There is a point to this article, and it has everything to do with trees. Before this year, I had only ever planted a tree once in about 24 years of life on earth. I planted 3 trees – Grevilleas. This was no easy task. It involved me interacting with soil, mud, sweat and other forms of dirt and filth, at a time when I preferred to be impeccably clean. I combed my hair well and went crazy when anyone touched it, I ironed my clothes so that they formed edges sharp enough to cut through skin, my shoes shined so much you would need tinted glasses to look at them and my nails were short and well manicured – I like to think I looked like David Beckham! To maintain this posture meant living life a bit differently – like a white house cat. It meant preferring not to involve oneself in manual labour.
Before you judge me, let me say I had nothing against manual work. But I believed in division of labour and specialisation. I preferred to be on the cleaner side of the divide, specialising in everything that would not jeopardise my appearance. But this day was an exception. By the end of it, you would not have been mistaken to think I had just participated in a mud run, and actually won! I did not do this because I had been moved by the sentiments of the Green Movement, quite not. I did it because I was pursuing something deeper than the deepest roots, taller than the tallest trees. Something that mattered to me.
I was at a meet-and-greet-as-you-plant-a-tree event, in Menengai Crater, Nakuru County. I actually wasn’t there to plant trees – absolutely not – I was there to meet girls (and heck I did!). There was this particular one by whom I was seized. She was stunning, like a blooming Jacaranda, and with a radiant spirit, like a Flamboyant tree. She stood tall like a Pine, and her confidence was big, like a Baobab. It had not ever crossed my mind that conservationist girls were actually the ones causing global warming!
Anyway, I figured that she cared about the environment because of the way she mobilised and organised. Just like many people whose identities end in “ists”, she had a fire inside her, like a Nandi Flame! All the sacrifice I had made was to catch her attention, like a flower attracting bees. Sure enough it paid off because I went on to get her number. To this day, we still talk.
Whether or not the trees survived I do not know – which is the point of this blog post. The problem with tree planting projects is that they lack care. Care starts from before one plants, during, and after. One needs to think about a few things. One needs to choose the right type of tree and find the best place to plant it, considering factors like soil and sunlight. After planting, you have to take good care of the tree, making sure it grows well and becomes strong.
But perhaps the most important thing is the why. What is the reason for planting a tree? A lot of the time it seems to me that people and companies do it just to look good. Public Relations stunts. They use tree planting as a way to improve their image and make themselves seem environmentally friendly, when they really don’t care. Planting trees to attract something else, not rain.
Also Read: Why Are Farmers Poor?
I recently found my own ‘why’. I moved to Malindi, a town in Kilifi, back in 2021. It was a furnace. The air was dry except for an occasional lonely breeze from the ocean. The dusty palms occasionally rustled on their heights as though they were murmuring cries for help. The soil reminisced the good wet days by forming mirages. Plants wilted. Even cacti wrinkled! There had not been rain for months!
Meanwhile, roads were buzzing with motorbikes ferrying sacks of charcoal from the interior of Kilifi to Malindi town. Even in this drought, people were still felling trees! Initially, it made no sense to me. It irked me. Then one day, many days later, I interviewed a few women and youth and they told me these two things that stuck with me:
Tunauza makaa tupate pesa ya kununua unga – We sell charcoal to get money to buy flour.
Mvua huletwa na Mungu – Rain is brought by God.
At this point, I understood. They were not cutting trees for the love of it or for greed – it was out of necessity to survive. Then I loaded it somewhere in my head that I would need to organise a very thorough, very different behaviour change campaign to improve their attitudes towards trees and rain. As fate would have it, a couple of months later, I was in a car with Al Kags, Angel Kyalo and Elphic Tossi, where Al was recruiting us on a mission to plant a 100-acre forest!
He sees the tropical forest consisting of fruit trees, hard wood, soft wood, indigenous trees, shrubs, flowers and other flora typical of a forest. It shall have trails for running and cycling and spaces for picnicking and camping so that while the trees grow, people can come and appreciate the beauty and importance of trees. “This is my small contribution towards restoring forest cover and combating climate change. I want to call back the rains to Kilifi County.” he said.
I would just like to point out that 100 acres is massive. We are talking about clearing, designing and planting trees in an area about the size of 76 football fields! Nonetheless, we all got onboard. After consulting, planning, designing, mobilising and sourcing, we have so far planted 281 different kinds of trees, in the first acre (an acre can take 350-500 trees). We have done all the clearing, planting and watering together with a few locals so that they can learn and be inspired to try it in their homes. Unlike before, I am now doing this because I have experienced first hand how dire it gets when we don’t have rain.
Together, we are like the Ents of Middle Earth (remember your JRR Tolkien). We shall see to it that the trees grow, that a forest becomes and that the local people plant a few trees on their farms so that by the end of it all, we have reforested the entire area. Even as Billionaires explore other planets for life, as far as we are all concerned we only have one home, earth, and it is going to be so for many years to come.