Kenya: Replanting vanishing forests with slingshots and seeds (Trust)

March 24, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

In the early morning on school holidays and weekends, Eric Ndung’u heads off to herd his family’s goats in the plains of Kisaju, south of Nairobi, Kenya.

Eric is 11. While herding, he hunts birds with a slingshot. But now, he has found another use for his slingshot: planting trees.

Before he leaves with the goats, the young boy runs to a neighbour’s house to get a packet of seed balls, made with charcoal dust, cassava starch, and tree seeds. The balls work as ammunition to bring down birds. And when left on the ground, they gradually break down, releasing tree seeds that take root.

To combat deforestation and rebuild the nation’s depleted forests, Kenyans are trying some novel approaches, among them recruiting herder boys—as well as hot air balloonists and paragliders—to the cause.

Teddy Kinyanjui is a conservationist living in Nairobi’s Kabete estate. He makes slingshots and seed balls with seeds provided by the Kenya Forest Research Institute. Mr. Kinyanjui studies which trees grow best in each area, then manufactures seed balls designed for that area. He inherited a love of trees from his late father.

Maxwell Kinyanjui was a professor at the University of Nairobi who invented an environmentally-friendly charcoal stove and planted a forest near Kisaju, which his son now maintains.

The efforts of the father and son are part of a broader push to combat forest loss in Kenya. The United Nations recommends that countries maintain at least 10% of their land in forest—but Kenya has only 7%.

Too many seeds are eaten by insects, birds, or goats. So Teddy Kinyanjui uses charcoal dust to pack the tree seeds and give them a better chance of sprouting. He explains: “You can imagine if you just took a handful of seeds and threw them down on the ground and waited for three more months until rains come—it’s just going to get eaten by something.”

The charcoal dust deters animals. When the rains arrive, they wash the coating away, allowing the seeds to sprout.

Teddy Kinyanjui has helped distribute about two million tree seeds across the country, focusing on areas where charcoal-making has led to deforestation.

To encourage herder boys to use the seed balls, Teddy Kinyanjui organizes shooting competitions. Those who sling the balls the farthest win certificates.

He also persuaded airplane companies, and owners of hot air balloons and paragliders to release the balls, and sells some to corporations, who distribute them to customers and staff as part of corporate social responsibility campaigns.

He recognizes that not all the seeds will sprout and survive, particularly with hungry goats foraging in many areas. But he says it’s better than nothing.

Protecting and expanding forests is one of the cheapest and surest ways to curb climate change, experts say.

But not everyone in Kisaju was happy with the effort to restore forest to the area. At first, community members in Kisaju demanded that the boys pick up and remove seed balls.

But with a little discussion and time, people have come around. Douglas Ole Lenku is a cattle herder in the area. He said he now understands that more trees means more rain—and that’s good for his animals.

He says, “We will be happy as Maasai [people] if the trees bring rain because the drought is almost killing us and our animals.”

In fact, Mr. Ole Lenku now has a slingshot of his own.

He says, “Whenever I am herding here, I just shoot and enjoy. One cannot get bored with a packet of almost 700 tree seedlings and a slingshot.”

This story is based on an article titled, “Slingshots in hand, Kenyans work to replant vanishing forests,” originally published by Thomson Reuters Trust. To read the full story, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20180910103711-875ni