University to restore Mau forest cover in Kenya

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When Professor Jude Mathoko joined Egerton University over 20 years ago, then as a young student, the area surrounding the university, which forms part of the greater Mau forest complex, was a sight to behold, with its lush greenery of trees and flowing rivers busting at their seams.

"The forests were very thick and the rivers were flowing," recalled Professor Mathoko recently at a ceremony to mark Egerton University's environmental week.

Twenty years on however, the area is a different spectacle, far from what it used to be. The trees are no more in vast parts of the formerly thickly forested areas and in place of the trees is dry land, sometimes with an occasional stump here or there.

The Rivers have also slowly trickled dry, as the effects of man' s activities such as illegal logging and uncontrolled cultivation take its toll on the area's ecosystem.

"Today we are now talking of a different story," says Professor Mathoko who is the University's deputy Vice Chancellor, in charge of Research and Extension. "The rivers and forests are no more."

Mathoko's sentiments are echoed by Bernard Ngonda a lecturer in the Department of Natural resources who also has been in the University for over twenty years.

"River Njoro and River Lamudiack are now seasonal, and the volume of River Molo has reduced," says Mr. Ngonda, a life member of the Forestry Society of Kenya.

"Lake Nakuru is also shrinking because the rivers that used to pour water in the lake no longer have enough water. All the water we use here comes from boreholes, yet out of fourteen boreholes, only seven are now functional."

The now dry areas according to these academicians offer the clearest indication yet of what man's unchecked activities can do to the environment.

It is another clear proof in as many scientific researches and debates that Kenya like many other parts of the world is now clearly grappling with the most immediate effects of climate change.

An urgent testament, they say, of the realization that if nothing is done to mitigate the destruction of environment it is in fact the local residents of affected parts who will be the first to pay the price of the environment's wrath.

To reverse this trend, Egerton University has teamed up with Kenya Commercial Bank, through the bank's offshoot program that will see the bank's Foundation provide seedlings while Egerton University will provide manpower and other support services in a bid to increase Forest cover in the Mau complex through tree planting.

"The program will see us plant over 150,000 trees per year around Egerton University and surrounding areas up to Elburgon, Molo and Nakuru and so on," says Ngoda. "It will also cover the Masai Mau."

Once the trees are planted, Ngoda says the University will monitor their growth and with the help of the schools and communities in the area ensure they survive into mature healthy trees."We have already planted trees in Njoro Day High School, Kerima, and Tengecha schools and we are seeing a positive trend," says Ngoda.

The initiative which was conceived in 2001 according to Ngoda arose out of the realization that something had to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change in East and Central Africa.

"We realized that if nothing was done the adverse effects of climate change would hit us directly. For instance Lake Nakuru whose shrinking waters have led to the decrease of Flamingos, a major tourist attraction in the Rift valley province, might be extinct in the next 10 years if we don't do anything," he says.

Ngonda notes that there is need to create awareness among people, that man's activities such as tree logging which are brought about by his many needs as a result of increased populations and modernization, could be carried out side by side with conservation efforts.

So far, Ngoda says KCB has helped plant over 139,000 trees with 50,000 trees planted this year alone.

Under the program, while the students provide easy manpower required for planting trees in large volumes, they also benefit from direct jobs with KCB in its various Rift valley region branches.

Timothy Kabiru, KCB's Divisional Director of Retail Banking says the bank has taken the initiative in a bid to bridge the forest cover gap, which scientists put at less than two percent against a recommended 10 percent.

"The 1.148 million shillings that has been invested into this project demonstrates the importance the KCB Foundation attaches to the environment," he says. "KCB targets to plant three million trees this year."

Professor James Tuitoek, Egerton University Vice chancellor, says the initiative to increase forest cover in the Mau complex is among other environmental initiatives that the University has undertaken in order to promote the environment's safe keeping.

According to him, by planting ten trees a year, each Kenyan could play a invaluable role in reclaiming forest cover and in turn help in mitigating the negative effects of climate change.

"If every Kenyan could plant 10 trees each year, and seeing that we are over 36 million Kenyans, that would simply translate into 360 million trees a year, a crucial number that if replicated every year would help in restoring Kenya's forest cover and in the end in mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change," says Professor Tuitoek.

He says the University has started the green energy wave program which will see the university embrace environmentally friendly fuels.

"We are already using bio-gas to fuel our Kitchen and we plan to build Iko toilets, (latrines that do not use water) in future. We are also seeking to tap solar power and wind power in future for our energy needs," he says.

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