Schoolchildren have embarked on an intensive tree-planting drive to increase forest cover.
With increased focus on environmental conservation and the growing pressure on the government to spearhead the conservation of the country’s natural resources, there has been a growing push and focus for schools to go green.
That is why schools along the edge of the Maasai Mau Forest are slowly abandoning desks and tables made of wood and turning to metal furniture so that they can spare the remaining trees in one of the country’s largest water towers.
This emphasis on ecological responsibility has stymied primary and secondary schools around the Mau, as they have always traditionally relied heavily on timber.
Mr Peter Kisia, head teacher of Olokirikirai Primary School, l about 50 kilometres from Narok town, says the school has planted more than 2,000 trees since 2015.
“We were given tree seedlings by the Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority (ENSDA). They have a tree planting programme known as the Green School Programme. We have planted very many trees around the school compound. We used to cut them to make furniture, but we stopped and started using metal desks,” he says.
He adds that the decision was prompted by the high rate of destruction of the Mau Forest over the years.
“In the Green School Programme, most schools neighbouring he forest have planted trees, but when we realised that the Mau Forest was being destroyed by charcoal businessmen, we decided to save the trees we planted in our compounds,” he says.
Pupils from Naroosura Primary School in Narok South Sub-County have also benefited from the Green School Programme.
ENSDA’s environmental officer, Mr Peter Kinuthia, said the project involved planting more than 1,000 trees in the school and setting up tree nurseries in its compound.
“The initiative aims at encouraging and empowering pupils to conserve the environment by setting up medium-scale tree nurseries and establishing school-based forestry clubs in all schools,” Mr Kinuthia says.
ENSDA Chief Executive Officer Sammy Naporos says the project is one of the authority’s initiatives to help the country attain the recommended 10 per cent forest cover.
“Initially, the trees planted were used by the schools for commercial purposes as well as to cook, but some of them have turned to metal to save the Maasai Mau Forest, which is under threat.”
Mrs Kezia Tipis, a teacher at Olokirikirai Primary School and the head of the school’s forestry club, says the trees are planted and maintained by the students through the club.
“We nurture the culture of tree planting in our schools so that the students and the community can embrace this initiative to conserve the environment. We also give them tree seedlings to plant at home,” she offers.
The Mau Forest is the country’s largest remaining indigenous forest and also the largest of the country’s five water towers, as well as the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem. The complex forms part of the upper water catchment area, and is the catchment source for Lake Victoria and the White Nile.
It straddles five counties, namely Nakuru, Kericho, Baringo, Narok and Bomet. The forest’s degradation has led to erratic weather patterns and flash floods, whose worst effects are felt in Narok Town.
Environmental experts estimate that between 1990 and 2004, up to 107,000 hectares of the Mau Forest Complex were destroyed.
And a 2014 report by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, said that 50,000 hectares of forest are cleared in the country annually, with a consequent annual loss to the economy of more than Sh1.9 billion.
The clearing of mountain forests, also known as water towers for their role in capturing and regulating the flow of more than 75 per cent of the country’s surface water, has affected the flow of rivers as well as water supply for irrigation.
The Maasai Mau National Reserve forms part of the larger Mau Forest Complex, which is one of the country’s five main water towers. The others are Mt Elgon, Mt Kenya, the Aberdares Range and the Cherangani Hills.
The upper part of the Maasai Mau is a catchment for the Ewaso Ng’iro River, while the western part of the forest is part of the upper catchment for the Mara River.
The forest is a major asset for tourism development in the Maasai Mara-Lake Nakuru circuit.