Among the most popular means of recreation for a majority of Nairobi residents – especially with the sky rocketing cost of living – is a nature walk or a hike in the few remaining forests in and around the city like Karura and Ngong.
Unfortunately, very few if any of these fun loving Kenyans take time to ask themselves where they would be spending such quality time had Nobel Peace Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai not mobilized thousands of Kenyans to protest the clearance of these forests for real estate development.
In fact, while efforts are in top gear to restore Kenya’s heavily depleted forests and boost cover from the current two to ten percent, the common folk still appears highly apathetic on the benefits he stand to accrue from an increased forest cover.
Unknown to many is the enormous positive impact that afforestation – currently being spearheaded by the government, NGOs, religious leaders and private sector captains – is set to have on the day to day life of the ordinary citizen in the long run.
Commercialized tree planting is a key catalyst in achieving financial emancipation for nearly half of Kenya’s population that currently lives below the poverty line. Scientific research has in the recent past identified indigenous tree species whose commercial production could fast track eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.
For example, consider the drought resistant multipurpose Melia Volkensii locally referred to as mukau tree. Classified as the only mahogany that grows in semi arid areas, the tree does not only mature in just ten years but also produces high quality timber which fetches good prices in the market. The mukau fruit is highly sought by pharmaceuticals due to its use as an active ingredient in manufacture of drugs that cure wounds, flu and stomach related complications.
Either, forests are the lifeline of Kenya’s golden goose; tourism. Alongside being adventure sites for tourists, forests also provide cover and food for wildlife. As a matter of fact, conservation activists have cited the rapid clearance of natural forests as one of the main causes of the decline in wildlife population. Therefore, if we are to continue the numerous economic benefits that come with tourism, then the home of the few remaining wild animals must be protected by ensuring that we guard and where possible expand our forests.
Moreover – as argued by Prof. Maathai – deforestation is directly linked to the plight of rural women who are forced to spend untold hours in search of scarce firewood and water. On this note therefore, afforestation helps restore the rural woman’s main source of fuel and creates time for her to engage in other constructive activities.
By maintaining high evaporation, trees keep the water cycle going. They facilitate precipitation and thus attract rainfall which is essential for agricultural activities. Trees also help anchor soil and reduce storm water runoff. This saves the taxpayers the high cost of constructing ditches and flood sewers for the management of flood water. Reducing runoff also decreases top soil erosion.
Trees also increase commercial land values and occupancy rates as they boost sales appeal. A potential home buyer or house tenant will definitely go for the serene, peaceful, restful and tranquil environment that is characteristic of a home surrounded by trees.
In addition, an adequate tree cover is an efficient and cost effective way of improving air quality and reducing environmental pollution. Trees absorb small particles and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide which are released into the air by the ever increasing automobiles and industries. A single tree produces nearly three quarters of the oxygen required by one person!
Properly planted trees can cut heating and cooling costs. Urban areas without trees tend to experience higher temperatures than those with tree cover.
Whereas noise pollution is a major menace in many urban areas due to its psychological and physical effects, trees’ leaves, branches and twigs tend to absorb sound waves.
Finally trees also create cool neighborhoods and the calming effects of nearby trees and urban greening can significantly reduce work place stress levels and fatigue, calm traffic and even decrease recovery time needed after surgery.
Therefore, every citizen needs to discard the misguided notion that forest conservation is none of their business. Anyone who ignores calls to participate in tree planting and forest conservation does so at their own peril.