Forest Project Deep Dive: Greener Communities Program
Just neighboring Nairobi City, the Capital of Kenya, lies the land of Kajiado. Home to about a million people, including the famous Maasai, backdropped with forests and known to be the largest producer of Acacia trees, Kajiado is a hotspot for tourism, its main attraction being wildlife. For indigenous communities that coexist with forests, the human-nature bond is intricate, usually deep-rooted in their culture and livelihood. For Kajiado County, this couldn’t ring more true. Unfortunately, in recent years, the extreme land use changes and over-exploitation of forest trees for economic purposes are damaging this balance and threatening to erode the vital connection between nature and the people.
In 2016, Kenya became the first African country to complete a national restoration opportunity assessment and followed it up with a commitment to restore 5.1 million hectares of forest land. For the 28th most populous country in the world, where floods are rampant, and agriculture and wildlife tourism make up a large part of the national economy, forest restoration presents a multi-level answer for livelihood, survival, and sustainability.
OFP Project Operator Kevin Imani traveled to Kajiado to visit a special community member spearheading an emerging forest initiative — The Greener Communities Program. Founder Fionah Njeri believes in the power of forests, not only as nature-based solutions to climate change, but as a way to connect to and build the community. Fionah is choosing to use OFP’s Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) to track the growth of the precious forests of Kajiado, and ensure a sustainable future by restoring the harmony between the community and nature.
“A sense of hope and opportunity followed us to where a group of individuals are making steps to restore the land of Kajiado.”- Kevin Imani describing the visit
In Kajiado County, the inextricable relationship between man and nature is apparent by the pervasiveness of the forest and the wildlife. Primarily covered by the landscape of the Nyiri Desert, Kajiado is home to the Amboseli Reserve and the Kitengela Game Conservation, which share open boundaries with Nairobi National Park.
Livelihood at the cost of nature
In Kajiado, bikes overloaded with bags of charcoal, headed in the direction of the city, are a ubiquitous sight. Charcoal is one of Kajiado’s most in-demand exports, an informal industry that provides easy employment for the largely unemployed youth and satisfies a national demand for biofuel that is much cheaper, and more readily available than commercial gas or fuel. Unfortunately, the source of the charcoal is the acacia tree, a native species integral to the Kajiado forests. Though the government has banned charcoal production in the area, this is a discrete trade that is difficult to regulate. Local grassroots efforts are proving most effective in countering Kajiado’s tragedy of the commons and providing alternate jobs and sources of income for those involved in the trade of charcoal (such as planting trees).
Kevin met with Fionah Njeri, an Education major at the African Nazarene University, a student teacher in one of the local community schools, and the founder of the Greener Communities Program. Seated together beneath an acacia tree, she described the challenges, motivation, and drive to inspire conservation and transform an entire generation into ecosystem guardians.
“I believe earth has enough resources to satisfy every man’s needs, not greed. We need to establish the aspect of sustainable utilization of resources for the present and future generations without compromising biodiversity at large.” -Fionah Njeri
Fionah’s fight for a greener Kajiado
A Kajiado native, Fionah is a first-hand witness to its degenerating environmental landscape and devolving human-nature dynamic. As one of the least urbanized counties in the Nairobi Metro, unemployment is high amongst Kajiado’s youths, which encourages a predominantly informal economy and massive dependency on the county’s natural resources that exacerbate environmental issues. Livestock within the community graze indiscriminately, the unchecked charcoal production heavily disrupts the forest ecosystem, and both droughts and floods frequently hit the area.
Fionah enrolled in University, growing more concerned about the exploitation mindset permeating the Kajiado community. She joined an environmental club and eventually became the face of climate action as “Miss Environment”.
Following her tenure, Fionah founded the Greener Communities Program, a reforestation project that grows botanical gardens around Kajiado. But beyond its central vision, the organization is also a community-based initiative, with a diverse palette of activities that engages youths to actively restore and manage trees while being sensitized about their critical role in the survival and sustainability of the community.
For Fionah, environmental conservation and education are the foundation for tackling the community’s problems. Planting, restoring, and effectively managing trees coupled with better environmental awareness will lead to a greener, more sustainable Kajiado.
“Environmental conservation forms the basis of the socio-economic issues we face today. We need to make more people understand how intertwined we are with nature in order to incentivise a restorative mindset over an extractive one.” -Fionah Njeri
Going the extra mile for the community
Planting trees is only part of the solution; Fionah emphasizes that real impact is made by changing the ethos of the community, by sensitizing its members on reforestation and tree management, This is why Greener Communities is dedicated to reframing the perspective of community members through education, and by actively engaging members of all ages in their restorative practices. As always, it is especially important to involve and encourage the youth to learn and participate, as they will grow up to shape this world. Greener Communities partners with schools and students in Kajiado, teaching our next generation the importance of environmental stewardship and showing them the best practices for tree plantation and management.
The initiative also runs an “adopt the river” project that inspires community members to take responsibility for the closest parts of the river that runs through Kajiado and organize cleanup days.
Greener Communities also hosts an eco-book club where articles, magazines, and the latest developments around climate change are translated into the local vernacular and are read and discussed with students and adults alike. This informs, creates discourse, and raises awareness on how the world is reacting to the phenomenon of climate change and how Kajiado, as a microcosm, can create impact that stretches beyond the community by taking collective action.
Using OFP to open value
Amongst other things, Fionah and her team have had to record data manually for most of Greener Communities’ activities, including tree planting. She described the tedious process of using paper and pen to take inventory of every single tree, which was often a time-consuming, inefficient process that is difficult to keep track of. Using Open Forest Protocol’s MRV will streamline this process for the restoration projects under Greener Communities, allowing them to seamlessly monitor and verify their tree growth over time, and transparently display their progress over time. Their reported data will be stored on the Near Protocol blockchain, a decentralized and globally accessible immutable timeline of information. For Greener Communities, the openness of OFP will improve organizational efficiency and paint an accurate picture of the value of their work.
“Through the OFP platform, we will be able to measure our progress on protecting, growing, and restoring our forests. I recommend this tool to everyone doing tree growing. Accurately accounting for our work progress will give the satisfaction that we are or will continue doing something for the environment, and our efforts count”- Fionah Njeri
Greener Communities aims to monitor 10 hectares and beyond with OFP’s MRV — Fionah and her team see the project as the bridge between outside entities wishing to engage in sustainable practices and believes it will inspire other Kajiado natives and Kenyans take action to restore the synergy between nature and people, setting the area and community on a path towards sustainability. Fionah views OFP’s open verification of her forest data as an essential stamp of authenticity that will propel Greener Communities in the right direction, opening doors for exponential growth, and motivating peers and community members to engage more with the environment and learn more about nature-based solutions to climate change.
We want to thank Fionah Njeri for her passion and perseverance, for inspiring young minds to nurture the ecosystem around them, and inspiring us all to take action and fight for a greener future. We are so excited to welcome the Greener Communities Program to our Project Operator network and look forward to the strides they are taking to procure a greener, safer, and more sustainable future for Kajiado County.