Kenya’s green holiday: a solution for climate change?

On November 13th the Kenyan government declared a public holiday to encourage planting millions of trees as part of their plan to tackle climate change.

The government of Kenya aimed to plant 1.5 billion trees in a year and 15 billion trees within the next ten years. To facilitate this, they made 150 million seedlings available to the public for free at tree nurseries and forestry centres. These saplings were able to be planted on public land although Kenyans were also encouraged to purchase seedlings to plant on their own land.

“Conservation of the environment is the urgent and collective responsibility of our time,” Kenyan President William Ruto said, regarding the tree planting scheme.

President Ruto led the initiative in Makueni in the east of the country while cabinet ministers were sent to other regions to encourage the tree-planting process.

The scheme was well-received by most Kenyans. At one site near the source of Kenya’s second-longest river, Athi, dozens of people gathered to participate in the initiative.

“I have come to plant trees here because our water levels have been diminishing,” said local resident Stephen Chelulei. “Even here at the river source, the levels are very low, trees have been cleared.”

Kenya faces big goals in terms of their environmental contributions. By 2032 the country aims to increase tree and forest cover by 30%. However, some critics argue for the hypocrisy of the Kenyan government. Although they encourage people to plant more trees, the government has recently lifted a six-year moratorium on logging in public and community forests.

The government have defended this decision, claiming that only forests designed for commercial purposes, about 5% of the total forests in the country, were affected.

The decision was also claimed to be necessary to increase economic development in rural areas and to tackle Kenya’s high unemployment rates. In 2022 the country had an unemployment rate of 5.5%.

This scheme is occurring at a time of financial instability for many citizens. Many must continue working to support themselves and their families, rendering them unable to participate in the tree-planting holiday.

Environmentalist Teresa Muthoni is also concerned about the sustainability of such a project. She noticed that many of the trees available in the public nurseries were not native to Kenya. “It is very important to plant the right trees in the right place,” she said.

To ensure that the correct tree species are planted in suitable habitats, the government has launched an app called Jaza Miti (Fill the Trees). This monitors the tree-planting exercise by allowing individuals and organisations to record activities. It also matches planting sites with appropriate species. Despite the holiday being announced on short notice, by the evening of November 12th the app already had two million registrations.

Although the scheme initially intended to cover the entire nation, severe flooding in the northeast of the country has postponed the planting schemes there. Heavy rains associated with the warming of sea temperatures have caused flooding and submerged towns across East Africa. This has left thousands homeless, and 52 people have been found dead as of November 17th.

City residents are also unlikely to be able to plant trees due to difficulty accessing planting sites.

Therefore, asking every citizen to plant two trees is ambitious yet ultimately unfeasible. That does not mean that the holiday was a failure. According to government spokesperson, Isaac Mwaura, over 10 million trees have been documented in the Jaza Miti App.

In an age where climate change seems to be worsening at every corner, such projects provide hope. Tree planting is an effective way to make a positive environmental impact. Forests and woodlands act as natural carbon sinks, reducing the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, and the areas provide habitats for local wildlife, boosting biodiversity in the area.

Schemes are currently in place to promote tree planting in the UK. The UK government offers the Woodland Creation Planning Grant to help cover the costs of creating local woodlands, and the Woodland Trust provides trees, funding and advice for landowners and farmers seeking to plant trees on their land. Other organisations run initiatives to encourage people to plant more trees, such as the Association of Tree Officers or the Plant a Tree events run by the National Forest.

Even in the local region, the Durham County Council runs the Durham Woodland Revival programme, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other partners. It aims to restore and reconnect woodlands in County Durham.

Planting a tree is a low-effort way for someone to make a positive environmental impact. Opportunities to engage in the Durham Woodland Revival programme are available via their website and social media.


Featured image: David Clode via Unsplash.

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