Drought, Species Loss, Climate Chaos: trees get to the root of it

News of the continuing drought in Kenya came to the attention of the global business community last week, with speculation that the recent poor short rains have had a negative effect on coffee bean yields and may well influence prices down the line.

It seems Kenya has no option but to continue to face increasing environmental challenges head on, in respect of its natural resources. Deforestation, water shortages, soil erosion, water pollution, desertification and domestic and industrial pollution are a handful of the problems it has to cope with and the impacts from them are rising steadily; reforestation is becoming more frequently labelled as a solution for many of these issues.

A recent report by Afr100 stated that 65% of Africa’s land mass has been degraded in some way. Looked at in a more optimistic light, it means there are over 700 million hectares of land available, which could provide the largest environmental restoration opportunity of any continent in the world.

“If you plant trees, the benefits are endless”, explains sustainable living author, Tracey West. When she got married in 2012, the first batch of many trees she’s responsible for, were planted in deforested land in Boré in the Coast Province of Kenya.

With help from her husband Simon and a handful of Trustees, she formed The Word Forest Organisation, a UK based charity with a mission to plant trees on degraded land, build classrooms in impoverished communities, and raise environmental and forestry awareness throughout this region.

Environmental Education is Vital

The positive impacts of the work Tracey and her team have done so far will improve the health of our planet and all its inhabitants. It would certainly impress Dr Fred Matiang’i and would have made Wangari Maathai proud too. These include:

  • Greatly improved physical conditions for learning felt by the students and teachers,
  • Pupils have higher levels of concentration and have achieved better grades,
  • Biodiversity is starting to flourish as safe habitats return and the forests attract wild cats, dik-dik, weaver birds and more,
  • Lessons on sustainability and forestry management have resulted in the start of a Wildlife Club to care for and study the forest and the creatures in it,
  • Communities are lifting themselves from poverty as the trees produce a variety of commodities,
  • Communities understand the environmental importance of reforestation, are planting more of their own food and cash crops and they want to plant more trees.

Tracey explains:

We have a global forestry expert in our team of Trustees called Ru Hartwell, who has worked with many communities in the Coast Province for over a decade. He has planted hundreds of thousands of trees all over the world and some years back, he realised there was a huge additional environmental benefit to planting them near the equator in Kenya. Individual mature trees can lock down around 240 kg of CO2 and because of Kenya’s climate, they grow incredibly quickly, so are super efficient at improving the air quality, cleaning up the atmosphere and providing countless other benefits too.

Ladies in the tree nursery BoreThe issue Tracey is most keen to highlight is that the planting of new tropical forests should encourage the normal rains to return. In a handful of years, considerable planting of new trees could make Kenya far more resilient as it struggles to cope with its increasingly challenging climate. The Word Forest Organisation has a network of schools and communities throughout the region who are ready, willing and able to plant new forests, and quickly. Their membership scheme is growing steadily but Tracey is keen to up the pace by offering attractive corporate partnerships too.

According to a new report, The State of Private Investment in Conservation 2016 released last week from Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, ‘conservation investing’ is on the increase and it’s producing good financial returns. Forest Trends describes conservation investments as capital invested to create sustainable food and fibre production, habitat protection, or clean water.

The report also states that this particular subsector – which identifies measurable environmental benefits in addition to financial returns – accounted for $2 billion of investments in 2015 an increase from $0.2 billion between 2004 and 2008 and almost doubling from $1.1 billion during 2014.

Tracey explains:

Our Trustees are hopeful that corporate partners will invest in our project when they realise the raft of environmental benefits that could be felt on a global scale. This is way beyond improving their CSR.

Big Players Are Needed

Helen Roberts, their Education Trustee, is responsible for twinning primary schools in the UK and Kenya. She comments, “We want to work with sponsors who share our passions and are content in the knowledge that their investments are protecting biodiversity, improving food and water security, helping to combat the horrors of desertification and helping inspire a generation of Kenyan youngsters particularly, who are living at the sharp end of climate change. Armed with a greater understanding of the environment, they may be able to provide global solutions that are key to our survival on the planet.”

Putting the environmental benefits aside for a moment, addressing deforestation is absolutely critical for business success too, so says CDP Worldwide in their December 2016 report, Revenue at Risk. The report claims that 81% of agricultural product companies and 45% of food and staples retailing organisations, report impacts related to deforestation that have generated a substantive change in operations, revenues or expenditure over the past five years. Impacts have already been felt (as a result of deforestation) and more risks are recognised.

The Word Forest Organisation’s Managing Director, Simon West concludes:

We are ready to reforest and repurpose vast swathes of degraded land in Kenya and this action is critical if the world hopes to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement. Investment with The Word Forest Organisation will also improve Kenya’s resilience, it’ll give the leaders of the future knowledge and new skills and also help businesses across the world open their minds to the true value of our precious natural resources.

© Tracey West

An abridged version of the following first appeared in Business Today Kenya on 25th January 2017.

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