Hive of activity
The busy homestead of Paul Kariuki Kamondo fairly buzzes with activity. Women and girls wash clothes and dishes, cook, braid each other’s hair, labor over school lessons and tend to babies. Men and boys are tending beehives, chopping firewood and looking after the snow pea crop destined for export. Paul is the father of 16 children, and he has lost count of the grandchildren.
Paul is part of project that has farmers acting as caretakers of land belonging to the Kenyan Forestry Service, and enjoying personal rewards while supporting conservation for their nation.
Roughly a decade ago, the Kenyan Forestry Service logged about 25 hectares adjacent to the Kahuria River. Then the land was left bare. Farmers grazed livestock and took whatever wood remained for their cooking fires. The hilly landscape was prone to erosion, and soon the river became so choked with earth it ran dry part of the year.
The Kahuria River feeds Lake Naivasha, home to a flower industry that accounts for roughly 10 per cent of Kenya’s total foreign exchange revenue – and depends on a reliable supply of clean water. The state of the landscape in the upper catchment along the Kahuria River posed a serious economic, as well as environmental, risk.
The solution was to engage the people closest to the land, who would also benefit from improving the health of the ecosystem. Paul and other members of a community group replanted the zone closest to the river with native trees, with a preference for fruit trees. In return, they were supported to start beekeeping and can use wood removed when the trees are pruned.
Farther from the river, the group is planting tree seedlings that the forestry service may eventually harvest. WWF has provided basic training in plantation management and 20 Kenyan schillings per seedling planted, which, admittedly, isn’t much. The real incentive is the opportunity to farm on this government land until the trees mature. Paul and the others continue to plant staple crops on their own farms, but use the ‘bonus’ land for more profitable snow peas.
“I am grateful for this support. It’s not just for me, or this community. It’s for the country,” says Paul.
A conservation legacy
Joseph, John and Paul have 37 children between them. These are children – many of them parents themselves – who have seen their fathers innovate and adapt, learn and contribute to restore and protect their environment. There have been important personal benefits as well, and that may be the most important legacy of their experience: Conservation doesn’t have to mean sacrifice. In fact, being open to new ways of doing things can help both nature and people thrive.