By Ruth Keah | email@example.com
Growing up, Fatuma Mwinyi witnessed her grandfather’s dedicated efforts in nurturing and preserving mangrove forests, which were just a few metres away from their homestead in Jomvu Kuu, Mombasa County, Kenya
Environmental groups have pledged to collaborate in an effort to increase tree cover in Kisumu County.
While speaking at Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o Botanical Garden, the organisations said that henceforth they will work as a team to amplify their voices in key decision making on environmental matters including local control of forest resources.
Ms. Rebecca Akoth, the director of Miya Ywech, said her organization will work closely with, and support environmental organizations across the city to conserve the forests.
She added that environment based groups should be involved in key decision making to enable effective local control of forest resources. Miya Ywech advocates for zero solid waste in the lakeside city.
“It is painful that environmental groups have failed to confront challenges as a unit. It is time we came together to address the ever-elusive environmental concerns for healthy living,” Akoth said.
The county’s city manager Abala Wanga said that he will put his weight behind enhancing good working environment for the environmental groups. With the new collaboration, he added, it would be possible to realise the required tree cover in the city.
“Prof. Wangari Maathai underscored the value of forests even in cities because they clean up the environment and give people places to go to. Forests are not just about beauty, there is a scientific rationale on why we need forests in urban spaces,“ said Wanga.
Kisumu Environmental Champions, an organization whose campaign involves around ‘Let Lake Victoria Breathe Again, called on the youths to take advantage of the new found collaboration to effect environmental responsibility.
Rahmina Paullete, the founder of Kisumu Environmental Champions, reminded the youths of their responsibility in protecting the environment. She lauded the county government of Kisumu for a spirited campaign to redeem the beauty of the city.
“We need to bring the youth together and support them in protecting our environment. The question we need to ask is, how do we create an environment where people can freely talk about issues affecting our environment?” posed Paullete.
Peter Okwiny, the director of Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco) said the organization will work closely with all stakeholders and support ‘Greening Kisumu County’ in order to achieve the key environmental goals. He stressed that trees thrive because communities are holding onto them, hence a great call for unity in redeeming their place in the society.
Okwiny charged that the society has a moral obligation and an environmental responsibility to protect the earth and its inhabitants for future generations. He observed that environmental pollution is an incurable disease that can only be prevented. He pleaded with all the stakeholders present to unite and enlighten the communities on the importance of planting and conserving trees.
“The environment is not our place of luxury; it is a necessity. The environment is everything. A healthy ecology is the basis for a healthy economy,” he said.
The latest tree planting campaign comes in the wake of new research that found out that many groups at the grassroots level in Kenya, especially women and youths participate actively and in large numbers in conserving forests and environment. In line with the new finding, there is need to bring these people together and support their environmental activities in order to realize the call for a greener society.
Late last year, a new finding by Organisation for Sustainable Environmental Protection (OSEP) established that the local women groups and youth groups were more concerned with environmental conservation than women and youths in the urban centers. In its report, it recommended to the government to empower more women in the village set ups in order to realize key environmental needs.
Every day break, tens of lorries drive to the river banks near Lake Victoria within Wang’chieng’ ward, Homa Bay County in western Kenya and leave packed with sand.
Their activities support construction of houses in the neighbouring counties of Kisii and Nyamira and guess what? The 24-hour harvesting activity not only leaves protruding and ugly rocks behind but also bare rivers in the affected areas.
There is no denying that the constant sand harvesting could spell doom and untold climatic disaster for the residents of Kobuya, Kajiei, Kodumo and Kamwala villages.
Local leaders believe the sand harvesting business won’t end soon since it is preferably the major source of income for the unemployed youths despite exposing them to death traps and displacements.
Even as land owners release hundreds of tons to the truck owners for meagre pay, they believe such a move is better than sleeping hungry.
“Sand is all I cling on to survive. In a day, I can earn Ksh. 2400 (USD 18) to push through life. Sometimes, we harvest sand to the detriment of our grazing areas, leading to our animals lacking water. We are not doing this for fun – we are doing it because we have to feed our children and take them to school,” said a local resident who sought anonymity.
Fredrick Gaya, the director of Youth Empowerment Bridge Organization Africa (YEBO) believes there is unavoidable need to regulate the sand harvesting industry. He wonders why the government is not keen on coming up with regulations which could help protect the environment in general and the locals in particular.
“The villages which are victims of the sand harvesting activity are on the verge of collapse. The activity has swept away most sections of the river banks, threatening the lives of over 10,000 locals. The government should come up with specific regulations to guide this lucrative business,” Gaya told the locals during a meeting convened by the area chief, Mathews Onyango at Chuoye Beach.
Gaya, an environmental activist, says that sand harvesting should be controlled since it can deplete water catchment areas. He pleaded with locals to strike a balance between it and environmental conservation. He challenged the locals to look at the bigger picture of the environment without focusing on the short-term economic value.
“Sand harvesting employs a number of our youths and the construction of buildings is not ending now. However, there should be regulations on recommended distance that the activity should operate from with regard to homes. This activity leads to the drying up of aquifers, river bed erosion, water pollution together with loss of valuable animal species,” he added.
While weighing in into the looming crisis, Onyango, warned local leaders against reading politics in whatever action the government takes to protect the environment. His sentiments were echoed by Victor Obuya, the area Member of County Assembly, who asked the local residents to support the county government’s efforts in mitigating the effects of floods.
“Politicians should give government room to address the concerns of the people. Sand harvesting is already piling uncontrolled pressure on rivers and flood plains, leading to displacement, erosion and emergence of water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and bilharzia,” said the chief.
According to Erick Dinda, a site engineer, there is serious need for an inventory to understand how much sand is left based on the region, what damage has been done and the best remedy for the damage.
“Regrettably, there exists no record to show how much sand will be needed in future development. There is also no record of the amount of sand in stock, the damages already caused by the harvest and mitigating measures in place,” he said.
Dinda expressed confidence the locals comply with government restrictions since doing so will conserve water and protect livelihoods.
The massive destruction to the environment witnessed in this area comes at a time when experts have called on ordinary citizens to safeguard their immediate environments to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a lot of them expressing fears that the world is lagging in most of the 17 SDGs.
SGD 15 as a case in point aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
A mobile phone application that is expected to help reduce plastic pollution in Lake Victoria has been launched.
Dubbed M-Taka, the app seeks to help residents living around the lake region manage their plastic wastes through information dissemination and exchange.
The new invention comes at a time when there has been increased plastic pollution in the country especially in the lake region.
Speaking during the World Environment Day in Kisumu, western Kenya, managing director of Taka, Benson Abila, said the invention of the mobile phone app was necessitated by the dynamics posed by plastic waste disposal.
Mr. Abila said that the app will offer locals a new platform to sign up and receive local waste management tutorials.
“This app seeks to promote effective plastic waste management by ensuring locals access ready remedies in environmental conservation,” he said.
The environmentalist decried the rising level of plastic waste presence, which has frustrated the efforts of attaining a cleaner Kisumu city.
“We shall station our agents in every corner of the city in order to reach out to locals willing to give out their plastic waste for recycling,” he announced.
He noted that the app enhances the low recycling percentage to even greater heights since it is an environmental savvy tool. He reiterated that it will push the recycling of plastics to about 100 per cent and their role in the whole process is to sensitize the residents on their actual input in managing waste.
Speaking at the event, Stela Kamwasir, the Nyanza regional director National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) termed M-Taka a timely innovation.
“As stakeholders, we believe the initiative is the only practical and convincing way to stop plastic bottles from entering the lake,” she said.
The environment officer said that even as the locals are sensitized, they must desist from the common practice of adopting the use and dumping of plastic materials.
She challenged the youths to take up their space in meaningful plastic waste disposal referring to them “as the greatest consumers of the plastic wastes.”
Ms Kamwasir identified streets and institutions of learning as the greatest sources of plastic wastes, adding that youths have a responsibility to dispose plastic wastes in a manner that protects the environment and water sources.
The mobile app has a number of features which include plastic waste management services, tutorials on recycling plastic wastes and the benefits of embracing a clean environment.
Early this year, studies showed fish samples in the lake’s Winam Gulf contained traces of micro plastics. In mid-2017, the government of Kenya introduced the gradual ban of plastics in order to protect water sources which are providers of life. The government is yet to register success on the actualization of the ban.
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is under the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution, ‘Ecosystem Restoration’. It is a reminder that people’s action on plastic matters as the material is slowly seeping into our oceans, soil and forest and causing irreparable damage.
By Tebby Otieno | firstname.lastname@example.org
Agricultural researchers and scientists at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) couldn’t contain their excitement as they witnessed a bountiful maize harvest.
The Kenyan maize variety, DKC90-89, was planted on June 2 in JKUAT’s Modern Agriculture Demonstration Area (MADA) and yielded 50 per cent more harvest than those in surrounding farms.
“We have been doing research mainly on maize in the agricultural research farm here in JKUAT, focusing mainly on how to improve the yield per hectare of our main crop besides mitigating the climate change impacts,” said lead researcher, Prof David Mburu.
The researchers and scientists said DKC90-89 is not genetically modified. The improvement in yield was simply an outcome of optimised agronomic practices such as proper spacing, mulching, irrigation and effective pest control.
Registering 2,700kg yield per acre in the demonstration area, the crop has shown potential to reverse maize shortage in Kenya and contribute to food security for the population.
As COP27 discussions concluded in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, Prof Mburu said his team has been conducting agricultural experiments that can feed the masses while keeping a tab on climate change.
He said they have been monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural production system and experimenting with different treatments to see which one emits the least. They have also conducted experiments outside the university in farmers’ fields in some of the driest parts of the country.
“We have done trials with farmers in a way of transferring the technology that we develop here to the farming community so that they can also benefit from technologies that improve the maize yield while reducing carbon emissions,” said Prof Mburu.
Prof Robert Gituru, the Kenyan Director of the Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre (SAJOREC), says food security is a prerequisite for development, comfort, and good life. He says the three cannot exist without agriculture.
“The harvest time has come and we are very glad to note that the productivity of the crop that we established inside this plot was very good. Actually it was extremely encouraging compared to the similar crop outside the demonstration area,” said Prof Gituru, adding, “We realised 50 per cent more produce.”
In 2019, the Wuhan Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and JKUAT, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on collaboration and the establishment of MADA at JKUAT.
According to Prof Yan Xue, Executive Director of the SAJOREC at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the researchers have also worked on other cutting-edge agricultural produce that can adapt to local climate and have yielded successful results in the past three yields.
He added that in the upcoming months, they hope to introduce kiwi fruit from their Botanic Garden and support the expansion of numerous varieties, including high-yield peanuts, hybrid rice, and other crops.
“It’s my high expectation that the existing collaboration between CAS and JKUAT will continue to grow from strength to strength for the mutual benefit of our research and capacity building. I hope that the achievement of MADA can be taken up and validated by the local people,” said Prof Yan.
Zhou Pingjian, the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, stated during the harvest ceremony at JKUAT that hard work is not enough. Instead, he added, it was necessary to merge it with science, technology, and education to increase the output of maize and other agricultural produce.
“Everybody values the importance of food adequacy. So as a policy we are willing to deepen cooperation with our friends particularly African friends who is Kenya, through our cooperation in this field,” said Dr Zhou.
Prof Victoria Ngumi, Vice Chancellor of JKUAT, said witnessing the ceremony was one of the most fulfilling outcomes of JKUAT researchers and scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences on maize production.
She said the news of the 50 per cent more yields than crops in the surrounding area planted with the same cultivar revealed the importance of international research partnerships in solving cross-border problems.
“In this project, a Chinese technology was applied in Kenya and the outcome now promises to revolutionise maize production with potential impacts going beyond Kenya. As a university we are proud of this enviable outcome of our collaboration with Wuhan Botanical Garden Chinese Academy of Sciences,” said Prof Ngumi.
Many farmers, especially those in water-scarce areas, can only feel hopeful with this agricultural technology that has increased maize production for Kenya when the nation is experiencing a food supply shortage due to the prolonged drought.
According to Prof Ngumi, the technology will significantly increase local production of the staple crop while also demonstrating the validity of research as the only viable solution to societal obstacles like those encountered in the agricultural sector.
Kenya’s October 3, 2022 decision to lift the 2012 ban on GM crops has raised mixed reactions among advocates and critics of the technology.
In November 2012, then Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo banned importation of all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the country.
Ten years later, President William Ruto has now overseen the opening up of the country to GM crop cultivation in a move that promises to unlock a multi-billion-shilling market for researchers and firms involved in the development, sale and marketing of genetically engineered seed and other planting materials.
Soon after the president’s announcement, the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) hosted a panel of scientists from both sides of the GM divide in a cafe on October 4, 2022.
Horticultural trade specialist Dr Sarah Olembo said the decision was taken in haste, without public participation and in violation of the 2000 Catargena Protocols that require buffer zones between GM and natural zones.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement that aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.
It was signed by 103 countries in 2000 and came into effect in September 2003.
“The protocols provided for the cultivation of GM crops in specific zones while creating buffer zones between them and other natural zones. This has not yet been done in Kenya,” said Dr Olembo.
She said the country’s phytosanitary standards that regulate the movement of seed and plant materials had not been fine tuned to accommodate the changes, terming them “an ambush on Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), the country’s phytosanitary regulation arm.
“I lack confidence in the current capacity of KEPHIS to handle the introduction of GM crops,” said Dr Olembo.
She said lifting the ban will put pressure on Kenya’s neighbours as it has now heightened the possibility of GM seeds and other planting materials crossing their borders.
“With the GM ban lifted, neighbouring countries will have to step up their surveillance protocols. Without that, they might as well allow the free movement of GM crops and related materials,” said Dr Olembo.
She also warned that the capacity of communities to maintain stocks of indigenous seed varieties would be compromised by the ban.
“Lifting the ban will jeopardise the seed sovereignty, human rights, and the traditional role of women as the community custodians of seed,” she said.
Seed expert and organic farming advocate Daniel Maingi said the introduction of GM food crops means that women will no longer be able to afford the seed varieties.
“The proposed punitive fine of Sh10 million or six months’ jail term for those found planting unauthorised GM varieties will also discourage many from the uptake of the new varieties,” Mr Maingi said.
He said the entry of GM crops would herald a new era of local seed market domination by agrochemical giants.
“Seed colonisation will strip communities of the ability to independently produce food, make them GM seed dependent and threaten food security,” Mr Maingi said.
He lamented what he called Africa’s disappointing move to adapt technology that the West was slowly abandoning.
“It is sad to see that we are going for industrial food, which requires lots of pesticides. This type of food, which Europe is abandoning in favour of organic crops we grow here in Africa, is also mostly tasteless,” he said.
Dr Murenga Mwimali, who is the Principal Research Scientist and Maize Breeder at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), said GM technology had provided a way out of the country’s pressing perennial food shortage crisis by providing a platform to undertake product development through engineering.
“We must find solutions to the problems we face. We have to apply new thinking to solve them. We cannot be thinking in new ways but living and acting in the old ways,” he said.
Prof Douglas Miano, an associate professor at the Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection at the University of Nairobi, reminded the audience that the GM crop introduction into the country would be on a case by case basis, and not a haphazard process without the required safeguards.
“The lifting of the ban is not a free for all kind of declaration that will open the floodgates to random and uncontrolled GM crop cultivation. This is because the National Biosafety Act and the National Biosafety Authority that oversees the process of development and release of GM technology in the country are both in force,” said the lecturer and researcher.
“We have the laid down laws and regulation governing the development, assessment, release and follow up of GM crops and these have clearly not been done away with. They will still be followed,” he added.
He lamented that the ban had stifled local efforts to develop food security solutions using the technology.
“Our work was previously disappearing into a dark hole due to government policy that had outlawed food imports that were grown using GM technology,” said Prof Miano.
“Now we are free to pursue our research knowing that it can be applied once the approvals are sought from the required regulatory agencies and secured,” the scientists said.
According to Prof Justus Onguso of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), the lifting of the ban had revived interest in biotechnology countrywide.
“Students who had given up on biotech are calling us. They are interested in re-enrolling so that they can apply what they have learnt in developing solutions for the local market,” he told Sayansi.
Prof Onguso clarified that GM research had not been banned, but the negative publicity around the technology had driven scientists in the sector out of the spotlight.
“We were doing some projects in secret but now we can share the findings for the benefit of Kenyans and the world at large,” Prof Onguso said.
“The ban’s lifting provides a massive opportunity for us to develop solutions tailored for the Kenyan market all the way from concept, development, performance testing, approval, release and post-release surveillance and follow up.”
Among the ongoing research projects is a vaccine that can be taken as a banana.
“An edible banana vaccine is under development, for those people who do not find the idea of an injection appealing or palatable. It will be easier to dispense vaccines to children, for example, through such an innovation,” he said.
Prof Joel Onyango of the University of Nairobi asked Kenyans to trust in the capacity and experience of local scientists in developing home grown solutions for the country.
“Not everything must come from the West for us to see it as good or high quality. Let us learn to appreciate and respect the education and scientific talent or capacity in our midst,” said Prof Onyango.
“We do not need to see GM as a threat. It is also not a panacea to all our pressing food security challenges. But if it has been proven to work elsewhere, it will work here given the opportunity and following the laid down regulations.”
He assured the public that the National Biosafety Authority will not license any GM crop or tech that is unsafe.
“NBA has been mandated to monitor the tech’s use and carry out comprehensive surveillance of such varieties’ release and cultivation,” said the researcher.
He said the technology could be used to boost the country’s production to cover the shortfall in cereal supply.
Kenya produces 2.4 million tonnes of cereal each year compared to a consumption level of 4.2 million tonnes.
By George Juma | email@example.com
The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) plans to raise 15 billion tree seedlings at a cost of Ksh500 billion ($4 billion) in the next 10 years in a bid to achieve a 30 per cent forest cover by 2032.
KFS Deputy Chief Conservator in charge of Advisory and County Liaison Beatrice Mbula said the service currently has about 300 seedling nurseries.
Speaking during a MESHA science café at the KFS headquarters in Nairobi, Mbula said they are going to work closely with individuals, groups and county governments to raise the 15 billion seedlings within the targeted timeline.
Merceline Alumba, an officer in charge of plantation management KFS said they are also using the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS) – also known as the shamba system – where communities living around forests are given a section of the forest to plant food crops as they manage the trees to increase forest cover.
Alumba said this strategy has worked and they now have 10,000 hectares of land under PELIS across the country.
She said the country will be able to achieve the 30 per cent forest cover by 2032 if all the stakeholders, including the general public, work jointly with the government.
Alumba said the land under the government owned forests is small and therefore the only way to increase the forest cover is through individuals’ parcels.
Currently Kenya has a forest cover of about 8.3 per cent that sits on 5.2 million hectares of land. Out of this, the government manages 2.6 million hectares while the remaining 2.6 million is under private land.
Even as the government is moving with speed to plant more trees in a bid to deal with the effects of climate change, encroachment of forests remains a major threat to these efforts. Many forests in the country have been degraded by human activities such as logging.
Mbula said KFS is planning to use a digital system to monitor activities in forests. She said the technology, which is still being piloted in Kwale, is going to help the Service to monitor all activities in forests, including poaching, logging and planting of trees.
She said the technology presents a new opportunity in the fight against poaching in the forests across the country.
Mbula said the Kenya Forest Service is also planning to hire additional 2,700 rangers as directed by President William Ruto during Mashujaa Day celebrations on October 20.
When Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua recently said citizens should be allowed to cultivate crops on public forest land in the now-popular shamba system, there was an uproar across the country.
Gachagua had to retract his statement days later, saying he was misquoted and misunderstood.
The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) now says the shamba system, officially known as the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS), is a critical tool to help increase forest cover in Kenya.
“Kenyans have become increasingly aware of the benefits of protecting our forests and are suspicious of any activities in and around the forest. But there is nothing suspicious or underhand about PELIS, it is an above board and proven strategy to improve forest cover and its success is well documented,” says James Mwang’ombe Mwamodenyi, Principal Conservator of Forests, Head Biodiversity at KFS.
Mercelyne Khaluruka, who specialises in Forest Plantation Management at KFS, says PELIS is a “non-residential and subsistence cultivation in forests that promotes food security for forest adjacent communities while establishing forest plantations.”
PELIS is a scheme introduced by KFS after the enactment of the Forest Act, 2005 to help increase forest cover and restore degraded forests across the country.
Explaining how the scheme works, Khaluruka says communities adjacent to a particular forest or people who live at a 10-kilometre radius from the edge of a forest, enter into an agreement with KFS and are allocated plots.
Once allocated, they plant seedlings until the allocated area forms closed canopy while planting food crops on the same piece of land over a period of three years when the trees planted can thrive on their own.
Significant success has been noted in farming of potatoes and beans. On average, one hectare can produce 138 bags of potatoes and 17 bags of beans. Studies are still ongoing to find safe approaches to planting maize alongside trees due to the risk of accidentally chopping down trees while cutting down maize stalks during harvesting.
A case study of Malava Forest in Western Kenya showed that there was tremendous success in the implementation of PELIS. In 2001, the forest cover was estimated at 366.9 hectares and this rose to 481.4 hectares in 2016. The increment was driven by increased areas under plantation.
Eric Nahama, a partnership and linkages officer at KFS, says partnerships between KFS and forest adjacent communities are critical as they have a stake in the management of forest resources.
Within the context of attaining the new government target of 30 per cent forest cover by 2030, Beatrice Mbula, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests, Forest Advisory and County Liaison at KFS, says PELIS will play a critical role.
She says currently, Kenya’s forest cover stands at 8.3 per cent on 5.3 million hecatres and tree cover is currently at 12.13 per cent on 7.3 million hectares.
An estimated 2.6 million hectares out of an overall 5.3 million hecatres of forest cover are under KFS. The remainder is on areas such as private and community land.
An estimated 10,000 hectares of land are under PELIS and a farmer can make up to Ksh300,000 (about $2,500) per year depending on the food crops. Experts at KFS say there is no doubt that PELIS brings a lot to the table in terms of food and revenue, and contributes to the country’s target of significantly improving forest cover.
Mbula says the Kenyan map is more brown than green. She says this is unfortunate because there are countries that have achieved 95 per cent forest cover and there is no reason why Kenya should be lagging behind.
Data on forest and tree cover was revealed during KFS’s survey conducted in 2021 providing a most recent account on where the country stands on its journey towards attaining the 30 per cent forest cover. It is the first time that Kenya collected data on tree cover.
Forest cover is obtained from wall-to-wall mapping of the country using satellite data, while tree cover is estimated partly using high resolution data and partly from field inventory data of Trees Outside Forest (TOF).
KFS has been producing one billion tree seedlings per year to provide quality and certified seeds for its own use and to meet the demands of Kenyans planting trees outside public forests. KFS has 300 tree nurseries, many more are in the hands of schools and women’s groups.
Today, Mbula says there is a need to increase seed production to 1.5 billion per year if the country is to meet the 30 per cent forest cover by 2030. She says technology is in place through the Smart Technology App to monitor, report and act on changes in forest cover in real time, although this is still in its pilot phase.
Conservationists are rushing against the tide in a bid to protect urban green spaces against encroachment.
This is a mid the increasing pressure to turn every open space, especially in towns, into a concrete jungle for short-term profits and economic growth.
Margaret Wanjiru, a County Forest Conservator at the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) in Nairobi, says that with the rising urban population that has led to urban physical expansion, the role of green spaces as a healthy outlet for city dwellers cannot be overemphasised.
“We have many urban green spaces in Kenya as a whole and within Nairobi in particular. These spaces are very important to our environment and surrounding communities and they remain protected from external influences that could lead to their destruction,” says Ms Wanjiru.
While it is documented that urban green spaces are a source of environmental, social and health benefits, providing inspirations and generating revenue through ecotourism, environmentalists and conservationists remain vigilant against their encroachment.
Wanjiru says urban green spaces are important because they also enable cities to contribute to the larger biodiversity agenda.
In Karura Forest, for instance, one of the green spaces in Nairobi, it is evident that urban biodiversity is under threat and efforts are in place for its protection.
Within the forest and along the cool picnic trails, visibly placed signs warn visitors against carrying any plants, animals or any other material from the forest into the outside world.
“Carrying any material outside the forest would be akin to biodiversity piracy and this is an offence. The forest and everything therein should remain within the protected fenced area,” said James Mwang’ombe Mwamodenyi, Principal Conservator of Forests at KFS.
The Kenya Forest Service is a State Corporation established under the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016.
Its mandate and functions include to enhance development, conservation and management of Kenya’s resource base in all public forests and assist county governments to develop and manage forest resources on community and private lands for equitable benefit of present and future generations.
Karura Forest remains tightly in the grip of KFS. The estimated size of the urban forest is 1,041 hectares, consisting of three parts separated by Limuru and Kiambu roads. It is the largest preserve in Nairobi and remains a shining example of green building and sustainability.
Records by the Kenya Forest Service show that the forest, located just two kilometres from Nairobi’s Central Business District, is a biodiversity hotspot for 200 bird species and iconic mammals such as the colobus monkey.
Within the forest, visitors are treated to wetlands, a majestic waterfall, a variety of indigenous tree species, a water fall, birds, butterflies and wildlife habitats.
Besides its relaxing recreational value, as one of the remaining local indigenous forests, Karura is a critical carbon sink and is considered the lungs of an industrial powerhouse that is Nairobi.
Environmentalists at Kenya Forest Services therefore stress that the forest is instrumental in Kenya’s agenda to bring harmful greenhouse gas emissions to below 1.5 degree Celsius.
In the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to limit global warming under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Kenya has committed to abate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 32 per cent by 2030.
In all, experts at KFS such as Mwang’ombe says urban areas can successfully reach ecological safety where environmental and ecological factors are prioritised alongside economic benefits.