Tracey West, CEO of The Word Forest Organisation: on self-isolation working from home

Covid-19 Update: 4 curves that need flattening

This is our first post since entering an epoch of rapidly changing, exceptional circumstances that are affecting every single human being on our planet. We love sharing news about the positive impact our supporters are having on the frontline of climate change in Kenya. However, at the moment there’s little ‘new’ good news to impart, because Kenya is essentially on its first tier of lockdown. It remains weighted down and shrouded in an immeasurably heavy cloak of uncertainty, fear and gut-wrenching sadness.

Delivering our charitable objects

In short, the funds you kindly donate to Word Forest usually enable us to do a great many things. These include providing income for the hardworking tree planters, classroom builders and facilitators of education, who provide lessons for our women’s empowerment group, the Mothers of the Forest.

Right now our funds are being used for direct aid; buying food and clean water, with no stipulation to plant trees, because they are not even allowed to visit the nursery. However, pledges for planting are being freely offered by the community. As soon as they can get back out on the land, they will.

Mothers of the Forest with their choice of Christmas gifts: flour, oil, rice and a little sugar

However, with the current restrictions the pandemic has placed upon us all, our projects and activities both in Kenya and the UK, have come to a standstill: schools are closed, people have been ‘strongly advised’ to stay at home and social distancing measures are in place. Meetings of even small groups like the ones our Mothers of the Forest have, are currently banned.

A parent/teacher meeting at Kundeni Primary School, taken just before lockdown, planning the one acre permaculture food forest they’re creating at the school. Everyone is so excited about it but everything is now on hold.

Kenya: lockdown?

According to a report in the Standard Digital recently:

“A section of Kenyan politicians have urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to lockdown the country to curb the spread of coronavirus, others have however argued that a lockdown without a proper plan, could be a terrible idea. Former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo said that although a lockdown could be a vital move by the government, the state should first consider the 80% of Kenyans who live from hand to mouth.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent decision to impose a curfew between 7pm to 5am, has triggered ministerial fears that Kenya simply ‘couldn’t afford to enforce a complete lockdown’ in order to control the spread of the virus. Additionally, all international flights have been suspended.

In a related article, Felix Odhiambo, a political analyst, told The Star that the state was trying to pilot the night curfew, before going into a complete lockdown in the coming weeks. He said: “What the government is trying to do is to start preparing Kenyans that a lockdown would be in the offing, just to avoid mass panic in case such a declaration is made.”

Breaking News: Presidential address, April 6, 2020.

“I will go to any lawful length to respond to COVID-19.”

“There is a choice that we are asked to make as a government and as a people. Do we carry on as normal or treat this like an extraordinary emergency – which it is- and fundamentally change the way we act and behave? I believe we must choose the latter.”

The areas of Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Kilifi, Kwale, Mombasa have been identified as COVID-19 infected areas.

To contain and limit the spread of the disease, the National Security Council has issued these measures:

Cessation of all movement by road rail or air in and out of:
a. The Nairobi Metropolitan area
b. The counties of Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa

Cessation of movement within Nairobi Metro for 21 days, WEF 7pm Monday 6th April 2020

Cessation of movement within Kilifi, Kwale & Mombasa for an initial period of 21 days from 7pm of Wednesday 8th April 2020.

Our predominant planting area (Boré) is situated in Kilifi County.

One of our tree planting friends, Elizabeth, from the Peace and Sustainability Centre in Lake Victoria, with a few basic provisions bought from your kind donations.

The fear of slipping through the net

Fourteen million Kenyans live below the poverty line. They have a hand-to-mouth existence and many survive by working in ‘informal sectors of the economy’. They are almost entirely dependent upon whatever daily income they can muster. This huge demographic is very unlikely to be able to meet even their basic needs, if Kenya is fully locked down, the nation is confined to their homes and they are unable to work.

The home of another dedicated tree planting family in Boré. Your donations are helping them survive the Covid-19 crisis: as soon as they can start planting again, they will.

It’s true to say that our amazing tree planting partners in Kenya are rich in countless ways socially, however, many of them are deeply impoverished, financially. With a low but steadily increasing number of citizens infected by Covid-19 and an accompanying handful of deaths, Kenya faces an unknown period of terrifying uncertainty. Many communities in rural areas, such as our Coast Province reforestation hub, are fearful of how they’re going to source food, or clean water. 

Little ones from Boré sharing some ugali: a staple dish made from maize flour and water, boiled to make a malleable, starchy mass.

To date, in the areas Word Forest is supporting to plant trees, no calming government announcements have been made regarding sustenance for those who need it, no aid agencies have made their presence known and no reassuring messages have arrived from local Chiefs, either: the people are on their own right now. 

Two women carrying 20 litre water containers (and a baby) to their homes in Boré.

If our tree planting partners are unable to feed themselves and stay hydrated with clean water through the months ahead and not have to resort to drawing unsafe water from the highly polluted Sabaki River, the people and our planet are in deeper trouble than I dare contemplate. 


Remember, Kenya sits on the frontline of climate change and it frequently does battle with devastating droughts and unimaginable floods. Both of these disasters, commonly attributed to the rise and mis-management of developed nations around the world, virtually destroy their ability to keep themselves nominally fed. On top of that, in recent months great swathes of Kenya are still squaring up to the food insecurity they’ve been plunged into, following weeks of locust swarms (some measuring 40km x 60km) that ravaged across East Africa, decimating vital crops like maize. 

One of the Mothers of the Forest, our women’s empowerment group, with her young one at the main Boré nursery, before curfew was imposed: enjoying a plate of pilau (rice). Your support has enabled them to learn to read, write and do maths and be paid for tree planting too. The positive impacts we’ve noted from the Mothers, is almost off the scale.

For almost incalculable numbers of rural Kenyans, the national economic crisis is ever-present and starvation is only ever a handful of days away. Our support to help them through this crisis, is vital and we’re indebted to you for your continued assistance, through your own difficult financial periods. I cannot do an adequate enough job of relaying the gratitude from Kenya, for every penny you’re continuing to put in out pot.

The 3 other curves that desperately need flattening too

The rising curve on the coronavirus infection and death charts across the planet, represents yet another killer on the pile of concerns Kenyans have to carve a route through, on a daily basis. For many, Covid-19 is throwing a deadly insult at an almost terminal injury. Yet, if scrutinised through a different lens, the Covid-19 era could be seen a precursor to a future with flattened curves on other existential threats to all life on earth: the global temperature increase, rising sea levels and CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere.

Assuming sensible mitigating plans remain on track via lockdowns, social distancing measures and vigorous hand washing and that mass testing is actually put in place too, scientists are expecting the Covid-19 to peak and decline significantly within months.

How I wish the same could be said for the other charts. The thing is, all the world’s governments could well rebuild society in a far more sustainable way that hastens the flattening of three dangerous environmental curves: here’s hoping they see sense, follow the science and do just that.

Source: European CDC – Situation Update Worldwide – Last updated 6th April, 12:00 (London time) Note: The large increase in the number of cases globally and in China on Feb 13 is the result of a change in reporting methodology.

Millions of jobs are being lost or furloughed with a hope of being reinstated at some point in the future and businesses are going into administration left, right and centre.

If I may take a moment to bring things to a local level, in our little seaside town of Lyme Regis, our local papers are reporting some organisations who are handing their keys back to the bank, as they throw in the towel and shut up shop: it’s heartbreaking, unsettling, worrying but this could also be the start of pivotal change, in which case it would be amazing!

It’s no longer business as usual: in fact, ‘normal’ has well and truly left the building! The world is being re-scuplted. With retraining schemes in place, sustainable industries could well rise from the ashes and transform our silent streets into sustainable streets.

Sea level rise is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms. This graph tracks the change in sea level since 1993, as observed by satellites. Measurement taken November 2019.
The chart shows changes in CO2 concentrations seasonally.  The chart uses averages of readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii that started in March 1958.
Temperature evolution in a model simulation with the MRI model. Other models also show comparable “hiatuses” due to natural climate variability. This is one of the standard simulations carried out within the framework of CMIP3 for the IPCC 2007 report.

Kenyans can mitigate both global temperature rise and consequently, sea level rise, by planting millions of fast growing trees. The last time I checked, Kenya was reporting canopy cover of less than 10% countrywide: we’re not going to have a problem finding places to plant them. 

We’re firing up our imagination and making new fundraising plans

We frequently use Skype and Zoom for no-travel, low-carbon digital meetings and since entering lockdown, we’ve simply added more of the team to the screen. Our phenomenal volunteers and trustees have been throwing lots of creative ideas into the pot to ensure fundraising remains at the forefront of our list of things to do. A list of no-cost and low-cost opportunities showing how how you can assist, will be posted soon.

A snapshot from our recent fundraising screening of #TreesAreTheKey narrated by Kate Winslet, in Charmouth

Our UK Head Office remains gravely concerned about how we’re going to fundraise during the months ahead, as all of our talks, community film screenings of #TreesAreTheKey, market stalls and other events, are cancelled for the foreseeable future. Also – as expected and quite understandably – we’ve received communications from some of our wonderful donors, who with great sadness and regret have chosen to put their regular donations on hold. They are quite rightly concerned about their own financial stability.

The Mothers of the Forest received lessons about organic growing and permaculture. Here they are, planting up their first food forest. Everything they do helps secure a safer future for them and their families, with the ability to farm, stay fed and hydrated: their planting is enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty and they know, the trees are helping the wider world too – everybody wins, it just needs a bit of financial support from us.

A greener future is more possible than ever

I pray that long before we rise up out of this pandemic, governments will give the environmental scientists the same airtime and respect afforded to their biological colleagues who are rushed off their feet right now. Good news about how the world is healing from its period of respite from business as usual, is seeping through and giving us all hope. Politicians must use this period to observe the positive changes that are taking place and build them into the plans for global recovery.

It’s not like we’ve got to work very hard to get the maths right as we imagine the earth with less CO2 and other pollutants in the atmosphere – it’s happening, right here, right now!

The world belongs to you, take eco-matters into your hands and keep our planet clean!

Every sustainably-flavoured future we could ever imagine for our world, is on the table right now. We will be calling upon the governments to reshape it into a low-carbon, ethical economy. One that favours a restructured workforce who understand the vital importance of sustainability, filled with free training opportunities for clean, green vocations for whoever wants to reach out for them. A healthy planet that favours contented, happy people before profit, isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

This message of eco-optimism for our future, needs to ring out to all the world’s leaders: they’re doing their level best to tackle Covid-19, they’re finding the funding they need to do it and enabling the scientists to do what they were born to do: solve the problem!

We demand they do the same for our climate crisis, build upon the phenomenal environmental kick-start this crisis has handed us – and no more excuses!

Tracey West: CEO and Fundraiser
The Word Forest Organisation


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