Kenya should train her youth in environmental protection

NAIROBI: Kenya has a relatively low forest cover at only 6.99 per cent of its territory, which falls short of the required standards by the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep). Article 69 of Kenya’s Constitution establishes that, “the State shall work to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least 10 per cent of the land area of Kenya.”

Environment and natural resources in Kenya are valuable national assets that must be sustainably managed. They offer a range of benefits and opportunities for local and national economic development.

Trees and forests make vital ecological, social and economic contributions in terms of water storage and purification, river flow regulation, flood mitigation, recharge of groundwater, reduced soil erosion and siltation and conservation of biodiversity. Forests also support key economic sectors including energy, tourism, agriculture and industries.

In the past, environmental conservation efforts have faced numerous challenges such as rapidly growing population, habitat destruction, overgrazing, deforestation, pollution, unsustainable harvesting of natural resources and poor waste management. These challenges can be addressed through public and private partnerships.

To ensure sound management of the environment, it is imperative that tomorrow’s leaders be equipped today.

We need to provide them with environmental education and mentor them to become the next generation of conservation leaders by involving them in forest conservation activities such as tree planting. Parents, teachers, guardians too play a key role in ingraining in them environmental conservation practices to ensure that the country builds a sustainable future.

In a bid to ensure school going children become environmental conservation champions, Bamburi Cement, KenGen Foundation and Better Globe Forestry rolled out an innovative environmental conservation project to steer the country to achieve its targets as outlined in the Medium Term Plan II under environment, water and sanitation pillars. Dubbed Green Initiative Challenge (GIC), the project aims to green schools and communities in Arid and semi-arid land areas. Working with schools around the Seven-Folk dams, the project aims at planting trees in approximately 460 acres in Machakos, Kitui and Embu counties within the next ten years.

Our school, St. Martin Kaewa Secondary School in Machakos County was among the 81 schools that participated in GIC’s first phase. We emerged the winner of the Challenge after recording the highest survival rate of multi-purpose Cassia siamea (Muveshi) and Melia volkensii (Mukau) tree seedlings in our 0.5acre school plot. We now boast of an impressive small forest and woodlot that has changed our school’s environment.

As a result, our students were rewarded for their efforts with a one-week tour to Mombasa City where they visited among other places, Haller Park and Bamburi Nature Trails in Mombasa, which Bamburi Cement Ltd pioneered and transformed from quarry wasteland to a world renowned nature and environmental park known for its biodiversity in plant and animal species.

In its second phase, the project has now enrolled an additional 919 primary and secondary schools from Mbeere South, Mbeere North, Masinga and Kitui Sub-Counties; up from 81 schools in phase one. The expected beneficiaries will be 35,009 students and staff and an estimated 105,169 community members.

With the United Nations Environmental Programme’s (Unep) statistics showing that deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of approximately Sh5.8 billion in 2010, the Green Initiative Challenge is a move in the right direction in complementing and supporting Government initiatives aimed at addressing environmental conservation challenges.

By involving our children as part of a long-term strategy of inculcating a tree growing and nurturing culture, they will understand at an early age, their responsibility in preserving natural resources for the future generation.