Environmental Awareness Initiative Offers Lifeline to Communities and Forests in Kilifi County

February 2024

The afternoon sun shines over Kaembeni Secondary School, in a village near the Coastline of the Indian Ocean in Kilifi County. As rays of light seep through branches of trees planted in rows, they cast sweeping shadows on the arid brown compound of the school and shelter learners from the intensity of the sun’s heat. The green canopies and cool environment within the school sharply contrast with neighboring lands where trees are scarce and shadeless surroundings soak up the heat.

The disparity is attributed to ongoing tree planting efforts by the students as part of an initiative by a local Non-Governmental Organisation, Malindi Education and Development Foundation (MEDA-F) implemented in the Magarini, Ngarashe and Marafa zones of the County. Historically, this region has grappled with climate hazards particularly drought affecting agricultural production and livelihoods in the county. Gradually, unfavorable weather conditions have been exacerbated by logging and the destruction of forests for charcoal and firewood. Magarini Constituency for instance is the leading supplier of charcoal in Mombasa and Malindi towns with trees cut from community forests.

Raising young environmental champions

To turn the tide on degradation, MEDA-F has spearheaded an initiative aimed at inculcating a culture of environmental conservation among the youth and children for the past three years, “It is an effort to change mindsets on conservation. What better time to start than at a young age?” poses Emmanuel Jilo, Program officer, MEDA-F. The organisation has been conducting environmental awareness sessions in schools sensitising them on the importance of tree planting while also distributing seedlings to grow in schools, at home, and in other community spaces.

Kaembeni Secondary School Wildlife Club Members planting trees in a designated tree area within their school

MEDA-F, which has been implementing various education programmes in the county for almost 30 years, proved to be an ideal strategic partner in rallying schools to engage in tree planting. Through the 3- year initiative supported by Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) with funding from I&M Foundation, the organisation has so far led efforts to plant 92,350 trees in schools, churches, mosques, police stations and administrative offices.

Quick Figures

  • Ksh.8,503,840 the amount awarded to MEDA-F for implementation of the environmental conservation initiative by KCDF and I&M Foundation.
  • Ksh.1,885, 900 total in-kind contribution by MEDA-F towards the project.
  • 92,350 the number of trees planted during the three-year project period.
  • 48 schools in Kilifi County were reached with environmental awareness sessions.
Emmanuel Jilo, Program officer, MEDA-F

“We train learners on different topics including how to collect seeds, preparing a tree nursery, land preparation for tree planting and the process of transplanting seedlings. We encourage learners to plant trees at school and home,” reveals Jilo. So far, learners in 48 learning institutions including 2 vocational training centres, 29 primary schools and 17 secondary schools have benefited from the training sessions.

“Here at Kaembeni we have planted tree species including moringa, neem, casuarina and gmelina arborea among others,” says Festus Mwasambu, Wildlife Club Patron at Kaembeni Secondary School. Mwasambu who doubles up as the Chairperson of the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya in Magarini Sub County has led tree planting efforts among learners, teachers and non-teaching staff in a bid to green the school. Through these efforts, the school has planted over 20,000 trees since 2020. “Planting trees has improved the school’s aesthetics and given us clean and cool air. In the long run, we are hopeful that the trees will attract rainfall

and mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Mwasambu. At home, Mwasambu has planted close to 400 Casuarina trees and food trees including mangoes, cashew nuts bananas and cassava.

Festus Mwasambu, Wildlife Club Patron at Kaembeni Secondary School assisting part of the Wildlife Club members during a tree planting exercise

Impact of awareness creation

Beyond the confines of the school, learners have also taken up tree planting in their homes. Mohamed Karisa, a form four student is one of the learners who have emerged as a champion in tree planting. For the past three years, Karisa has planted over 300 trees at home and set up a tree nursery. For Karisa, the motivation to plant trees has not only been to conserve the environment but also to fund his education. Karisa sells the tree seedlings to raise his school fees. He sells each seedling between Ksh.100- Ksh. 150.

Mohamed Karisa tending to part of his tree seedlings at home.

To support his passion for environmental conservation, Karisa’s parents gave him half an acre of land as a way of boosting his efforts of planting trees at home. The move by the parents was a clear demonstration of how the community is supporting environmental conservation going to the length of giving out land for tree growing.

Due to high poverty levels in the County, many learners end up dropping out of school for lack of fees. Emily Omudho, Livelihoods, Environment and Natural Resource Management Team Lead at KCDF, terms raising young environmental champions as one of the big successes of the environmental awareness efforts. “These champions provide hope of sustaining environmental conservation efforts beyond the project implementation period,” she says.

Mohamed Karisa utilizing the solar lantern during his studies.

received a solar lantern from MEDA-F as a reward for his exemplary efforts in tree planting. Initially, Karisa relied on a makeshift lamp to study exposing him to paraffin smoke notorious for causing breathing and vision defects when used for a long time. Now with the sun-powered solar lantern that comes with three bulbs, Karisa has found a cleaner and cheaper source of light enabling him to study for longer periods.

Similarly, there has been a shift in mindsets among the community on protecting the environment. The project involved volunteers who were key in sensitizing the community on conservation. Owing to these efforts, community members have taken up tree planting in their homes. The goodwill from the community in Magarini Sub County saw them allocate two pieces of land for setting up tree nurseries for the project.

In choosing the tree species to plant, Jilo notes that it was important to settle for indigenous species that thrive in local conditions and fast-growing exotic species. While native species such as Mahogany, Neem trees and Moringa are ideal for ecological restoration, they take long to grow hence the need to supplement them with exotic trees. For an area that grapples with water scarcity, ensuring the survival of the trees planted has been a challenge. To tackle the challenge, the organisation leveraged rainy seasons to conduct tree planting activities including setting up nurseries and transplanting seedlings. Schools have also relied on piped water and water harvested during rainy seasons to nourish the trees during hot seasons. These efforts have ensured a survival rate of over 60%.

Through the tree planting efforts, the organisation did more than restore degraded areas. Tree planting has also provided an opportunity to produce food. “Some schools have planted a variety of fruit trees including mangos, cashews and oranges to be a source of food, especially for the early childhood education learners, “observes Jilo.

Energy Saving Jikos

But even with these efforts, Jilo says that it was apparent that without providing alternative energy sources, more trees would be cut for charcoal and firewood. As part of the conservation initiative, MEDA-F distributed 50 small energy-saving jikos to communities living near forested areas. Initially, these households cooked on traditional open flame (three stones) that consume a lot of firewood and emitted plenty of smoke exposing the users to negative health risks and polluting the environment. Jilo notes that many schools in Kilifi County use charcoal and firewood as the main source of fuel contributing to deforestation. To mitigate this, MEDA-F distributed 12 large-capacity energy-saving jikos and 1 oven to schools through the financial support of the I&M Foundation.

The shift to the use of energy-saving jikos especially in schools has significantly cut down the use of firewood, saved costs, and made cooking easier. “Since we started using the modern jikos, our firewood consumption has been reduced by a third,” beams Festus Kiti, storekeeper, at Galana Boys Secondary School. The school received two energy-saving jikos and an oven from MEDA-F through the financial support of the I&M Foundation. This has seen the school bake their own bread thus bringing down the cost of buying bread.

Festus Kiti, storekeeper, Galana Boys Secondary School.

The jikos emit less smoke and heat. For years, Mariam Chinando spent long hours cooking over smoky flames as the school cook. For Mariam who has to make three meals a day for over 700 learners using energy-saving jikos has provided a safer and cleaner alternative. “I now enjoy my work more,” says Mariam who has worked as a cook in the school for the past 22 years.

Mariam Chinando, a cook at Galana Boys Secondary School using the energy-saving cooking stove

Lessons and future plans

Despite the successes of the project, it has faced some challenges. Most of the schools around the area are not fenced. During school holidays, livestock from neighboring homes graze on school land and destroy trees. Additionally, in 2022, Kilifi experienced a prolonged drought that threatened the survival of the trees. To ensure the survival of trees, learners came up with innovative solutions including the use of drip irrigation and mulching.

As the project comes to a close, James Gatere, Head of I&M Foundation reckons that the experience has provided major insights that will build momentum for the implementation of similar projects in the future. “The project taught us the importance of simple measures such as fencing in boosting survival rates of trees planted. The drought also taught us the importance of building resilience among communities in the face of climate shocks and gave us insights on the right tree species to plant,” says Gatere. These lessons, Gatere says could be replicated in other counties beyond Kilifi and Narok where the project was being piloted.