World Environment Day: Kenyans urged to plant trees to tame climate change effects

MS Lucy Mulili, the deputy governor of Makueni County, plants a tree during the World Environmental Day celebrations at Lukenya University College on June 5, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Communities in Makueni County have been urged to plant trees as a way of conserving the environment and mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.

Area Deputy Governor Lucy Mulili however lamented that while residents are keen on planting and nurturing trees, they are setback by a shortage of rainfall and a general lack of water. 

Ms Mulili, who spoke at Lukenya University College on June 5, 2023, during celebrations to mark the World Environment, said: "The lack of water has been a major challenge to our efforts to plant and nurture trees even as we seek to conserve the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change."

Makueni is one of the regions that has suffered a perennial shortage of water, due to depressed rainfall.

The day was marked amid conservation efforts by President William Ruto who is seeking to increase Kenya's forest cover by planting 15 billion trees over the next ten years.

The UN recommended minimum forest cover for countries is 10 per cent of the land mass.

Adequate rainfall

"We must be prepared to irrigate trees in the absence of adequate rainfall. We are expecting short rains in October which may not be adequate. Delayed rainfall may affect the germination and growth of trees. We must therefore irrigate the trees to ensure they grow and help us deal with this challenge by improving our environment," said the deputy governor.

Lukenya Technical College director Stanslaus Mwillu said although residents have participated in tree planting, most of them wilt due to the dry weather.

Mr Mwillu said before planting seedlings, the community should ensure there is a supply of water for irrigation as the rains in the region are unreliable.

"Communities should plant trees even though water is a big problem. That is why we are advocating for irrigation," said Mwillu adding; "My appeal is that after planting trees, let us follow up to ensure they grow to maturity." 

He added: "Communities here have been planting trees. However, most of them dry up as streams and rivers they rely on for water also dry up. We are suffering from the adverse effects of climate change caused by deforestation. This can be mitigated through the planting of trees."

Water pans

Mwillu pleaded with the local leadership to construct water pans and sink boreholes to enhance the water supply.

The institution's principal Joel Mulelu reiterated the importance of a constant supply of water he said is key to increasing forest cover.

“I call upon communities to set aside some land to plant trees as part of the ongoing efforts to increase the forest cover in our country. This will help us deal with erratic weather patterns caused by the destruction of the environment,” Mulelu said. 

Cutting down trees affects climate because trees absorb and store carbon dioxide. If forests are cleared, there is a release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Forest loss and damage are the causes of around 10 per cent of global warming.

Global warming is the long-term heating of the earth's surface, mainly due to human activities. This has primarily been done through fossil fuel burning which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.

Mr Benjamin Kasanga, Lukenya University College director, during the World Environmental Day celebrations at the institution on June 5, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

As trees grow, they help stop climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing it in the trees and soil, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

Lukenya University College is among the institutions participating in environmental conservation by planting trees with a target of planting one million trees in five years.

The tree planting initiative was launched in March. At least 200, 000 trees are expected to be planted annually under the programme.

The college has so far planted 50,000 trees. The institution has donated 1,000 seedlings to the community.

Communities are trained on how to prepare tree nurseries and how to care for trees, training that is done in partnership with Kenya Forestry Research Institute.
"We are hopeful that the trees planted will grow because the communities have been educated on the importance of trees and how to take care of them," added Mr Mwillu.

Under this year's theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution, Lukenya University College is also sensitising the community on the importance of recycling plastics.

Recycling and reusing

Mr Mulelu reiterated the importance of using, recycling and reusing. He regretted that most people dispose of plastic bottles recklessly, after use, which is causing many environmental problems.

“People are only interested in content that is sold in the plastic bags, and bottles. After that, they dump the plastics in the environment. This is affecting our conservation effort," said Mulele.

He added: "Plastics are harmful as they cause pollution. It is our role to ensure proper disposal and reuse. For example, we can use the bottles to fence our homesteads, among other uses."

In Africa, it is documented that waste is disposed of in dumpsites part of which is burnt in the open, leading to environmental degradation.

Mulili further urged locals to use traditional carriers, commonly referred to as 'chondo' instead of plastic bags. 

Pollute environment

According to the deputy governor, there is a need to use plastics in a manner that does not pollute the environment.

“Our mothers used chondos when going to the market. We need to go back to chondos and stop using the plastics to save our environment,” said Mulili.

The county government of Makueni is planning a community-driven programme youth will be employed to clean up the environment.

"To have a clean environment needs everyone's efforts. In Makueni, we are ready for partnerships as we work to meet the world environment agenda," said the deputy governor.