Conservation news

Kenya aims to reverse deforestation, plant 20 million new trees

  • The campaign is part of a wider strategy by the Kenyan government to increase forest cover, restore degraded land, protect habitats for many species including endangered birds and mammals, and contribute to efforts to tackle climate change.
  • The goal is to not only restore primary forests by planting indigenous trees, but to also improve food security for Kenyans by planting trees on farms in order to restore soil fertility, provide shade for other crops, and produce fruits, nuts, and medicines.
  • Degraded areas in all five of Kenya’s Water Towers — Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, Mount Elgon, the Cherangani Hills, and the Mau Complex — will be targeted; Kakamega Forest, Kenya’s only rainforest, will be a primary target of the 20 Million Trees initiative as well.

Kenya suffered severe deforestation from the 1970s to the 1990s, mainly for charcoal and timber production.

Forest destruction is still a problem in the East African country. Of Kenya’s 30,000 square kilometers of tree cover, more than 8 percent was lost between 2001 through 2014 — an area of forest about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. But the Kenyan government has now launched a major initiative to reverse that trend and restore the country’s upland forests.

Through the “20 Million Trees for Kenya’s Forests” initiative, Kenya aims to plant a total of 20 million trees in and around Mount Kenya and other highland forests, known as Water Towers because of their role in conserving the country’s rivers, lakes and fresh drinking water.

The campaign is part of a wider strategy by the Kenyan government to increase forest cover, restore degraded land, protect habitats for many species including endangered birds and mammals, and contribute to efforts to tackle climate change.

Local community organizations like the Mount Kenya Environmental Conservation (MKEC) are setting up tree nurseries and will plant and protect the trees. As Paulino Mugendi Damiano, the founder of MKEC, points out, the goal is to not only restore primary forests by planting indigenous trees, but to also improve food security for Kenyans by planting trees on farms in order to restore soil fertility, provide shade for other crops, and produce fruits, nuts, and medicines.

Weeding seedlings at a community tree nursery. Photo by International Tree Foundation.

“This project is of vital importance to people in Kenya,” Damiano said in a statement. “Destruction of forests, combined with climate change, has led to reduced rainfall and increasing soil erosion — and this has caused food scarcities and hardship for people living around the forests.”

Degraded areas in all five of Kenya’s Water Towers — Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, Mount Elgon, the Cherangani Hills, and the Mau Complex — will be targeted, due to their importance to the health of Kenya’s rivers and hence the fresh water supply for many locals.

Kakamega Forest, Kenya’s only rainforest, already has a history of community-based action to restore deforested areas, and will be a primary target of the 20 Million Trees initiative as well.

The UK-based International Tree Foundation (ITF), which was founded in Kenya in the 1920s, is helping drive the initiative by enlisting international support to provide the local communities with the resources they need to plant 20 million trees.

“This is probably the biggest and most ambitious campaign in our long history — but is as much Kenya’s campaign as our campaign,” Andy Egan, ITF’s Chief Executive, said in a statement.

“We need to raise £4 million to achieve our target of 20 million trees. This may sound like a lot of money but is actually only 20p per tree — our community-led model means that there is a much higher chance of the new trees being cared for and protected long into the future.”

Tree planting by volunteers in Mt Kenya Forest. Photo by International Tree Foundation.