MMUST Leads Collaborative Effort to Restore Kakamega Forest  

MMUST Leads Collaborative Effort to Restore Kakamega Forest  
Part of the degraded land in Kakamega forest that the tree planting exercise is taking place

By Mary Owano 

Kakamega Forest is a crucial ecological gem in Kenya, known for its biodiversity and unique ecosystem. It is one of the last remaining fragments of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent. Efforts to preserve and restore it are vital for maintaining its rich biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Reviving Kakamega Forest involves a comprehensive approach, including reforestation efforts, community engagement, sustainable resource management, and protection against deforestation and illegal logging. 

Collaboration between local communities, government agencies, NGOs, institutions, and environmental organizations is essential to ensure the long-term health and biodiversity of the forest. These initiatives support several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are crucial for global sustainable development.

Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) has partnered with the Muleshi Community Forest Association to restore degraded parts of Kakamega Forest. The university, located in Kakamega County and neighboring the forest, aims to plant and grow at least 200,000 trees annually to contribute to the president’s target of planting 15 billion trees by 2032. This effort aligns with SDG 13: Climate Action, as it helps sequester carbon, reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and mitigating climate change.

The acting Vice Chancellor Masinde Muliro University Josephine Ngaira taking part in the tree planting exercise at Kakamega forest

During a tree-planting exercise at Kakamega Forest, Professor Josephine Ngaira, the acting vice-chancellor in charge of planning, research, and innovation, emphasized the initiative's goal of restoring Kakamega Forest and conserving the environment. She urged Kenyans to participate in the tree-planting exercise to meet the president’s target, aligning with climate change mitigation efforts.

"Western Kenya has been given a target of planting 51 million trees every year to meet the president’s goal of 15 billion trees by 2032. Kakamega County is required to plant 21 million trees, divided among institutions and regions. For these targets to be met, it is the responsibility of every Kenyan to engage in this exercise. Everyone is affected by climate change, making it a collective responsibility," she said.

The professor, also a climate change activist, stated that the forest department and the community have allocated six hectares of land for rehabilitation.

"We have been given six hectares of land where trees were previously destroyed. We aim to plant 6,500 trees in the first phase of our 'Revive Kakamega Back' initiative. We have partnered with the community, which has already planted 2,300 trees. We will plant the remaining trees ourselves to meet the target for this phase," she added. 

This focus on indigenous trees over exotic species promotes SDG 15: Life on Land, as it supports various flora and fauna, creating a layered forest structure that fosters a healthy ecosystem.

Professor Ngaira highlighted the importance of planting indigenous trees over exotic species, attributing them to increased biodiversity. Indigenous trees support various flora and fauna, creating a layered forest structure that fosters a healthy ecosystem.

Also present was Dr. James Owuor, a senior lecturer at MMUST and coordinator of the university’s greening initiative. He noted the success of similar projects in other regions, including Mount Elgon, Mau Forest, and Mombasa.

Owuor expressed gratitude to the community for their participation and cooperation, urging them to help care for the trees to ensure their growth. This demonstrates SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals, emphasizing the collaborative efforts between MMUST, the local community, and various stakeholders to achieve the reforestation targets and ensure sustainable development.

"We are also exploring other renewable energy sources to discourage the use of charcoal and firewood," he added. 

This initiative aligns with SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, by promoting clean energy alternatives and discouraging deforestation caused by charcoal and firewood use.

According to Professor Stanley Omuterema Oluchiri, a lecturer at MMUST and a lead consultant for the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), trees play a crucial role in mitigating climate change by preventing floods, reducing high temperatures, and controlling pollution through carbon sequestration.

"Trees help prevent the impacts of climate change by controlling harsh weather conditions and reducing environmental pollution," he said.

The university aims to raise public awareness, especially among communities living around the forest, on the importance of restoring destroyed trees and the benefits of tree planting. This includes door-to-door campaigns organized by MMUST’s management, reflecting efforts to educate communities, aligning with SDG 4: Quality Education.

Armstrong Orange, the patron of the Kenya Red Cross MMUST chapter, mentioned that the initiative also aims to empower youth by highlighting their role in combating climate change and restoring Kakamega Forest.

"Engaging the youth demonstrates their responsibility in controlling climate change and supporting the 'Revive Kakamega Back' initiative," he noted. This empowerment of youth also supports SDG 4: Quality Education, fostering a culture of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Joseph Mbai, chair of the Muleshi Community Forest Association, emphasized the community’s role in taking care of the planted seedlings. He urged people living around the forest to respect forest regulations and work together for the forest's betterment.

"We request the Kenya Forest Service to engage us in caring for the planted seedlings and urge the community to comply with government conservation regulations for the forest’s revival," he said.

The deputy regional  forest officer western  Ashiono Frederick planting a tree


The community thanked MMUST for its efforts. The forest department, led by Deputy Regional Forest Officer for the Western Region Ashiono Fredrick, acknowledged the degradation caused by the surrounding community and emphasized the need for restoration.

"MMUST is among the organizations and institutions we are collaborating with to restore Kakamega Forest. We aim to protect the newly planted trees and plan to build an electric fence to prevent encroachment. The Kenya Forest Conservation Act allows us to work with the community in this effort," he added.

Fredrick also mentioned plans to engage the community in sustainable activities like beekeeping and developing grazing plans to provide livelihoods without harming the forest. These activities align with SDG 1: No Poverty, by offering alternative income sources that do not harm the forest.

"We will use tree species that naturally existed in Kakamega Forest to ensure compatibility and promote biodiversity," he said.

The collaborative efforts between Masinde Muliro University, the local community, and various stakeholders in reviving Kakamega Forest are commendable. Their comprehensive approach, including reforestation, sustainable resource management, and community engagement, is crucial for preserving the forest's biodiversity and ecosystem services. These initiatives not only benefit the local community but also contribute to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.

Research has shown that economic activities often lead to forest destruction. Trees are cut down for charcoal production, firewood, and building materials, posing a danger to forests and leading to prolonged droughts and river depletion. 

According to a report by the Kenya Forest Service and the UN Environment Programme, deforestation deprived Kenya's economy of 5.8 billion shillings in 2010 and 6.6 billion shillings in 2009, far exceeding the roughly 1.3 billion shillings generated from forestry and logging each year.

For Kakamega Forest to be fully restored, it requires the combined efforts of the community, government, and all other stakeholders capable of contributing to the forest’s revival. This multifaceted approach will ensure the sustainability of the forest and its crucial role in Kenya's ecological and economic health. 

By addressing these SDGs through a holistic approach that combines environmental conservation, community engagement, education, and sustainable economic activities, the initiatives in Kakamega Forest contribute to broader sustainable development objectives.