Tree Planting Initiative by Learners in Kilifi offers Lifeline to threatened Coastal Forest

February 2024

A few Kilometers from the sandy beaches along the Kenyan North Coast, lies Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve, home to plants, birds and animals not found anywhere else and a haven for some of the endangered species globally. The forest which is the largest remaining fragment of the East African Coastal Forest is classified as an important area in bird conservation having at least six globally threatened species. Arabuko Sokoke is surrounded by communities in coastal towns of Watamu and Malindi in Kilifi County many of whom use the forest resources for fuel and food. The forest has faced degradation due to logging and charcoal burning by surrounding communities.

Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve in Kilifi County

This could change, as a local project has been working to shift community mindsets on environmental conservation and reduce demand for firewood and charcoal by providing locals with an alternative source of fuel. For the past three years, A Rocha Kenya, a Christian Conservation Organisation based in Watamu has been involving communities and children in schools in planting trees to restore the forest and its surroundings.

Through a three-year project supported by the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) with funding from the I&M Foundation, A Rocha Kenya has been conducting environmental awareness in schools with a view of arousing children`s and young people`s interest in caring for the environment. Before the project, A Rocha Kenya had been working with children in schools through one of its flagship projects dubbed Arabuko Sokoke Schools and Ecotourism Schemes (ASSETS). “To secure a future where there is environmental conservation, it was important to get children involved from the onset,” says Emilly Omudho, Livelihoods, Environment and Natural Resource Management Team Lead at KCDF.

Colin Jackson, Founder and Director, of A Rocha Kenya explains that since 2001 ASSETS has been supporting education by giving children living around Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek bursaries with proceeds of ecotourism. “We built a boardwalk 300-metre hanging walkway at Mida Creek which tourists use and pay a fee and all the money goes to the bursary fund,” says Jackson. A Rocha leveraged the rapport they had already struck with schools to further create awareness on environmental conservation and encourage tree planting among learners under the new project.

Colin Jackson, Founder and Director, A Rocha Kenya

Children at the forefront of conservation

Mida Primary is one of the schools where A Rocha Kenya has been conducting environmental awareness sessions teaching learners the importance of planting trees and nurturing them. The organisation established tree planting initiatives for both indigenous and exotic tree species such as Moringa, Neem, Casuarina and Gmelina Arborea to restore the damaged ecosystem and expanded awareness in schools through clubs.

Esha Awadh Omar, Headteacher, Mida Primary School attests to seeing a change in learners’ attitudes since the sessions began three years ago. “Learners have passionately embraced tree planting after learning of the benefits to the environment,” she observes. At Mida Primary each of the 520 learners has planted a tree, which they water every morning and evening. “Some have labeled the trees with their names,” she adds. Planting and nurturing trees has given learners a sense of pride and responsibility with many learners keen on ensuring their survival. The school set up a nursery from where they source seedlings to grow. Learners receive seedlings from the school and are encouraged to grow trees at home.

Esha Awadh Omar, Headteacher, Mida Primary School

Mida Primary which has been benefiting from A Rocha Kenya bursaries offered to bright learners joining Secondary school also found a creative way of involving parents in the tree-growing efforts. “We brought together parents of learners that had received the bursaries and requested them to tend to the school tree nursery as a way of giving back to the community, “says Awadh. Every Tuesday at 3 PM, the parents congregate at the school to water, weed and maintain the tree nurseries. The parents also receive seedlings to plant at home.

Awadh notes that the goal of involving the parents was to ensure that the tree planting at school is replicated at home to ensure a bigger impact and reach of the efforts. For the semi-arid county of Kilifi, access to water has been a challenge. “We buy water for use at the school and tree planting has increased our consumption and the bills,” reveals Awadh. The school has been supplementing its water supply with rainwater harvested during the rainy season and stored in a tank they received from A Rocha Kenya.

Awadh notes that the goal of involving the parents was to ensure that the tree planting at school is replicated at home to ensure a bigger impact and reach of the efforts. For the semi-arid county of Kilifi, access to water has been a challenge. “We buy water for use at the school and tree planting has increased our consumption and the bills,” reveals Awadh. The school has been supplementing its water supply with rainwater harvested during the rainy season and stored in a tank they received from A Rocha Kenya.

Mida Primary School parents tend to the tree nursery in the school.

One of the successes of the project is nurturing a generation of young conservation champions. Viola Karisa, a learner at Mida Primary has stood out among her peers for her exemplary efforts in tree planting. For the past two years, the grade 7 learner who is a member of the Wildlife Club has planted over 350 trees on a portion of land at home. Without piped water at home, Viola has been relying on water brought from a community project to nurture the trees. The lessons taught during club meetings coupled with monthly school trips for members of the Wildlife Club have further spurred Viola`s interest in conservation. “I would like to set a good example for my community and encourage them to plant trees in their homes,” says Viola while noting that having a water tank at home can further boost her tree planting efforts.

Viola Karisa, a conservation champion at Mida Primary School next to a tree she planted in their school.
Viola Karisa, a conservation champion from Mida Primary School planting a tree at her home.

So far, A Rocha Kenya has sensitised communities and learners in 57 schools within a 5 KM radius of the Arabuko forest on the importance of protecting and restoring the ecosystem and its surroundings. “This is the community with the greatest impact on the forest and the one that derives most benefits from the ecosystem. Our task has been to open their eyes to the benefits of living adjacent to the forest and how to responsibly benefit from the resources,” says Stanley Baya, Community Conservation Manager, A Rocha Kenya. Such efforts have contributed to planting 107,000 trees in community places, schools and degraded areas of Arabuko Sokoke and Mida creek and neighbouring churches, dispensaries and police stations with a survival rate of over 60%.

Stanley Baya, Community Conservation Manager, A Rocha Kenya.

Fuel Alternatives, a Solution to Deforestation

But without providing the community with an alternative source of fuel, trees in and out of the forest would continue to be felled for charcoal and firewood. To reduce the pressure on the forest, A Rocha Kenya distributed 16 energy-saving jikos to schools. The improved jikos consume less firewood and reduce emissions of harmful pollutants. Most schools rely on firewood as a source of fuel with cooking done on open flames (three stones) exposing the users to excessive smoke and heat.

This was especially the case for Frankline Wamalwa, cook at Shomani Girls Secondary School. “Before receiving the jikos, I used to cook outside in windy conditions forcing me to use a lot of firewood to maintain the heat. Often, the unregulated heat would be unbearable for me and would occasionally burn the food,” says Wamalwa. Other times, Wamalwa would rely on raw firewood emitting more smoke ending up cooking for longer hours and in turn delaying the school programme. He reveals that at some point the frustrations almost made him quit his job. The school received one energy-saving jiko from A Rocha Kenya and added three others. Since they are insulated, they consume less firewood and emit less heat. The school for instance has cut down its firewood consumption by half. The jikos are also connected to a chimney ensuring that exposure to smoke is reduced during cooking.

Frankline Wamalwa, cook at Shomani Girls Secondary School using the energy-saving jiko to prepare a meal.

Fifty members of the community living near the forest, received fireless jikos, insulated baskets that conserve heat and complete cooking of pre-cooked food thus cutting firewood consumption. On a Wednesday evening, Agnes Shindo is cooking rice on her fireless cooker as she waits for her children to return from school. The mother of five, explains that she moved the rice from her wood-burning jiko which has a fuel-efficient ceramic liner after cooking for a few minutes. Shindo then moved the food to the fireless cooker where the padded insulation keeps the food warm for hours. “The fireless cooker has made cooking easier,” she says.

A farmer and a part-time tailor, Shindo received the fireless cooker and jiko liner from A Rocha Kenya. She met the organisation in 2021 after two of her children who had completed primary education received scholarships. Through her interactions with the organisation, Shindo who lives adjacent to the forest admits to having a better understanding of environmental conservation. Now along with other bursary beneficiaries, she is involved in tree planting, tending to tree nurseries, and creating awareness in the community.

Agnes Shindo demonstrates how her fireless cooker keeps her food warm for hours
Quick Figures
  • Ksh. 13,015,920 was the total project size.
  • Ksh. 9,171,120 contributed by I&M Foundation and KCDF.
  • Ksh. 3,844,800 in-kind contribution by A Rocha.
  • 107,706 trees were planted during the three-year project period with a 68% survival rate.
  • 58 schools were reached with environmental awareness sessions.
Future Plans

The conservation initiative was made possible through funding of over Ksh. 8 million by the I&M Foundation through KCDF matched by a Ksh. 3 million in-kind contributions by A Rocha Kenya. KCDF provided technical support throughout the project. As the project ends, James Gatere, Head of I&M Foundation notes that the initiative will serve as an example of how to conserve nature even in the face of harsh climatic conditions. During the first year of the project, Kilifi was faced with drought that threatened the survival of trees.

Yet, even in the face of these challenges, the learners and the community have found ways to keep the trees alive resorting to drip irrigation and mulching.” The big success of this project is seeing greener community spaces and schools as well as the rise of young environmental champions who are carrying the mantle in environmental conservation. It has been heart-warming to see the big impact simple solutions such as energy-saving jikos make on human health and the environment,” says Gatere. With the lessons learned under the project, Gatere sees the potential of its expansion to more schools and beyond Kilifi and Narok Counties where the project was being implemented.