- The United Nations recommends that countries maintain at least 10 percent of their land in forest but Kenya has only 7 percent forest cover.
- According to scientists forests can help regulate rainfall and protecting and expanding forests is one of the cheapest and surest ways of curbing climate change.
- In an effort to combat deforestation and rebuild the nation's depleted forests, Teddy Kinyanjui makes the slingshots and seed balls.
The United Nations recommends that countries maintain at least 10 percent of their land in forest, that however is not the case in many countries. One such country is Kenya which has only 7 percent forest cover.
In this age of climate change and pollution, forests have never been more important to the human existence.
According to scientists forests can help regulate rainfall and protecting and expanding forests is one of the cheapest and surest ways of curbing climate change.
Forests provide water storage, dictate weather patterns and, critically, act as the planet's lungs by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
"Trees and forests play an essential role in mitigating the impact of climate change. Planting trees is one of the most important things we can do to contribute to the health of the planet," said UN Secretary General António Guterres, at a forum on forests in March.
Therefore for a country which produced the first African woman to win the Nobel prize, Nobel laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai, you would think Kenya would know better especially on the importance of forests.
In late 2017 and early 2018, Kenya was hit with a particularly severe drought which saw hundreds of livestock die and millions of Kenyans starve after much awaited rainfall failed to fall due to ‘hostile environment’.
Since then the country has rolled up its sleeves and embarked on reforestation efforts with renewed vigour including conscripting the national army and primary schools in planting tree seedlings.
In an effort to combat deforestation and rebuild the nation's depleted forests, the government also unveiled a number of counter measures including evicting people who had encroach on forest land and issued a three month logging ban.
While the governments’ reforestation efforts are admirable and even commendable, two Kenyans are proving you don’t need millions to plant trees and have gone an extra mile in increasing the country’s forest cover in the most novel and cheapest method, relying only on a simple slingshot and the services of herders’ boys.
Nicholas Waweru is a conservationist based in Kisaju, south of Nairobi is literally changing the semi-arid landscape of the area, one shot at a time.
Waweru works with Teddy Kinyanjui, a conservationist living in Nairobi's Kabete estate, who makes the slingshots and seed balls.
On daily basis Waweru distributes a packet of seed balls, made of charcoal dust, cassava starch and tree seeds, to herder boys in the area before they go grazing.
Kinyanjui researches what trees grow best in each area, then manufactures seed balls designed for that area. He sources the seeds from the Kenya Forest Research Institute.
The conservationist who says he inherited his love of trees from his late father, Maxwell Kinyanjui, a professor at the University of Nairobi who was well known for his conservation efforts, explains that packing tree seeds in charcoal dust, sourced from a charcoal briquette-making firm, gives the seedlings a better chance of sprouting.
"After research, we found out that 95 percent of tree seeds are eaten up by insects or animals such as goats or birds," he said.
"You can imagine if you just took a handful of seeds and threw them down on the ground, and waited for three more months until the rains come - it's just going to get eaten by something," he said.
But the charcoal dust deters animals and when the rains arrive, they wash away the charcoal coating, allowing the seeds to sprout.
Kinyanjui has helped distribute about 2 million tree seeds across the country, focusing in areas where charcoal making has led to deforestation.
To encourage herder boys to use the seed balls, Kinyanjui organizes shooting competitions, with those able to hurl the balls furthest winning certificates.
He has gone an extra mile and approached airlines and corporations in abid to scatter the seedlings even further and wider.
He has persuaded some aeroplane companies, hot air balloon owners, and paragliders to fling the balls, and he sells some to corporations, who distribute them to customers and staff as part of corporate social responsibility campaigns.
Kinyanjui recognises that not all the trees will sprout and survive, particularly with hungry goats foraging in many areas. But "this is better than nothing", he said.
Indeed the world would be so much a better place if we all embraced Kinyanjui’s ‘better than nothing’ mentality.
Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai couldn’t be prouder.