Locals join new effort to reforest Maragoli Hills

Rev Julius Weche of AKAD Education group-Africa with Ambassador Yvonne Khamati, Deputy Head of Mission Kenyan Embassy to Somalia during tree planting exercise at Maragoli hills. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The national government, in partnership with Vihiga County and environmental conservation players have embarked on an ambitious project to protect Maragoli Hills Forest. Locals are also actively involved in the initiative meant to reclaim the once huge water catchment area.

Communities living around the 1,000-acre forest have in the past been blamed for invading the forest in search of firewood, herbal medicine and fruits. There has been logging, charcoal burning and encroachment as well.

But the communities are now becoming an integral part of the forest restoration programme.

Yesterday, Climate Change Advocates, a conservation group, had a major tree-planting initiative in partnership with Global Peace Foundation and the local community at the Maragoli Hills Forest.

Led by Teddy Warria, the director of Climate Advocates Voices Unidas, the team planted 1,000 indigenous tree seedlings. The reforestation works appear to have attracted many more partners. “We realised locals were willing to join the campaign to restore the forest and we embarked on planting indigenous trees at Maragoli Hills to enhance forest cover and reclaim the water catchment,” said Warria.

Global Peace Foundation CEO Daniel Juma said the reforestation was essential as it was an element of peace fostering among the Maragoli, Nandi and Luo communities that live near the catchment area.

According to Juma, planting of the tress was planned to coincide with the August 9 General Election “because it will help us contribute towards fostering peaceful coexistence among three major tribes bordering the catchment area.”

He said they were impressed by the willingness of communities to be involved in the initiative.

The official urged Kenyans to continue planting more trees at the start of the rainy season. “Tree planting should be our major focus this year. Let us utilise the rainwater in order to make climate better,” said Juma.

Kenyan Deputy Head of Mission in Somalia Yvonne Khamati urged Kenyans to know the best tree species that do well in different climatic conditions countrywide. Locals have been guarding the forest against destruction under their Community Forest Association (CFA).

Initially the county and national governments faced resistance from locals. But now they participate in planting trees, with more than 150 acres of the forest land covered.

Locals interviewed said encroachment on the forest began in early 1990s.

Richard Misigo, the CFA Secretary, claimed commercial lumbering contributed to the destruction of the water tower. “The locals saw what was happening and decided to invade the forest then because their resource was being destroyed by licensed millers,” said Misigo.

Residents of villages bordering the forest, such as Kisingilo, Muguga, Buhane, Inavi, Lodonyi, Liavora and Idabwongo, are actively involved in the reforestation campaign.