Nyanza counties bank on El Nino to boost forest cover

Tree seedling. [iStockphoto]

Various stakeholders in Nyanza are competing against time to improve the region's forest coverage by taking advantage of the ongoing rains to plant trees.

Should their efforts bear fruit, residents are optimistic that the region's forest cover will increase significantly. They are all hoping to take advantage of El Nino rains predicted to start in October to boost forest coverage.

In the last week, the region has been a beehive of activities as environmental enthusiasts embark on parallel programs to plant trees.

In the Gusii region, Kisii and Nyamira counties have embarked on a mission to uproot the destructive blue gum trees to replace them with bamboo and indigenous trees.

"We boast of a good forest cover in Gusii, but in the real sense, the trees we are counting as good cover are the ones that are fast turning our counties into green deserts," Nyamira Environment Executive John Matiang'i said.

Matiang'i said the availability of natural underground water was slowly disappearing due to the high negative impact blue gum trees cause on the water table.

"Mineral water is double the cost of milk locally and is something we should be worried about because of our natural springs and wetlands," Matiang'i said.

Environmentalists say locals in the region have resorted to planting the Eucalyptus trees, which they highly depend on for timber in the furniture and building industry. However, the tree consumes a lot of water.

The County Department of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy estimates there could be an average of about 500 million blue Gum trees in Gusii.

Dr Tom Nyang'au, an environmentalist at Kisii University, says the trees are dangerous only when planted near wetlands and water bodies since they are heavy consumers of underground water.

"The problem being exhibited by the blue gum trees is evident because of the wrong zoning of the trees about where they should be planted. If planted on high areas, away from water springs and wetlands, they are good environmentally," Dr Nyang'au says.

According to Dr Nyang'au, the trees are the culprit to the high level of desertification that is being witnessed due to the wrong zoning since most farmers have planted the trees along rivers and wetlands.

"It's evident all over in Gusii, all the areas that were initially marked as wetlands are either dry or are severely endangered, and this is mainly because of negative afforestation of the Eucalyptus trees," the expert says.

In Kisumu, stakeholders have incorporated tree planting as a focal point of this year's World Tourism Day.

At the weekend, Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga's wife Dr Ida Odinga launched the exercise and urged counties in the region to embrace tree planting.

In the exercise, Governor Anyang' Nyong'o's administration hopes to plant trees in the city in a greening initiative targeting to reduce carbon emissions.

In Homa Bay, various stakeholders are encouraging residents to plant trees using El Nino rains to boost forest cover in the county. 

An organization dubbed Plant Trees for a Better Environment CBO has begun the initiative by distributing tree seedlings to the residents.

The CBO started the initiative by distributing more than 1000 seedlings to residents of Homa Bay Sub-county.

The efforts are aimed at improving forest cover from the current 3.18 per cent.

Vice Secretary of the CBO Abdul Masud the programme tailored to achieving the 10 percent forest cover which is required by the United Nations.

He said trees planted during El Nino have higher chances of survival due to the availability of moisture in the soil and the atmosphere.

"Most trees which have been planted in the county before dried due to lack of rainfall. On that basis, we want residents of Homa Bay to utilize El-Nino in planting trees because their chances of survival are very high," Masud said.

In Migori, former Woman Representative Pamela Odhiambo is leading a drive to plant at least 10,000 fruit trees by the end of October. The effort is also targeting to the Elnino rains to help improve agroforestry.

Kenya is among the countries most affected by climate change, facing droughts, floods and food shortages. In response, the Kenyan government has set an ambitious goal of planting two billion trees by 2023 to increase the country's forest cover to at least 10 per cent of its total land area.

According to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), the benefits of tree planting go beyond mitigating the effects of climate change, as trees help in soil conservation, prevent erosion and improve air quality.

KFS has implemented various initiatives to encourage tree planting, including the establishment of community-managed forests and the promotion of agroforestry.

[Reports by Olivia Odhiambo, Stanley Ongwae and James Omoro]