- One of the community forest associations in the Pelis initiative is the Ngeta Forest Association, which has more than 1,000 members
- Some of the crops the community has planted include potatoes and other horticultural crops which are supplied to the local markets
Forest adjacent communities in Nyandarua county have started to reap big from the government's target of growing 15 billion trees in the next 10 years.
Through the Plantation Establishment Livelihood Improvement schemes, the community members are able to cultivate land while taking care of trees.
One of the community forest associations in the Pelis initiative is the Ngeta Forest Association, which has more than 1,000 members.
The association's chairman Paul Karanja said his members are working closely with Kenya Forest Service to grow the crops and trees.
“We have seen many benefits in our partnership with KFS in accordance with forest laws,” he said.
“We plant trees and care for them. As we do so, we also plant short-maturing crops."
Some of the crops the community has planted include potatoes and other horticultural crops which are supplied to the local markets.
Pelis is a system in which KFS allows forest adjacent communities, the right to cultivate agricultural crops during the early stages of forest plantation establishment.
The community is allowed to grow crops, prune trees, and get grass for their livestock.
Cultivation is allowed to continue for three years until the tree canopy closes.
The scheme was meant to improve the economic gains of participating farmers while ensuring the success of planted trees.
During the ongoing short rains, the state is targeting to grow 500 million trees.
Environment CS Soipan Tuya said the country needs to plant 1.5 billion trees each year to meet the 15 billion target in 10 years.
“During the long rainy period of April–June 2024, we will grow 1 billion seedlings to reach our target,” she said.
Tuya said every Kenyan needs to grow 30 seedlings each year to meet the 15 billion target by 2032.
The Environment CS said community forest associations play a key role in the drive.
Initially the community did not have enough land to plant and source grass for their livestock.
“We are now reaping the benefits. The destruction of forests has ceased because we have helped raise awareness, and the community is now aware of the benefits they will reap from protected forest resources,” Karanja said.
Nyandarua is among the counties that have improved both tree and forest cover, standing at 27.5 per cent and 26.2 per cent, according to the 2021 forest assessment results.
There are 255 registered CFAs across the country, 163 have approved participatory forest management plans while 102 have signed forest management agreements with KFS.
Karanja said the block, which is 70 acres, is equally divided among the 140 families to cultivate crops and protect tree seedlings.
He said when KFS planted seedlings, the community had not started cultivating crops and the trees were drying.
“When the seedlings dry, the community member immediately replaces them. We now have 100 per cent germination,” Karanja said.
CFA is currently in the process of renewing Participatory Forest Management with KFS.
David Gicheru, a member of the association said forest destruction was initially happening because the community had not been involved.
“We have since stopped all the illegal activities such as logging and burning of charcoal after experts from World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya came to train us on the importance of forest resources,” he said.
Gicheru said they are able to take their children to school with the benefits from the initiative.
WWF has been supporting the CFA through its Forest Landscape Restoration project.
The FLR project is a five-year project that aims to restore 500 hectares of gazetted forests, 40km of riparian land, and 100 hectares of farmlands, working with 400 beneficiaries between 2020 and 2024.
WWF-Kenya Rift Programme manager Dr William Ojwang said the project has complimented the government's pledge to rehabilitate 5.1 million hectares of degraded landscapes.
KFS has listed CFAs as key elements in forest conservation and management because they are formed by communities that live adjacent to forests.
The communities use forests sustainably to generate income and improve their livelihoods, easing pressure on the forest areas.
KFS has helped form, restructure and register CFAs countrywide in accordance with the Registrar of Societies.
The CFAs are also supposed to sign the Participatory Forest Management Plan and Forest Management Agreement, as per the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016.
Once CFAs sign agreements with the KFS as per the Forest Conservation and Management Act of 2016, they get user rights.
Some user rights include the collection of medicinal herbs, the harvesting of honey, the collection of dead fuel wood, grass harvesting, and collecting herbs and honey.
Others are ecotourism, recreational activities, and plantation establishments, among other rights.
A registered CFA is under obligation to protect, conserve, and manage the public forest in accordance with the approved management plan and formulate and implement sustainable forest programmes.
They also protect sacred groves and protected trees, assist KFS to enforce the provisions of the forest laws, help fight fire, and inform KFS of any developments, changes, and occurrences that are critical for the conservation of biodiversity.