When one talks about the benefits of trees, people born in our generation assume it is common sense that everyone knows that trees play a major role in human livelihoods. Well, this is an assumption, to imagine that everyone is knowledgeable about trees and their contribution to livelihoods.
I had the privilege of visiting Makutano Community land and Mnyenzeni Dispensary, which lie in Kwale County and are two of the areas identified by Coast Development Authority (CDA), as sub-catchment areas for afforestation and re-afforestation.
As we drove on the bumpy rocky roads to get to our destination, my first reaction to looking outside was, “This land is so bare, how do people survive?” My colleagues burst out laughing as if to say, “You have not seen anything yet!” Laughter turned to dismay, as the situation in the area stood out as a forlorn, dusty, dry and barren.
After a tedious physiographic study done from April- June 2017, Coast Development Authority identified hot spots in Mwache, Kwale County where we would plant trees. Stakeholders were involved including chiefs, assistant chiefs, ward administrators, village administrators and village elders through public participation. It was decided that both private and public lands would be identified for the tree-planting project.
The project activity involved planting 60,000 trees in the identified areas. The community had first to be taught the importance of trees in their community and how cutting down of trees would affect them in the future.
Ironically, as we continued with our journey to Makutano community land, we witnessed bundles of charcoal being ferried using the famous “boda-boda”. One man struggled to push his “boda-boda” as he had piled it with charcoal causing the motorbike to tip sideways. Disturbing as it seemed, we forged ahead to Makutano.
The project has provided temporary jobs in the community as casual labourers who plant the trees are selected from the community; as are local supervisors. We were welcomed at Makutano by the residents who had come to undertake weeding around the trees that were previously planted. They were delighted to see us, because CDA gives casual labourers a token of appreciation and whenever we show up in the field, their faces light up!
I am quite fluent in the local dialect, “kiduruma”, and I understood everything they said.
They started weeding around the trees following the instructions given to them by our leader. The weather was very harsh, and the sun rays mercilessly hit our faces as though mother nature was once again reminding us that if we had been careful in cutting down trees, at least we would be enjoying some shade today.
“Some trees have withered, since this place hardly gets rains”, lamented Mr. Nyawa, one of the local supervisors. He explained that in earlier years, the region had had so many trees but they were all cut down to make charcoal, and this negative practice has cost them dearly.
It was time for us to move to Mnyenzeni Dispensary as we left the workers labouring in the field. Mnyenzeni was not so far from Makutano. To my surprise, the place was not as bare as Makutano. It seemed that this community had learnt a painful lesson about the negative impact of irresponsibly cutting trees and had embarked on planting trees early enough.
Mzee Omar Hassan, one of the local supervisors at Mnyenzeni grinned broadly when he spotted our car. The casual labourers had already packed with their weeding tools and were resting in a nearby shed. At least they had the privilege of having a shed, if not a shade!
Our leader explained the weeding process to them, and they were very alert and conscious of the fact that the trees would benefit them and their children in the future.
Therefore, it can be said that as much as Kenya has had so many projects which emphasize tree planting, there is serious need to penetrate the rural areas, where the media is non-existent in order to explain and teach people the importance of tree-planting and nurturing trees that are remaining.
Coast Development Authority continues with its supervision of the tree-planting project in these areas by providing jobs to casual labourers; thereby enhancing livelihoods in the community.
After chit-chatting for a while with the labourers at Mnyenzeni, we left and I felt reassured that the people of Makutano and Mnyenzeni had embraced this tree-planting project and had an inner peace that the project was for their benefit and that of their children.
I left the place with a sense of fulfillment.