My friend Daniel Omondi and I have just started working on a new project in the last few weeks since he has been back from Chicago.The government offered his father Ibrahim 600 acres of land near Mount Kenya for reforestation. Since last year, Daniel had been working on the development of a youth employment program for UN Habitat the year before and we saw the chance to combine the efforts for environmental rehabilitation and employment.
Planning Session with Daniel
Since planting a couple hundrethousand trees is obviously a complex matter, we knew that we needed to have a good planning outline for even just planning the project and a solid business plan. So we took two days, a pack of index cards, and a couple pens, and started writing down all the necessary steps we could think of, arranging them on a huge piece of paper.
We came up with a structure, where each branch of the work would be represented: Value Definition, Promotion, Organizational Setup, Partnerships, Funding, Research, and Community Development. Eventually everything would lead to the creation of a detailed business plan. Finally we added some milestones and tried to roughly align the tasks time-wise. You can have a closer look at the digital version by clicking on the following image.
With our plan in place, we knew what to do. In the last weeks we have started to define our vision and our goals, assembled a team of young people from Kenya and Germany, made some connections with experts in forestry and visited the location site.
First Location Visit
Two weeks ago I went to visit the location site and meet the local officers from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) together with Ibrahim.
We drove to Nyahururu - around 4 hours from Nairobi - where we stayed overnight. The next morning we met with Daniel Nguyo, the KFS associate ecosystem conservator in Laikipia county and drove to a small village market called Kwa Wanjiku, just 15 minutes from Nyahururu town. There we met with Lucas Musasia, the manager for the North Marmanet forest from KFS, who protects the remaining trees together with four rangers. From there we continued on dirt roads through the farmlands and then finally, without any roads, through the hills up to the area which we want to reforest.
The following map shows the former area of the Marmanet forest and the area available for reforestation (which is actually 2,500 hectares in total).
The Marmanet forest extended over 15,000 hectares of unpopulated land before independence. Then in the 1980s, in a political move, Kenya's authoritative President Moi gave the land to people from his tribe - the Kalenjin from the Rift Valley. For roughly a decade the firewood, charcoal, timber, and furniture businesses were booming. The sad result of this unsustainable development was a forest reduced to 4 hectares, farmlands endangered by droughts, and extreme unemployment due to the collapse of the wood-based economy. In the following years the land recovered a bit, but the indigenous trees couldn't regrow by themselves. Instead a lot of smaller bushes and cypresses are growing in the areas which are not in use as farmland for wheat and maize or pastures for cattle and goats. Those are the areas where we want to plant the indigenous trees. The land is very hilly and small portions of indigenous forest still remain and are home to elephants, baboons, and several bird and insect species. The following photos show the surrounding farmlands and the deforested hills which we want to regenerate.
KFS has a tree nursery near the Kwa Wanjiku market, where they mainly produce fast-growing species that the local farmers plant for firewood. But they also grow some indigenous species like Cedar or Yellowwood. We will need to expand on this to produce the hundreds of thousands of seedlings we will need for the reforestation. But with God's blessing and a lot of hard work there is the hope that we can restore some of this beautiful ecosystem and create sustainable livelihoods for the next generation.
The area lies right in between Mount Kenya and Nakuru National Park and Nyahururu is located next to the beautiful Thomson Waterfalls (see the following photo), so the area has some appeal to tourists. We hope to offer some facilities to those tourists a couple years down the line in order to raise awareness and generate some income. It would be great to have some nature paths through the forest on which you can discover medicinal plants and meet the elephants and maybe even offer some lodging and dyning.
More photos from our visit can be found on flickr.
Project Vision and Mission
Our vision is to contribute to the reversal of local and global climate change through large scale forestation in Kenya, promotion of carbon offsetting, and development of scalable ecologically and financially sustainable reforestation models. The restoration of Kenya's water catchment forests is critical to the survival of Lake Victoria and the Nile, and the best way to battle drought, changing rainfall patterns, and to preserve the unique flora and fauna found in this eco-system.
To achieve this, we will provide employment to Kenyan youth in order to create financial self-sustenance, restore and uphold personal dignity, and contribute towards economic growth in Kenya. This employment will be comprised of training initiatives in modern agricultural techniques, basic business skills, and habits of a sustainable lifestyle. Our training will emphasize integrity and encourage the youth to become agents of sustainable transformation in Kenya.
It is exciting to work on such a challenging project and work with a team of talented young people to make it happen. I am sure it will keep me occupied for a couple more years.