Monday, May 17, 2010

University students adopt trees

Chiromo Environmental Awareness Club members plant trees at Mau Forest.
The group chairperson Manda Njoroge, vice-chair, Irene Kawira and Sharon Ng’etich, a member during the interview. Photos: Jennipher Wachie/Standard

Published on 15/05/2010

By Alex Kiprotich

When world 100-metre sprint record holder Usain Bolt visited Kenya in November last year, many were surprised by the ease with which he interacted with the people.
But perhaps what was most baffling and unexpected was his adoption of the world’s fastest animal – Cheetah.

Bolt’s move helped raise awareness on the need to protect our endangered wild animals.
And with the Kenyan forests facing all manner of threats, a group of students from the University of Nairobi are borrowing a leaf from Bolt and charting new grounds – adopting forestland and trees.

The students from the School of Biological Sciences at the Chiromo campus are not only planting trees but also nurturing them to maturity. The Chiromo Environmental Awareness Club (Ceac) chairperson Manda Njoroge said the unique idea was mooted after a tree planting mission to Mau forest in February.

Ms Njoroge says the club members wanted to ensure tree planting was not just another exercise which ends the moment the seedlings are planted.

She says in most cases, people plant trees but have no attachment to them at all. What follows, he says, is that most trees die and no one is bothered.

"Tree planting has been going on for a long time and the exercise ends the moment an individual plants it," she says.

Perfect location
The University of Nairobi group, comprising 60 students, applied to the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) to adopt land inthe Mau Forest Complex and in March, they were given exclusive rights to adopt two and half acres of land.

"When we were given the rights, we embarked on finding a perfect location to adopt the land and we finally settled on a depleted section of Nairota Forest Station in the complex," she says.
Njoroge, a third year student, says the next task was to look for seedlings. Their mission paid off as they got 1,200 seedlings from well-wishers. The seedlings have already been planted in the group’s adopted land at the Mau Forest Complex.

She says the students will take care of the seedlings for the next three to five years, monitoring their growth, watering them during dry seasons and replanting.

"The whole idea of adopting forestland is to own and monitor trees till maturity. We realised it was not sustainable for Kenyans to visit forests, plant trees and go away to carry out their normal duties without monitoring the progress of the trees. Just like a young child, trees also need nurturing to grow," she says.

The commitment
They plan to visit the area after every four months to monitor progress. She said if Kenyans embraced the concept of adopting forestland, the country’s forests would be intact.
"It is a very simple idea but it needs commitment. All we are doing is asking the Forestry Department to show us the depleted part of the forest. We plant the trees and take care of them till maturity," she says.

Sharon Ng’etich, a member of the group, says the destruction of forests happens because people have no attachment to the trees.

Ms Ng’etich says the best way to connect people’s lives to nature is by making it part of them.
"Adopting forestland or a tree is a great way to make nature part of us and even part of the family. People should understood how their lives and welfare are intimately linked with trees. The movement of planting more trees must begin at all levels. Every individual should feel responsible and accountable," she said.

She said students want to set good examples to the Kenyan youth on the importance of conservation.
"We will be visiting our land to check on the progress of the trees and tending the forest if need be," she said.

And because of the expenses incurred during the visits, the students will be posting pictures of the trees on the Internet for members who miss visits.
"It is about sustaining and conserving the forest by closely following the progress of each tree," she says.

The group’s vice chairperson, Irene Kawira, says they will request for more land to adopt in all forests threatened by loggers.

Kawira says the students also sensitised the community living near the adopted land.
The local people are expected to monitor and brief the group on the progress of the seedlings.
"We have members of the community who always call us to give us report on how the seedlings are faring. We also respond to the needs," she says.

She says the community has been responsive and takes care of the seedlings knowing that it is a property of someone and must be respected.

"One of the reasons why the forests are being plundered is because it is far removed from the people and nobody cares to report any destruction," she says.

If the idea can be adopted by the corporate world, she says, the country’s forest cover will increase to the required levels.

Adopter’s name
"Corporate bodies should be able to adopt forestland and the country’s forests will be well-taken care off besides creating employment for the surrounding community," she says.

The group is planning to ask KFS to allow them to have the adopter’s name on the trees they plant.
The students’ administrator Rosemary Omwandho says lack of involvement by the youth in environment conservation is partly to blame for the sorry state of our forests.

"At least the old generation knows the value of conserving our forests and we hope our efforts will enlighten the youth and realise our future depends on forests," Ms Omwandho says.
She says the club will ensure the continuity of the programme in the school and enlist more students into the programme.

"This is a noble cause, which will go a long way in changing the face of conservation and our students. It is our pet project which we believe other Kenyans will emulate," she says.

Story Courtesy EA Standard

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