School Greening Program set to increase county’s forest cover

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Entrance to Sigalame High School in Funyula sub-county, Busia County, on a backdrop of beautiful canopies. To boost the county's forest cover, a tree-planting exercise has been ongoing in most of the schools within the county. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Entrance to Sigalame High School in Funyula sub-county, Busia County, on a backdrop of beautiful canopies. To boost the county's forest cover, a tree-planting exercise has been ongoing in most of the schools within the county. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Forestry is an important sector that supports human existence, and its importance cannot be overemphasized. 

Forestry supports the conservation of water catchment areas, provides food and habitat for wildlife, the trees have a medicinal value, reduce land degradation/soil erosion and enhance the creation of micro-climatic conditions that maintain or improve the productivity of flora and fauna.

Forests are also known to be among the most effective sinks of greenhouse gases; hence, they are important in contributing to climate change mitigation and temperature balancing.

Forests and human existence

Forests mitigate or prevent the impact of natural hazards such as soil erosion, rock fall, avalanches, landslides, and debris flow on people and their property, especially in mountainous areas.

Forests are important for the survival of all living beings. They are vital for our existence as they provide oxygen, food, shelter, fuel, and means of livelihood for the people living in and around the forest area.

Forests have important protective as well as productive functions. They not only supply fuel, timber, fodder, and various other products, but they also have a moderating influence against floods and erosion and help maintain soil fertility.

In light of the above, Busia county administration has been working its fingers to the bone to increase the county’s forest cover. Busia county has a low forest cover, currently standing at 1.04 percent, ranking 44 out of 47 counties nationally, as per the recently released ranking.

Despite encountering many challenges, Busia County Administration has been working closely with the Forestry Department to increase the county’s low percentage of forest cover.

County School Greening Program

To replenish the county’s low forest cover, which has reached an alarming level, Busia County Administration has unanimously resolved to utilize the resources at its disposal to embark on an ambitious school greening program through the relevant department.

This is expected to enable the attainment of at least 10 percent forest cover through tree planting in selected schools across the county.

Under this program, trees are being planted either as hedges or plantations within the learning institutions, subject to the availability of space.

The schools and vocational training institutions, the County Government of Busia and the Forestry Department have so far been targeted to benefit from the school greening program include:

Masendebale primary school in Butula sub county which has received a total of 600 seedlings, Igara secondary school 2600, Kolanya Girls primary school 1500, Nyakwaka secondary school in Funyula constituency 2000, Luchululo primary school in Samia sub county 1000, Nangina primary school 1500, Sigalame High School 2,000, Chemasiri primary school 12,100, Kolanya Boys primary school 1700, Adanya primary school 1500, Amagoro Girls secondary school 2,000, and Lwanya Girls Secondary School 2000, among several others all around the county.

Taskforce chairman for Agriculture, Water, Trade, Lands and Municipality, Patrick Odame, watering a tree seedling during a recent tree planting exercise in Busia County. PHOTO/Gilbert Ochieng, The Scholar Media Africa.
Taskforce chairman for Agriculture, Water, Trade, Lands and Municipality, Patrick Odame, watering a tree seedling during a recent tree planting exercise in Busia County. PHOTO/Gilbert Ochieng, The Scholar Media Africa.

Busia Youth Polytechnic will get 200 and Nambale Youth Polytechnic will get 3,000 tree seedlings.

The county government of Busia and the forestry department have so far distributed a total of 39,800 tree seedlings that have already been planted in the said learning institutions.

“Apart from conserving the environment and increasing the county’s forest cover, the trees serve as windbreakers in the said learning institutions. The trees so far planted have played exceptional role in that they have ended up safeguarding the roofs of the schools from being blown off by strong winds,” says Bunyala sub-county Director of Education, Mr. George Owuoche.

Mr. Owuoche says the County Government of Busia, in collaboration with the forestry department, should consider extending the school greening program to all primary and secondary schools and vocational and technical training institutions in the entire Bunyala sub-county.

“The school greening program that has been initiated by Busia county government and the forestry department is commendable as it would go a long way in increasing the forest cover. 

I urge the county government and the forestry department to launch the program in all schools and vocational training centers in Bunyala sub-county, which has not benefited from the program,” says the senior education official.

He says most schools in Bunyala sub-county have of late had their roofs blown off by strong winds because they do not have adequate trees within their compounds to serve as windbreakers.

The school heads of the benefiting schools, who spoke to The Scholar Media Africa on condition of anonymitycommended the county government for initiating the school greening program. They noted it would significantly increase the county’s low forest cover.

One of the school heads says members of the Environmental Club at his school have taken the initiative of taking care of the tree seedlings until maturity.

Busia County Forest Service Officer, Fredrick Ashiono, says he will deploy a monitoring and evaluation team to all the schools that have been issued with tree seedlings and all other forest areas to ensure they are taken care of to maturity.

He further reveals that he has implemented effective strategies to ensure trees are planted on all hills in the county.

“The Forestry Department’s key mandate is to conserve the environment by planting trees on all hills across the county to increase the county’s forest cover,” he says. 

Charcoal burning

A notable factor that has contributed a great deal to the arbitrary destruction of forests, eventually leading to low forest cover, is the high cost of living that has driven scores of people at the grassroots level to engage in illegal charcoal-burning activities to earn daily bread.

Rampant illegal charcoal burning activities in Busia County have become a thorn in the flesh of the Kenya Forest Service [KFS] guards as charcoal burners engage the guards in a hide-and-seek game. 

A county official planting a tree at a school in Busia County recently; Busia County's forest cover currently stands at 1.04 percent.
The county government of Busia is undertaking a school Greening Program aimed at increasing the county's forest cover.  PHOTO/Gilbert Ochieng, The Scholar Media Africa.
A county official planting a tree at a school in Busia County recently; Busia County’s forest cover currently stands at 1.04 percent. PHOTO/Gilbert Ochieng, The Scholar Media Africa.

However, the Kenya Forest Service guards are on high alert round the clock to curb illegal charcoal burning, which, if allowed to continue, might leave the forests bare at the end of the day.

Challenges faced

Despite concerted efforts to increase the county’s forest cover, the forestry department says several challenges have contributed to the slow pace of achieving the desired forest cover.

The challenges include:

· Inadequate allocation of funds towards the forest sector.

· Lack of the right policies and legal instruments to aid the process of afforestation.

· Charcoal burning and brick making, which lead to logging.

· Overexploitation of forests/ trees through increased demand for timber and wood

· Grazing of livestock in the conserved areas.

· Encroachment of forests and fragile areas through settlements and agriculture. This not only destroys the tree cover but also reduces land space for tree growing.

Rehabilitation of degraded areas

Apart from the school greening program, the county’s Forestry Department is also focusing on tree growing in the county’s degraded ecosystems. 

These include hilltops and hill slopes, riverine areas, neglected quarry sites and gullies. Some of the areas targeted include Odiado hills, Osipata, Odioi, Agong’et, Kabosokipi, Walatsia and Aedomoru, among others. 

Recommendations

· Support school greening programs and rehabilitation through funding at the county level.

· Encourage innovations and technologies that reduce wood fuel consumption.

· Encourage the cottage industry to offer employment opportunities for the jobless youths that destroy the environment to discourage them from arbitrarily destroying forests.

· Conduct extensive awareness campaigns on forest restoration and conservation.

· Members of the County Assembly should also support departmental efforts by allocating finances towards environmental and natural resource management activities. 

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· The budget committee of the County Assembly should consider enhancing an adequate budgetary allocation for the forest sector to finance forestry activities aimed at rehabilitating the degraded forest areas.

· Encourage fruit tree-growing to make the community maintain the tree cover.

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Mr. Ochieng is a journalist based in Busia. He has 20 years of experience writing for diverse newspapers countrywide. He focuses on Agriculture, Health, Development and other Human Interest Stories.

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