of the Clinton Climate Initiative, Kenya