Let your fingers do the walking, and plant trees
By PATRICK GITHINJI
Mt Kenya's reputation as an inexhaustible water tower has been vanquished, thanks to rapid deforestation.
Communities living on its slopes have no water to drink, and those further downstream have to look even further as the rivers have dropped to a trickle, or dried up altogether.
To curb further degradation of the water catchment, a unique initiative is being launched this weekend to mark World Environment Day — by planting trees on Mt Kenya — using social media.
The project is spearheaded by a local online travel agency, Africa Point, together with Tupande Pamoja, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative.
Africa Point will donate a seedling for every social media mention raising awareness on conservation efforts in Mt Kenya. For every Facebook selection of "Like," or "Tweet" on Twitter page that a person makes on (http://www.africapoint.com/savemountkenya.php), Africa Point will donate one seedling on their behalf.
According to Africa Point managing director Andrew Muigai, the project seeks to plant 100,000 trees in two years.
"Social media is a wonderful tool to cost-effectively spread information to many people, in a very short time. We have chosen social media networking sites because they will enable us to create public awareness about the need to conserve our tourist attractions, while giving us an opportunity to engage individuals as partners," Muigai said.
Muigai added that the firm is particularly interested in roping in young Kenyans who, according to a recent TNS study, are spending more and more time on the Internet, especially on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
The study further revealed that an estimated 6.69 million Kenyans have access to the Internet and over one million are on Facebook. "For this reason, Africa Point and Tupande Pamoja have turned to social media as a great engagement tool to create public awareness about the need to conserve Mt Kenya, while at the same time giving young Kenyans a chance to participate in the massive tree planting campaign," Muigai explained.
Under the project, the local communities will do the planting. "We have partnered with the local communities to look after the survival of the tree seedlings to maturation," said David Kuria, Tupande Pamoja Project Co-ordinator.
Kuria added that the seedlings to be planted would be bought from the local communities in order to improve their livelihoods.
Both exotic and indigenous tree will be planted. Kuria explained that in case a donated tree withers, the communities would be obliged to replace it.
"We are not only planting trees but also ensuring the growth of trees," Kuria said.
Mt Kenya is one of the country’s five main "water towers" – mountains that are the sources of rivers supplying most of Kenya’s water.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than seven million people are directly dependent on the mountain’s water catchment area.
But in recent years, a range of problems have assailed the water resource, including over-extraction of water from rivers on the mountain slopes, the destruction of forests, marijuana (bhang) cultivation, illegal grazing and the reduction in the size of Mt Kenya’s 12 glaciers.
The growing water problems are leading to conflicts between small and large-scale farmers, cultivators and pastoralists and between everybody else and wildlife.
Regaining lost glory
Gerald Ngatia, a resident of Mt Kenya admits that the forest has lost it glory.
Born in Hombe village 65 years ago, he says nostalgically: "I knew it when it was a good and real natural forest."
Ngatia has mobilised the community to plant trees in order to rebuild the forest to gain its glory. Mt Kenya Forest, Ngatia says, is key because it is also a source of electricity. "It provides about half the flow of water into the Tana River, which produces 50 per cent of the hydropower generated in Kenya," Ngatia argues.
According to Nobel Laureate and top environmentalist, Prof Wangari Maathai, one way to help reverse the impact of deforestation on the delicate ecosystem of Mt Kenya is extensive tree-planting.
"To keep such an initiative sustainable, it would have to have the participation and involvement of the local community. Planting trees is no doubt one of the most effective ways of slowing down the rate at which the glaciers are melting, as trees help reduce global warming by cleaning the air. They do so by consuming carbon dioxide – a gas that helps to cause global warming," Prof Maathai said.
The social media campaign is part of UN’s global billion-tree programme. The new Constitution requires that 10 percent of the land be under forest cover.
The total investment to the social media campaign is estimated to be several hundred million shillings.
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