The Green Belt Movement, founded in 1977 by Professor Wangari Maathai, empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve their environment and improve their livelihoods. Started as a response to women in rural Kenya who were struggling with decreasing water security, less accessible firewood and reduced food availability, The Green Belt Movement, then as now, encouraged people to work together to plant trees, to bind the soil, store rainwater, and provide a source of wood and food.
On the 6th and 7th of August, the staff and volunteers of The Great Primate Handshake Kenya 2012 team had the privilege of working with members of The Green Belt Movement in Nyeri District. We began with a tour of Arahuka Tree Nursery, where Esther, the leader of the women’s group there, explained to us the tree-planting process from the very beginning, when seedlings are prepared, planted, and watered with the rainwater collected in the tank the women’s group designed and built themselves. Esther explained that, once the tree seedlings are large enough, they are either planted in other locations by other members of The Green Belt Movement, or sold to farmers and landowners, thus generating income for the members of the women’s group.
Our second day with The Green Belt Movement was spent, accompanied by several experts from the organisation, travelling to different projects that highlight several important aspects of its work. The first stop was Gikamba Kabendera, a 67 hectare site that members of the local community, with financial support from The Green Belt Movement, who pay community members for time spent tree-planting, have been reforesting since 2010. 150,000 trees have so far been planted, but there is still much more to do, especially as conditions can be challenging; the site is at a high altitude near Mount Kenya, and many seedlings are lost to frost soon after being planted. Another problem facing the reforestation effort in Gikamba Kabendera is damage to seedlings and saplings from grazing hares and cows, so along with the assistance from The Green Belt Movement, the site also receives protection from forest guards, who report any grazing outside agreed areas to the Kenya Forest Service. Moses Ngatia, one of The Green Belt Movement staff who accompanied us, explained that, prior to 2010, an agreement was in place that the site would be managed entirely by the community, and that they could use the forest and its resources if they planted trees in return. However, the agreement was not kept to, so the government reclaimed the site and entered a new agreement with The Green Belt Movement, who in turn appointed community members as rangers for the site, to empower and mobilise the whole community for reforestation and conservation. Njogu Kahare, a Project Officer with The Green Belt Movement, went on to explain that the Kenya Forest Service cannot manage reforestation or conservation sites without the involvement of communities, and that people’s livelihoods are connected with biodiversity and water security: “We have to do something now or we will not survive, so we talk to the farmers and they are willing to give up land. If we want to see rivers flowing again, it will take a decade. The challenges remain the same over the years, but we keep encouraging people until they see the benefit.”
In the long term, The Green Belt Movement wants to compensate the community for loss of livelihood through restrictions on grazing and use of forest resources, and one way of doing this is by implementing bee-keeping programmes. Honey sells for around 500 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) per litre, as opposed to 30 – 40 Ksh per litre for milk, so bee-keeping is beneficial both for the environment and for income generation.
One place where bee-keeping has taken off, alongside many other income-generating projects, is Tumutumu, where we were introduced to Lydia, the leader of the self-help group there. Lydia has been hugely influential in mobilising her community to partake in reforestation, and the group has successfully combated plans to sell off large areas of forest for construction and development. After welcoming us with a fantastic song and dance, Lydia and the other members of the group treated us to a delicious lunch, all made with fresh ingredients grown in their plots of land. Lunch over, they showed us the ingenious terracing system in which they grow avocados, oranges, macadamia nuts, yams, and many other crops, complete with plastic sheeting, provided with funding from The Green Belt Movement, which collects condensation and rainwater and keeps the soil around the plants damp. We then had the opportunity to help sow some new seeds while the video team interviewed Lydia about her work, the results of which will be available to view on line soon.
After saying a reluctant goodbye to the members of the community in Tumutumu, we pressed on to our final destination for the day – a long-established Green Belt Movement project called Gakanga in Zaina, where reforestation efforts have progressed well and the effects on water security and biodiversity are evident. The forested area is beautiful, with steep hills leading down to the Zaina river, and a waterfall just visible through the trees. Wildlife has made a strong return to the area since the trees became established, with leopards, monkeys, and birds all positively identified. The reforestation effort has also had a good impact on the community; 28 people are consistent members of the tree-planting group, and all are motivated and passionate about continuing the work that has brought secure livelihoods and environmental stability to their community.
With the sun beginning to set and the temperature dropping, we said our goodbyes and began the journey back to Arahuka Tree Nursery for the night. As we drove back, we reflected on what had been an incredibly inspiring and motivating experience for us all, and felt extremely lucky to have been able to work with such a fantastic organisation.
If you would like to support the work of The Green Belt Movement and play your part in environmental security and livelihood improvement in Kenya, please go to http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/get-involved/support-our-work, or http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/get-involved/be-a-hummingbird.