In 2000, at the start of the new mil­len­ni­um, I had a moment of rev­e­la­tion. Sit­ting under a large man­go tree in my parent’s com­pound in Kitui, I gazed up at a par­tic­u­lar suc­cu­lent man­go. I deeply con­tem­plat­ed the process from a man­go seed to a fruit-bear­ing tree. As I leaned against the tree’s rugged bark and observed the fruit above, I decid­ed to devote my life to nur­tur­ing nature and pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able liveli­hoods derived from it.

Tomor­row, Mon­day, Novem­ber 13th, marks the inau­gur­al Nation­al Tree Grow­ing Day. I hope that, on this occa­sion, mil­lions of Kenyans will start to devel­op a deep per­son­al con­nec­tion to tree grow­ing, expe­ri­enc­ing their own trans­for­ma­tive moments to become pas­sion­ate green ambassadors.

Pre­vi­ous nation­al tree grow­ing efforts in pub­lic spaces have result­ed in a mea­ger sur­vival rate, drop­ping to as low as ten per­cent even with var­i­ous replant­i­ng efforts. We must avoid repeat­ing such out­comes. There are four key lessons to be learned from these painful past fail­ures to ensure the suc­cess­ful growth and sur­vival of the well-intend­ed 15 bil­lion addi­tion­al trees.

First­ly, the seedlings that have sur­vived ear­li­er were mature, deep-root­ed ones, often known as cer­e­mo­ni­al trees, plant­ed in ade­quate­ly deep holes. For exam­ple, the Kona Bari­di site, where Pres­i­dent Ruto plant­ed trees in Decem­ber 2022, shows that the few trees plant­ed by dig­ni­taries are thriv­ing, unlike thou­sands of younger seedlings that have since per­ished and been replaced up to four times accord­ing to the local com­mu­ni­ty and besides, my recent vis­it revealed their notice­able strug­gle. There­fore, we need to allo­cate suf­fi­cient resources, both indi­vid­u­al­ly and at cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment lev­els, for a struc­tured tree grow­ing ini­tia­tives, rec­og­niz­ing that each seedling con­tributes vital­ly to our future by pro­duc­ing oxygen.

Sec­ond­ly, for­est expan­sion must active­ly involve local com­mu­ni­ties who view forests as essen­tial to their liveli­hood. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, afforesta­tion efforts are often led by a select few, cre­at­ing a dis­con­nect in con­ser­va­tion. Again, in Kona Bari­di, as 31-year-old local res­i­dent and moth­er of three Naisenya point­ed out, com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment is min­i­mal. Despite the con­struc­tion of new facil­i­ties for Kenya For­est Ser­vice (KFS) rangers and a large, unfenced gate locals live in poor con­di­tions and iron­i­cal­ly rely on tree replant­i­ng jobs for income. So they wish that the trees can die so that they can get anoth­er job. Naisenya ques­tions the lack of trust in locals to pro­tect the trees, giv­en their knowl­edge of the land and its chal­lenges includ­ing deal­ing with moles and ani­mals that affect the seedlings. To improve this sit­u­a­tion, the For­est Con­ser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Act’s Sec­tion 48, which sup­ports com­mu­ni­ty par­tic­i­pa­tion, should be uti­lized. The gov­ern­ment must increase struc­tured fund­ing to the KFS to facil­i­tate this vital com­mu­ni­ty role in for­est man­age­ment just like Ebi­eng-Edzua in north­east­ern Gabon where res­i­dents have con­served their 1,256-hectare for­est by uti­liz­ing non-tim­ber prod­ucts. Giv­en Gabon’s 90% for­est cov­er, KFS can prac­ti­cal­ly fol­low this exam­ple of empow­er­ing com­mu­ni­ties while engag­ing pos­i­tive­ly for com­mon good.

Third­ly, we must fence the length and breadth of all our forests. Peri­od! It will defeat the pur­pose of afforesta­tion if we leave our forests vul­ner­a­ble to wan­ton exploita­tion. Accord­ing to UNDP Kenya, fenc­ing is an effec­tive way of con­serv­ing ecosys­tems and also reduc­ing human-wildlife conflicts.

Fourth­ly, we should strip away extrav­a­gance and sim­pli­fy tree grow­ing efforts. Cur­rent­ly, more resources are spent on logis­tics and pub­lic rela­tions than on the actu­al grow­ing, which con­tributes to low sur­vival rates. Our focus should shift from the event of tree plant­i­ng to the ongo­ing process of tree nur­tur­ing. From now on, our pri­or­i­ty must be the straight­for­ward yet impact­ful task of tree cultivation.

To encour­age per­son­al involve­ment in grow­ing the 15 bil­lion trees in Kenya by 2032, I warm­ly urge Kenyans to adopt the ‘Plant your age’ ini­tia­tive. This approach ties tree plant­i­ng to our age, prompt­ing us to con­tribute to the earth as we grow old­er. Let’s enhance our years with mean­ing­ful actions by plant­i­ng and nur­tur­ing trees, leav­ing a last­ing, green lega­cy. Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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