New tactic that is doing the trick in forest restoration

Local Tourists at Intake Waterfall at Dundori Forest in Nakuru county. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The Dundori Community Forest Association (CFA) in Nakuru County nurtures indigenous and exotic tree seedlings and sell them to earn a living. Apart from earning a living, the CFA's aim is to restore the Dundori Forest under the Plantation Establishment and Livelihoods Integration Scheme (PELIS), which has seen over 500 hectares of the forest recovered over the last 20 years.

Dundori CFA Chairperson Peter Njoroge says the association was formed as a response to the drying up of Dundori River, on whose water they depended for farming and domestic use. The forest was diminishing as a result of logging, thus degrading the catchment.

"We depend on the river for our water. Its drying up meant that we would starve. We then organised ourselves and took up the responsibility to conserve it," says Mr Njoroge.

Moses Mwaura, a member of the CFA, says due to reduced rainfall following a change in weather patterns, they sometimes buy water to maintain the seedlings as they cannot afford the high cost of setting up water harvesting structures.

"Currently the climate has changed. We do not receive as much rain as we used to but compared to other parts of the country, we can say that we are better off. Had we not taken the initiative to save our forest decades ago, we would be starving with no one to turn to," says Mr Mwaura.

Communities living near forests

Community Forest Associations (CFAs) play a vital role in the preservation of forests, which they depend on for their livelihoods. Deforestation, encroachment and excisions are among factors contributing to irregular rain patterns in the country.

Daniel Gathiru, Programmes Assistant at the National Alliance of Community Forest Associations, which is funded by the Worldwide Fund for Nature-Kenya (WWF-K) in the Voices for Joint Climate Action (VCA) project, says over the years the government has been trying its best to conserve forests but has been largely unsuccessful.

"It's now becoming a reality that the only way for it to succeed in its endeavour to plant and conserve trees is by engaging communities living near forests," he says.

This necessitated the development of the National Climate Change Action Plan 2016-2022, which provides for the establishment of the County Climate Change Fund (CCCF) to finance climate projects identified and prioritised by local communities. Each of the 47 counties in Kenya has a tailored County Climate Change Act that establishes the Fund to address their unique climate change situations.

Nakuru, for example, has already established the Fund under section 46 of the County Climate Change Act 2021 whose coordination and oversight is done by a steering committee chaired by the governor.

However, the Fund is yet to be implemented due to a delay in the formation of Ward Climate Change Planning Committees whose mandate is to coordinate and mobilise communities and other stakeholders at the ward level to design and implement climate change response activities and to oversee the implementation of the projects under the Fund.

"By the time the new regime was taking over, formation of the committees was at around 70 per cent. Currently, they have already been appointed formally," says Nakuru County Environment, Energy, Climate Change & Natural Resources Chief Officer Kennedy Mungai.

"We have also set up the Fund, which will require the county to set aside at least two per cent of its development budget for climate action. The Fund will receive an estimated Sh60 million in the 2023/24 financial year."

When the Fund is implemented, it will benefit people like Mary Muthoni and her group, who want to start a briquettes business and promote clean cooking, but have not been able to do so due to lack of funds.

Briquettes project

"My husband, who was the breadwinner of the family, died three years ago, leaving me and my children dependent on a three-quarter-acre plot of land to survive. I was involved in an accident in July 2015 that injured my spine. This limited me in many ways because I couldn't till the land," says the mother of four.

"I was forced to lease half the land and pay someone to cultivate the remainder. Crops have done poorly over the last two years due to the lack of rain. Harvests were only enough for us to survive on," says Muthoni.

However, in 2021, she attended a sensitisation workshop on the CCCF, where she got the idea of making briquettes with the hope of conserving the environment and getting a better livelihood.

The workshop had been organised by the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through support from the World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya (WWF-K) in the Voices for Just Climate Action (VCA) programme.

Climate solutions

After the workshop, Muthoni did some research on the briquettes project and quickly mobilised more women from her Gwakiongo village in Nakuru County to draft a proposal that was sent to the ward climate change planning committee. She now hopes to get funding from Nakuru CCCF to implement her women's group project and end her community's high dependence on charcoal and firewood for cooking. Mr Mungai says his department is moving with speed to ensure the fund is up and running before the end of the financial year in June.

Speaking during a media cafe organised by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) in Nairobi, Zain Kassam, Project Assistant for Climate and Energy at WWF-Kenya, said, "The VCA programme hopes to ensure that by 2025 local civil societies and under-represented groups will have taken on a central role as creators, facilitators and advocates of innovative inclusive climate solutions."

The VCA project aims to raise the voices and capacity of underrepresented or marginalised groups to enable them to take on a central role as creators, facilitators and advocates of innovative and inclusive climate solutions.

[This story was produced with support from WWF-K VCA Project and MESHA]

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