A community living around Chyulu Hills in Makueni County has launched an initiative to conserve and protect the expansive resource which is home to a number of wildlife and a source of water for many.
The initiative is being rolled out under Chyulu Development Foundation and Little Green, which is a community-based organisation.
The community activities revolve around protecting and conserving Chyulu Hills and its ecosystem, which also includes Chyulu National Park and Tsavo West National Park.
Chyulu is home to animals such as buffalo, bushbucks, elands, elephants, leopards, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, reedbucks, and giraffes. Snakes such as mountain pythons and other reptiles are also found here alongside a colony of insects and rare birds.
Harrison Mwololo, the founder and chairman of Chyulu Development Foundation says cutting down trees for charcoal was rampant.
He said this led to massive destruction of Chyulu, a mountain range that forms a 100-kilometre-long volcanic field offering a scenic view.
Besides, the locals had also taken to hunting wild animals from the parks for game meat and other prized items such as ivory.
The first port of call, Mwololo said, was to educate the locals on the importance of protecting trees and the general environment around Chyulu, which is a confluence of life for wild animals, birds, trees, and even human life. That was in 2011.
“People used to cut down trees to make charcoal but now the trend has stopped as the locals have seen the value of conserving and protecting Chyulu which is our lifeline,” said Mwololo.
However, it took a serious enforcement campaign from select members of the community who would ensure that no trees were destroyed.
Once this was achieved, Mwololo said the second phase was about encouraging the locals to plant trees, both indigenous and exotic species.
Here, Mwololo’s organisation was joined by Little Green to complement the efforts in conserving Chyulu and the surrounding areas.
“Later we introduced to the community trees that have economic value such as fruit trees among them orange and mango which do well in the region,” he said, describing the move as a socio-economic empowerment.
Through a partnership between the local community and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), an electric fence was erected around Chyulu to prevent wild animals from straying from the parks to people’s dwellings and farms, thus reducing human-wildlife conflicts.
This also gave meaning to the symbiotic relationship between environmental conservation, farming, and tourism.
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The community lies on the windward side of Chyulu Hills, meaning it enjoys a considerable amount of rainfall.
The conservationists say that protecting Chyulu from destruction and planting more trees has boosted the water table in the area and made it one of the most productive areas in Makueni County.
According to ‘Adopt a Forest’ project which is being driven by Little Green under the stewardship of Emmaculate Mutule, chairperson of the CBO, and Benson Maingi, the secretary, the aim is to plant two million trees in and around Chyulu and its ecosystem in the next five years.
“The concept of Little Green is about behavioral change where members of the community are encouraged to plant trees starting at their homesteads, however small,” explains Mutule at her expansive tree nursery where some of the seedlings are donated to 10 schools within Chyulu division.
Her colleague, Maingi says they work closely with institutions such as Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) in Kibwezi and the International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) to get education on the best-suited trees in their locality. This knowledge is passed down to the locals for the success of tree growing.
“We are also educating both the locals and students on climate action, agribusiness, and agripreneurship,” Maingi says.
The organisation which is mainly composed of youths has also created jobs for young people. Last year it sold seedlings valued at Sh250,000 to Lukenya University.
The conservationists say that a majority of the locals are currently involved in active tree planting, unlike six years ago when the reception was low.
This has resulted in the healthy growth of Chyulu which is also a water tower feeding the counties of Makueni, Taita Taveta, and Mombasa through the Mzima springs.
“Due to the conservation efforts, Chyulu has healed and springs have come back,” says Mwololo, the founder of Chyulu Development Foundation. He revealed that they plan to plant 50,000 trees in Chyulu hills before the onset of the projected El-Niño rains in October.
About 800 households within Chyulu division have been impacted by the efforts of the two organisations where conserving Chyulu hills is a top priority for the locals alongside practicing agribusiness.
Encouraged by the efforts of the two organisations, about 90 percent of the households have tree nurseries. Some, like Timothy Kenzi, a former truck driver and now a local pastor are making a fortune out of the venture.
This story was produced with support from JRS Bidiversity Foundation and MESHA