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Kenya: Reforestation reduces risk of drought and brings back the forest (MongaBay)

On a hot, sunny afternoon in Migori county, Kenya, 480 kilometres west of the capital Nairobi, Susan Aluoch is preparing a tree nursery in advance of the upcoming rains.

Mrs. Aluoch is a member of the Mirema Community Forest Association, a group recognized for its successful reforestation initiative that regenerated the Mirema forest. She says she decided to join the group after years of suffering from floods in the once heavily-deforested area.

Five years ago, the Mirema forest was barren after extensive logging. According to Michael Onyango, a government forestry officer for Migori county, most of the damage was done by charcoal producers in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Edwin Ouma, a member of the Mirema Community Forest Association, says that the aim of the reforestation project was to protect the community from these floods, which often submerged farmland, destroyed crops, and forced many farmers to rely on government aid.

Mr. Ouma explains, “Long rains came with floods because there were no trees or vegetation to control the speed and flow of water. This affected hundreds of families.”

But today, the Mirema forest is once again green and luscious. Since the start of the project in 2018, the Mirema Community Forest Association has planted a total of 300,000 trees, with a survival rate of 70%. According to the Kenya Forest Service, this figure is remarkably high—for similar reforestation projects in Kenya, the survival rate of the trees is closer to 50%.

William Odhil, chair of the Mirema Community Forest Association, says the first step in such a successful reforestation project was to gain the trust of community members. He says this was particularly difficult for those in the community whose land and homes encroached on the forest—they would have to relocate for the project.

Mr. Odhil recalls, “It was not easy telling people to move from the land which they had occupied for almost two decades. It took a lot of effort for them to understand where we were coming from.”

Once the area for reforestation was secured in 2018, the Community Forest Association started planting trees on the hilltop side of the forest, and then slowly worked their way downslope.

Mr. Odhil says that within two years, the forest was springing back to life and the impact of the floods had lessened. Some people were even able to reclaim their land in once-flooded areas.

To help his community see the value of the project, Mr. Odhil even donated a piece of his own land to establish the initiative’s first community tree nursery. Other Community Forest Association members also set up tree nurseries within their farms, contributed money to buy seeds, and grew them in nurseries before planting them in the Mirema forest.

With time, the community began to see the results of the project—as did others. The success of the reforestation drive attracted the attention of the Kenyan government, international aid group World Vision International, and a local bank that now provides Mirema Community Forest Association with financial support.

The county government also partnered with the organization World Agroforestry to supply both seedlings and training to Community Forest Association members in order to set up and manage tree nurseries, as well as to transplant and care for the trees.

With the help of these supporters, the reforestation efforts accelerated, resulting in at least 405 hectares of the forest being restored. This represents half of the Mirema forest’s original size.

The project achieved these milestones using two different reforestation techniques. The first is called farmer-managed natural regeneration or FMNR, where naturally occurring seedlings within the forest mature to full growth. This method involves pruning tree stumps to encourage regeneration and regrowth of trees that have been cut.

The second approach is called establishment planting. This involves introducing nursery-grown tree seedlings into the forest. They are placed so as to fill gaps between naturally-occurring trees and ensure an even distribution of trees throughout the forest. This helps to replicate the forest’s natural biodiversity.

The tree varieties planted in Mirema forest include jumping seed (Sapium ellipticum), African resin (Ozoroa insignis), jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), and willow-leaved shepherd tree (Boscia salicifolia).

To this day, Mirema Community Forest Association members meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to work on the nursery, plan tree management schedules, and carry out forest patrols.

Ronald Aloo, a Kenya Forest Service ranger managing the forest says, “The community owns this drive, and they are zealously guarding the forest against any possible threats, and this is helping a lot.”

This story is based on an article written by Jackson Okata and published on MongaBay in February 2022, titled “In Kenya, a community regrew its forest — and redefined reforestation success.” To read the full story, go to: https://news.mongabay.com/2022/02/in-kenya-a-community-regrew-its-forest-and-redefined-reforestation-success/ [1]

Photo: Photo: Kenya Forestry Service ranger Ronald Oloo leads a tree planting exercise. Image courtesy of Jackson Okata.