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Kenyan video game to fight climate change

By Fredrick Obura | August 25th 2020

NAIROBI, KENYA: Kenyan tech start-up, Usiku Games has developed the Seedballs Game to help aid reforestation of Kenya's lost forest cover. Kenya targets to increase its forest cover to 10 per cent from the current 7 per cent by 2022.

A Seedball is a coated tree (or grass) seed inside of a ball of recycled charcoal dust mixed with some nutritious binders. The biochar coating of the ball helps protect the seed within from predators such as birds, rodents, and insects and extremes of temperature until the rains arrive. Once soaked, the seedball will help retain and prolong a moist environment around the seed to encourage germination.

Seedballs Kenya is a collaboration between Chardust Ltd and Cookswell Jikos Ltd. Together they have researched and developed biochar Seedballs for Kenya. Chardust handles the manufacturing and Cookswell Jikos is involved with sales, marketing, and distribution.

According to Teddy Kinyanjui, Co-Founder Seedballs Kenya, the initiative targets areas that have been severely affected by deforestation because of charcoal burning activities. Seedballs Kenya has distributed over 10 million seedballs since its inception in 2016.

"We are very glad to partner with Usiku Games to drive more awareness on the need to conserve our forests and to regrow the millions of trees we have cut down as a Country over the years. We believe that gamifying environmentalism will help make youths excited about tree growing and therefore more likely to take part in this great initiative of planting trees to recover our lost forest."

Seedball Kenya uses certified tree seeds from the Kenya Forestry Seed Center who has a stock of seed of about 220 tree species collected from more than 600 localities around Kenya. "We use this provenance data to guide us in our seed distribution efforts," says Kinyanjui.

In the game, the player flies a small plane and try to plant trees by dropping Seedballs. At the end of the game, the players are congratulated for planting (e.g.) 379 virtual trees. The player is then encouraged to turn them into 379 real trees by donating Sh1 per tree.

"This is the first time that games are being used to address deforestation issues in Africa. The current climate change issues of drastic weather patterns, extinctions and drying water bodies' maybe a thing of the past if more people embrace this game especially the youth," says Jay Shapiro.

Mr. Shapiro adds that the effects of climate change are eating into socio-economic development and depleting the critical resources that the local communities need to survive.

"Sustainable forest management is at the very core of Kenya's social and economic wellbeing as many of the country's economic sectors rely on environment based resources for their sustenance."

According to the Taskforce Report on Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya 2018, the forest sector is estimated to contribute about Sh7 billion to the economy and employ over 50,000 people directly and another 300,000 indirectly with the potential for millions more.

The report indicates that Kenya's forest cover is estimated to be about 7.4 per cent of the total land area, which is very different from the recommended global minimum of 10 per cent. On the other hand, Kenya's closed canopy forest cover currently stands at about 2 per cent of the total land area, compared to the African average of 9.3 per cent and a world average of 21.4 percent. Most of the closed-canopy forests in Kenya are montane forests that serve as the nation's water towers.

In recent years, Kenya's forests have been depleted at an alarming rate of approximately 5,000 hectares per annum. This is estimated to lead to an annual reduction in freshwater availability of approximately 62 million cubic meters, translating to an economic loss to the economy of over USD 19 million, notes the task force report.

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