Women play the major role in managing the tree nurseries and planting out the trees, and the project is especially designed to meet the needs of women. Most households still obtain most of the fuel wood and often most of the livestock fodder they need from the forest. Women and children frequently shoulder this burden, walking to the forest several times a week and carrying heavy loads back to the farm. By enhancing agroforestry on farms the project reduces that burden. Women and children benefit from improved food security and nutrition through the agroforestry component. In a recent household survey, all women interviewed wanted to increase tree planting on their farms to meet these needs.
Another reason why we chose to partner with ITF is because the project focuses on the participation of women's groups. They support women with seeds, tools, and equipment to run small tree nurseries aimed at improving income generating activities. They also start female empowerment groups and capacity building, and train women on new business development skills and forest friendly income generating activities like bee keeping aimed at conservation of the forest and creation of stable income streams.
The women come together to do the planting during Kenya's rainy seasons in October/November and March/April. This is a joyful time of connection and activation, where the women are inspired and supported by each other through their combined efforts of planting trees. They also benefit financially from the saplings they grow, which they sell to organisations like the International Tree Foundation.
Mount Kenya's forests are vital - but Kenya is one of the countries most affected by deforestation in Africa. With the trees we are helping to plant, we will conserve Kenya's highland forests, which are known as 'Water Towers' for the vital role they play in conserving the country's rivers, lakes and drinking water.
In very populous areas, agro-forestry is the ideal solution for both stabilizing soil and restoring water tables whilst providing economic security for farmers who become dependent and thus protective of their trees. In Kenya, an estimated 70% of the population lives in rural areas, in which most people have their own small farm. The highlands around Mount Kenya in particular have always been rich and fertile and therefore an enormously productive agricultural land that feeds not only its own, dense population, but provides for much of the rest of Kenya's population as well.
It is the women of the family who are responsible for collecting animal fodder and firewood to nurture their homestead, and so having one's own supply of firewood and fodder provides them with the resources that they would usually plunder the forest for. As a result, this technique is a form of reforestation and avoided deforestation in one. It also means that the women do not have to walk for miles with wood strapped on their backs, sometimes weighing up for 4 kilos.
Through the ITF and their partnership with the Mount Kenya Environmental Conservation (a local NGO), we are supporting farmers to be educated in agro-forestry techniques such as alley cropping, contour planting, boundary planting, forest gardens, fodder plots, woodlots, live fences, windbreaks and also sustainable agriculture practices including kitchen gardens, composting, use of green manure and nitrogen fixing species to reduce reliance on inorganic fertilizers.
There is also a strong focus on indigenous trees, which grow slower than some of the exotic trees, but are better for the overall ecosystem. Exotic trees (such as eucalyptus) can deplete the land around them of nutrients and water, making it impossible for anything else to grow in their vicinity. Even after harvesting, the land can take years to recover its fertility, so it's short term benefits (like rapid growth and quality firewood) can quickly become long term problems. That's why informed planning and management is essential to make agroforestry truly sustainable and successful.
In April 2017, members of the TreeSisters team travelled to Mount Kenya to participate in this season's planting, and together with our partners managed to plant 1500 hundred trees in a single day! Bernadette who attended the field trip gives her account of the trip and the ways Kenya has changed over the past thrity years in her blog 'Elephants, African dancing, and 1500 trees for Kenya'.
In November 2016, the International Tree Foundation in partnership with the Mount Kenya Environemental Conservation (a local NGO) planted over 50,000 trees in a highly deforested area of the Mount Kenya forest. After six months of maturing, they were able to confirm that 80% of the trees have been successful. Generally, in an unfarmed area, any survival rate over 60% would be considered a success, so this is definitely something to celebrate! This is also thanks to the support of the Kenyan goverment and Mount Kenya Forest Rangers who monitor and preserve the forest wildlife, and have even in the last few years installed solar powered electric fences around the forest to prevent humans from illegal logging and poaching.