Working together to preserve resources
Farmers from Dunduni, a village in the Tharaka lowlands of Kenya want to preserve the trees on Ntugi Hill that are threatened by overexploitation.
Fabian Kohler, Biovision
As the home of their ancestors, the forest on Ntugi Hill has a spiritual meaning for the people of Dunduni. Despite this, it is under increasing pressure because of its use for timber and fuel and as fodder for cows and goats. Members of the Dunduni Group have realised that the health of the forest also has an impact on their farming activities. What is more, the field courses run by our Kenyan partner ICE (Institute for Culture and Ecology) have strengthened this realisation. “Many wild animals live in the forest,” explains Mary Kathoni, a member of the group. She is convinced that if the monkeys living in the forest can find enough fruit there, they will leave their fields alone. The wild bees and honey bees also find shade and food in the forest, particularly during the hotter, dry season. “Instead of going somewhere else, they remain here, pollinate our crops and fruit trees and also provide honey,” she stresses.
In addition, group members know that it is important to preserve the trees growing in their own fields. “They provide shade and prevent erosion,” explains Gerard Gikundi, Chairman of the Group. When soils are crisscrossed with tree roots, they are better able to absorb rainwater and store it. This is why the members of the Dunduni Group become very worried when they see farmers burning off the stubble after the harvest. With professional support from ICE, the farmers take cuttings or grow seedlings of the Muthuigora, Mububua or Neem trees which are then planted in the fields or in the forest. Several of their neighbours have already followed their example.
Muramba – the tree of life
In the sparsely wooded lowlands at the eastern foot of Mount Kenya, the baobab tree with its massive trunk and slender branches is instantly recognisable. In the local language, it is called the “muramba” or tree of life. The trunk has a spongy, fibrous texture and during the rainy season it absorbs and stores large quantities of water, which means that the trees are able to survive long periods of drought. The water stored in the trees has a significant cooling effect on the bark of the tree and the surrounding area and so they are often used as places of rest for both humans and animals. The fruit, which is full of vitamins, is also very popular and the seeds contain valuable oil. The smooth trunk makes it difficult for wild animals to climb them and so the beekeepers often places hives on muramba trees.
Members of the Dunduni group are keen not only to retain their valuable knowledge of the baobab and other indigenous species but also to disseminate that knowledge more widely. They are leading by example and planting trees so that others come to understand their importance. Group members know very well that “if the forest declines, so do the harvests”. They and other farmer groups participating in the Biovision project are showing the way by sending out a strong message about the importance of maintaining biodiversity and the resources used by humans in the area around Mount Kenya.