One Man’s Quest to Greening Kenya, A Tree at a Time

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For 17 years, Mr. Bernard Lubia has nurtured and sold about 500,000 tree seedlings, effectively contributing to the country’s efforts to achieve a 10 per cent national forest cover.

Mr.Bernard Lubia at his tree nursery in Kipkarren River Township in western Kenya.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

Environmental conservation is at the centre of Kenya’s  socio-economic progress.So important is the issue that the Constitution of Kenya 2020 specifically provides for the need for the State to undertake interventions to improve the country’s forest cover.

And there have been various initiatives over the years to achieve this objective, the latest being the Greening Kenya Campaign implemented as part of the national strategy for achieving over 10 percent tree cover by 2022 developed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in 2019.

This strategy will see Kenya plant 1.8 billion trees, with the ambitious programme requiring the collection and distribution of 90 tonnes of assorted tree seeds across the country.

At the same time, section 69 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya 2020 obligates every person to cooperate with State organs and other persons to protect and conserve the environment and ensure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.

But one man epitomizes this patriotic duty and has performed it with exceptional zeal.

Mr.Lubia at his tree nursery.He has grown about a half a million tree seedlings in about two decades.

Meet Mr. Bernard Lubia, who has consistently and painstakingly contributed to environmental conservation in the country for the past 17 years. He runs a tree seedling establishment in Kipkarren River Township in Western Kenya.

This township is tucked on the border of Uasin Gishu and Kakamega counties on the Eldoret-Malaba Highway. It is on the shores of the Kipkarren River that for almost two decades, Mr.Lubia has made his mark to the collective national desire to enhance the country’s forest cover.

When I met him recently, Bernard or Ben as he is popularly known in the area, was tending his tree seedlings with patience and expertise.

This has been his stock-in-trade. Growing tree seedlings for sale. He estimates that in the period, he has nurtured about 500,000 tree seedlings, which have found their way into greening many parts of the country.

Besides being a source of income for him, it is the knowledge he has accumulated over time that strikes you when you engage him. He has mastered the behaviour of various trees and their contribution to the environmental well-being.

A huge position of his tree nursery comprises exotic trees like eucalyptus, which mature faster and are in great demand for their utility as electricity poles and also timber. The cypress tree, even though takes time to mature, has very good timber.

‘‘Some of the indigenous trees are medicinal while others are getting extinct. So I have to make efforts to get the seedlings and curate the species,’’ he tells me

Others like the silk oak tree, known by its botanical name grevillea robusta, has become a favourite tree species for many people, especially the farming community due to its ability to rejuvenate the soil and has no adverse impact on other crops.

‘‘Unlike other trees like eucalyptus that dehydrates the soil and has adverse effects on crops like maize, farmers now prefer grevillea robusta which not only matures faster, but is also friendly to other crops,’’ he tells me.

Combating Climate Change
Indigenous trees that Mr.Lubia has planted on the banks of Kipkarren River to prevent soil erosion on the river banks.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

For Mr.Lubia, climate change is real. Over the course of time, he has witnessed changes in weather patterns in the area, which can be attributed to human activity and its impact on the environment.

‘‘When I began this business, this river’s course was not as wide as it is now. Over the years, it has expanded by about 2 metres on both sides and continues to do so and the water levels have reached peaks not witnessed before in this area,’’ he says.

Mr.Lubia attributes this to possibility of environmental degradation upstream.

‘‘This could be due to enhanced rainfall or environmental degradation in areas like Ngeria, Soy and Nandi Hills where the river’s source is. You can see the water colour is brown, indicating that a lot of soil is being swept downstream,’’ observes Mr.Lubia.

He has planted several indigenous trees on the riverbank, and which he says have been instrumental in preventing further soil erosion at the area.

Mr.Lubia says the volume of tree seedlings he is able to grow has increased over time, and now targets at about 70,000 seedlings annually. His venture has opened opportunities to him and expanded his customer base.

‘‘This business has enhanced by network. It have interacted with many people of diverse backgrounds, which would otherwise not be possible. It takes about six months to grow a tree from the seeds to levels where it can be sold,’’ he says

Besides his tree growing venture, he is also an accomplished signage artist and suppments his income by growing vegetables for sale.

He says he has donated trees for environmental conservation efforts in schools and local tree planting drives and some may have ended in supporting efforts like in conserving the Mau water catchment area.

He now hopes to expand his nursery to grow more flowers and fruits to improve on the people’s nutrition and well-being. The father of three now says he has learnt to anticipate customer demands and to position his business to meet the changing preferences.

A tree has life!
Trees in Mr.Lubia’s nursery.PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

He sees his life intricately linked to the trees he grows in ways that are invincible to the human eye.

‘‘At the end of the day when you plant a tree, you plant a life. When you see a tree growing you get the feeling that a portion of yourself growing. Trees have feelings just like we humans. They yearn for care, to be tended with love. When neglected, they feel like orphans,’’ Mr.Lubia admits.

‘‘When you see a tree growing you get the feeling that a portion of yourself is growing as well. Trees have feelings, just like we humans. They yearn for care, to be tended with love. When neglected, they feel like orphans.’’

BERNARD LUBIA

He adds that he has also learnt that every tree or plant preforms a specific function within the ecosystem.

‘‘Every tree or plant has a purpose. The rose flower for instance, has an aromatic smell which when you breathe in you feel some sense of calmness in your mind. Other flowers clean the air by absorbing gases like xylene and that’s why when you go to a forest, there’s a feeling of tranquility that engulfs you even though you may not know why,’’ he opines.

Research shows that when patients are exposed to flowers, they exhibit a significant improvement in their moods. Floral beauty can also help encourage compassion and similar emotions.

Trees and Urban Sustainability
Trees lining a street in London.Trees can play a big role in sustainability of cities and urban areas. PHOTO: City of London

More than half the world’s population now lives in towns and cities, and that proportion will continue to grow in coming decades.

According to The World Cities Report 2020 released by the UN Habitat on 31st October, well-planned, managed, and financed cities and towns create economic, social, environmental and other unquantifiable value that can vastly improve the quality of life of all.

 “Urbanization can be leveraged for the fight against poverty, inequality, unemployment, climate change and other pressing global challenges, ” says Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

An article by the BBC in May 2020 in its Future Planet series indicates that trees can play a tremendous role in sustainability of cities and urban areas, given their role in reduction of air pollution and by consequence, improving air quality.

The article demonstrates that trees indirectly play this function by shading surfaces and reducing temperatures, which in effect reduces the need for conventional air conditioning, and the emissions of greenhouse gases that come with it. Lower temperatures decrease the risk of harmful pollutants like ground level ozone that commonly spike on hot days in urban areas.

But trees also play a vital role in directly removing pollutants from the air. Plants are often seen as the “lungs” of an ecosystem because they absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Carbon dioxide has been cited as the main cause of global warming.

Additionally, they also act as an ecosystems “liver” too, filtering atmospheric pollutants like sulphur dioxide, ammonia and nitrogen dioxide through their leaves and returning oxygen to the atmosphere.

In Kenya, the national strategy seeks to increase urban forests and green spaces in all the urban centers in the 47 counties by encouraging County Governments to promote avenue tree planting and establishment of green parks, arboreta and botanical gardens as well as securing and riparian areas and wetlands.

The strategy also seeks to educate, sensitize and create awareness to the public for the uptake of tree growing including integration of sustainable forest management in school curriculum.

As at 2010, Kenya’s forest cover was at 6.9 per cent, according to the National Forest Resources Assessment and Mapping Report by the Kenya Forest Service. It would cost KSh. 48 billion to implement the strategy and achieve 10 per cent forest cover target by 2022.

But Mr.Lubia has shown, and continues to do, that with almost half a million trees in about two decades, individual efforts like his can go a long way in contributing to this national goal. And he is doing his bit, a tree at a time!

As his legacy, he has a long-term plan of establishing a botanical garden to not only preserve diverse tree and plant species, especially those faced with the threat of extinction, but as his contribution to human tranquility and happiness.

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