Environment Conservation

THE TOOTHACHE AND THE FOREST

How the conservation of South West Mau has invigorated entire
communities

The morning was not turning out that well for Paul Ng’eno. He had woken with a nasty toothache. From his Kipkoris home on the edge of Ndoinet Forest, the nearest health centre was several kilometers away; and so was the closest shopping centre where he could hope to get painkillers.

In any case he wasn’t sure he would be able to walk either distance with his tooth throbbing in pain.

Walking from his house, he went over the wooden steps of the gate and over the fence separating Ndoinet Forest and the farmlands. In the forest, he searched and found some chesamisiet herbs. For generations, his community had used this herb as a painkiller.

When we came across him later that morning he was chewing on the herbs and the pain in his tooth had died out. A few years ago, Mr Ng’eno would not have found this effective painkiller in this part of his world.

In the face of devastating deforestation, chesamisiet and other indigenous trees had disappeared leaving some 15,000 hectares bare.

Today, the forest is well on the path to recovery under an ambitious reforestation programme funded by Safaricom Foundation and the Initiative for Sustainable Landscapes.

“With the funds from safaricom foundation, we have fenced 22km of the forest.”

As the natural forest takes root, animals and birds that had disappeared are slowly returning, enriching the ecosystem.

The ongoing project not only seeks to conserve over 60,000 hectares of forest but has integrated communities into the conservation effort by creating alternative and sustainable sources of income from the forests.

Dr Kirui arap Langat is the stakeholders’ manager for the project. He says the project started with identifying forest cut-lines followed by fencing to regulate access to the forest.

“With the funds from Safaricom Foundation, we have fenced 22km of the forest with 14 gates manned by the Kenya Forest Service,” says Dr Langat.

The “adopt a forest” belt project works on the premise that communities are more likely to take better care of the forest when they get direct benefits from it.

Dr Langat says the project has been able to convince residents that it is much easier to cut grass for domestic animals as opposed to grazing them in the forest.

“Many people are now appreciating the added benefits of zero grazing because it leaves them with ample time to carry out other productive work instead of spending the whole day grazing in the forest.”

Mr Richard Langat is such one farmer. He says he is now able to feed his cows within a short time. He has also noted increased milk production because he is now able to determine the right quantity of animal feed.

Running parallel to the fence is a line of beehives that have been placed at regular intervals. Dr Langat reckons that once the honey is ready for harvesting, it will dramatically increase the incomes of the members of the project given the current high prices for the product.

As the indigenous forest regenerates, residents now report increased and regular water supply. Streams that had dried up are coming back to life.

Corporal Peter Lemaku, the forest ranger in-charge of the area, is particularly excited about the income generating projects that are making the work of KFS much easier.

The complex influences the region’s microclimate such as rainfall patterns, creating ideal conditions for the production of crops including tea. Furthermore, the area is one of Kenya’s main water towers and most of its hydroelectric power starts its journey here.

Dr Langat says the trouble with forest degradation is that it takes a short time whereas reforestation is a painfully long and slow process because indigenous trees take a long time to grow.

“I grew up here and witnessed degradation of the forest. People felled trees for timber and charcoal burning. Whatever vegetation that remained was lost to uncontrolled grazing. In the process, we lost trees and shrubs that had medicinal properties,” says Mr Ng’eno. He is now happy that some of the lost medicinal plants are once more within reach.

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