SEEDLINGS NOT BIRTHDAY CAKE

Embu girls make villagers plant 5,000 trees on their birthday

Doris says if their action was cruel, then nature is even more cruel

In Summary

•Susan Mwende - the Miss Environment, Embu chapter - and her friend Doris, invited villagers and friends to their joint birthday party, inside the forest. 

•Guests were made to trod through mud, and plant 5,000 seedlings of indigenous inside of Kirimiri forest, in Mukuuri Location. 

Birthday guests plant trees inside Kirimiri forest on Saturday
Birthday guests plant trees inside Kirimiri forest on Saturday
Image: MARTIN FUNDI

When Doris Mutheca was a little girl, the edge of her father's farm faded into a dense canopy that blanketed the ground for kilometres.

Below the canopy was a moist understory that made Kirimiri Forest in Embu County almost impenetrable.

But the Shamba System ten years ago - where farmers were allowed to clear the undergrowth and plant food crops inside forests - changed everything. Many trees were felled and never replaced.

A big portion of the forest has been destroyed by loggers and charcoal burners and this has had a significant impact on the climate of this area

With time, this forest would be history, Doris says. 

The diploma teacher trainee turned 24 years last Saturday. 

Doris shares birthday with her 24-year-old friend Susan Mwende.

The two surprised villagers after distributing invitations to their joint birthday party, to be held inside the forest. 

The invitations were also shared on Whatsapp groups across Embu county. 

Only that there was no party. On arrival, guests were made to trod through mud and plant 1,000 seedlings and more than 4,000 seedballs of indigenous trees inside of Kirimiri forest, in Mukuuri Location. 

Mwende is the 2016/2017 Miss Environment Kenya, Embu County.

"I felt I needed to do something for my community on my 24th Birthday. With the help of family and friends I was able to gather the seedballs and tree seedlings which I decided should be my birthday gift to mother nature. We planted them at Kirimiri Forest," says Mwende, who runs an organisation called Green Economy Initiatives.

Doris says if their action was cruel, then nature is even more cruel. 

"I urge the community and those surrounding the forest area to take responsibility of safeguarding the planted area in order to realise full recovery," she says.

The local senior assistant chief, David Nyaga, was among guests invited to the party. 

He encouraged villagers to plant trees on their own farms as well to realise the government's goal of 10 per cent forest cover. 

Nyaga said the administration will partner with the community to enforce forest laws. 

"Our office will partner with you, we will get information from you and anyone found trespassing into the forest for a bad motive will be arrested and charged," he said. 

Cathlyn Wanja, a school headteacher, called on the Kenya Forest Service to own the project and ensure its success. 

She urged the community to educate school children on the importance of trees. 

"Even in schools we will ask our pupils and students to make sure they have planted a tree this rainy season," she said. 

Guests among them senior assistant chief David Nyaga (third left), laugh after Doris produced 1000 tree seedlings instead of a birthday cake.
Guests among them senior assistant chief David Nyaga (third left), laugh after Doris produced 1000 tree seedlings instead of a birthday cake.
Image: MARTIN FUNDI

KFS officer Paul Muchemi assured the community the service would walk the journey with them. 

Unknown to many guests, Mwende and Doris had already received necessary approvals from KFS, who also donated some seedlings and advised on spacing.

Local head of the community forest association Njiru M'rwingo (locally known as SK) was privy to the arrangement.

He urged KFS to fence Kirimiri forest and create many gates to allow community members inside.

"Kirimiri has a very unique biodiversity which is different from any other forest in Embu County, that's why we really need it protected," he said. 

Statistics from the Kenya Open Data portal shows that Embu County has 9.3 per cent of its land under forests.

The data highlights the strain of heavy settlements and agricultural activities on tree cover across Kenya as the country struggles to attain the set target of 10 per cent forest cover.

“The current forest cover of 6.99 per cent of the land area of the country is still below the constitutional requirement of 10 per cent,” the 2015 National Forest Policy says.

Community forest association leader Njiru M'rwingo.
Community forest association leader Njiru M'rwingo.
Image: MARTIN FUNDI

Mwende says she first mobilised tree planting for her birthday in 2017. "We have so far planted over 20,000 tree seedlings within Embu County mostly in schools and residential farms. Our aim is to plant 3 to 5 Million seedlings in the next 5 years," she says.

On Saturday, the day ended well as the two girls still served their guests a real birthday cake. 

"We will do it again," Doris promised.