Healthy forests for a healthy people

News - 2023-03-21
The UN General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 21 March as the International Day of Forests in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests.

Article by Roseline Orwa, Founder and Director of the Rona Foundation.  

On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national, and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.  

Today, Kenya marks the International Day of Forests with many counties citing encroachments and degradation as challenges facing some of the forests. Of the six counties with low forest, Siaya has the lowest forest cover of 0.42%, Kisumu has a cover of 0.44%, followed by Migori at %0.84, Homa Bay at %2.59, Kisii at 2.62%, and Nyamira at 7.29%, which is slightly lower than the national cover currently at 7.4%. 

Rona Foundation visited Mbaga in Siaya County for a base line survey. The visit showed increased deforestation, charcoal burning, tree cutting, and firewood fetching, a common practice by many households living around forests in Siaya County. Yet, from the water we drink to the medicines we take – many aspects of our lives depend on forests.  

Forests are also endangered by fires, pests, droughts, and unprecedented deforestation. Therefore, Siaya has to plant about one million trees so as to make strides towards achieving the national average. 

Tree Planting
Hon. Eunice Ndolo, Member of County Assembly South Sakwa and a widow legislator, leads the tree planting event at Rona Centre in December, 2022. Photo by: Michael Oidho.

Forests and heath 

Forests have numerous benefits to our health. They purify the water, clean the air, capture carbon to fight climate change, provide food and life-saving medicines, and improve our well-being. It’s up to us to safeguard these precious natural resources. 

At Rona Foundation, we fight to mitigate climate change crisis by educating key populations on climate justice and possible approaches to bridge the information gap. We do this by conducting discourses to raise awareness on the effect of climate change on agricultural systems and the impact it has on food security. We promote sustainable environmentally friendly activities such as establishing tree nurseries (for afforestation purposes), promoting agroforestry and climate smart agricultural practices, building and use of energy-saving stoves.  

Also, by educating learners, through an intervention dubbed Plant & Play, on the need for environmental protection and establishing environmental clubs in selected primary schools.  

This year, we are launching a climate justice project dubbed Voice to Action funded by ForumCiv under the recently launched Wajibu Wetu; Jumuika, Sikika! Project. The three-year project aims to increase women’s (mostly widows) participation on climate change actions and discourse in Siaya County by empowering them with knowledge, linkages, and adaptation resources on climate risks reduction to diversify livelihood options to reduce dependence on climate-sensitive economic resources. 

The Project will also enhance community actions towards the restoration and co-management of the ecosystem and natural resources. This will be done by strengthening community forest associations to be partners in protecting the forest together with Kenya Forest Services and other climate actors in Siaya county.  

Since, climate change fuels a rise in gender-based violence, the Voice to Actions proposes discourse and restoration actions to integration and mainstreaming of climate change responses and measures, including bridging the coordination gaps; toward ending violence against vulnerable widows and their daughters.  

It is our collective duty to protect our forests hence our online campaign Tulinde Misitu is currently running on all social media platforms. 

Roseline Orwa is the founder and director of the Rona Foundation, a grassroots organization in Kenya that works to advance and protect widows' rights, as well as provide support to orphans and vulnerable children. She is a lifelong Fellow of the Atlantic Social Economic and Equity Program at the London School of Economics for social and economic equity. She is also an Aspen New Voices Fellow 2021, and a Storyteller with the Moth. She tweets @RoselineOrwa

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