Since 1902

Everyone is planting trees, but where are they?

Tree planting at Kaptagat Forest.

With increased awareness on effects of climate change on our well-being, everyone is talking tree planting. For some, a declaration, by political leaders, of plans to mitigate the climate problem’s effects on health, food security and nutrition, peace and economic stability as well as development as soon as they get to power, would be sweeter music to our ears.

This is because of the obvious difference political will is capable of adding to climate action outcomes. But many, perhaps assuming it is not an issue their target electorate would easily connect with, have ignored climate change in their manifestoes and campaigns. Agreed, trees - forests - are the low hanging fruit in reversing effects of climate change, and everyone needs to play a part. This has also been the easiest to propose.

Solution it is, because trees protect water towers, are carbon sinks, besides giving us shade, fruits, medicine, peat, timber, preventing soil erosion and calamities such as landslides, to mention but a few. Still, many preach the tree planting gospel without considering where the seedlings should come from. This, though, is story for another day.

So, why aren’t we hitting our forest cover targets despite the tree planting campaigns and response by corporates, ministers, CSOs and even schools, always captured in images and circulated on social and mainstream media?

In a 2018 strategy, Kenya hoped to plant 2 billion trees by 2022, to attain the desired 10 per cent forest cover. Figures vary between 7.2 per cent and 7.4 per cent. But did all grow? How about deforestation?

Numbers aside, there is a responsibility many forget after planting trees, say as soon as the camera click sound dies. Trees can only be of help if they grow, hence the need to monitor and water them after planting.

The other problem is misinformation around tree planting. If, for instance, you left the city with tree seedlings to gift your former school, you may be doing zero work if the soil there or altitude is not conducive to that variety. Some species do well in cold highlands and others in hot plains.

Some trees, despite being so green and resistant to drought, have been harmful to livestock and humans. The Mathenge species, for instance, worsened a bad situation in parts of Rift Valley years ago. Still, some trees, though beneficial as carbon sinks, may not be friendly to other vegetation or water resources. Bluegum along rivers, for instance, gives you a lot with one hand, but takes with the other. The tree has potential of drying streams, denying communities and livestock surface water. Awareness should be created and policies surrounding where Bluegum is planted, especially in large-scale, implemented to the letter to avoid long-term effects.

It would also be interesting to know if forests can sometimes emit more Carbon than they trap from the atmosphere. Research findings on the same can be shared in forums and institutions to encourage proper action.

Finally, communities living near forests must be fully involved in actions to help keep the natural resources intact, encourage reforestation and prevent wildfires.