Fifth graders start orchard in collective forest cover drive

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022 00:00 | By
Kenya Forestry Services’ Nairobi Head of Conservancy Francis Kariuki plants a mango tree with Cheleta Primary School 4K Club members. PD/Clifford Akumu

Fifth-graders assembled to dig holes on the grounds of Cheleta Primary School, Nairobi early Tuesday morning.

The more than 20 children in groups of three or four were ready for a fruit tree planting organised by Absa Bank Kenya Plc and partners. Inside those holes, they planted several grafted apple mango, avocado, orange fruit trees, which together will form a school orchard.

Angel Shasha, 10, beamed with joy as she reached down, scooping a mound of soil and watered an avocado seedling. Like other pupils from Cheleta, she will adopt the avocado seedling until it matures.

Shasha, an active member of the school’s 4K club, has developed keen interest on environment conservation. She says adopting a fruit tree is a responsibility that has come at the right time.   

She will now form part of an ambitious plan by the bank to plant 10,000 fruit trees in schools countrywide to tackle effects of climate change and improve nutrition security for school children.

The bank recently rolled out its Birdies for Good initiative as part of the 2022 Magical Kenya Open Golf Tournament that will raise funds towards planting the fruit trees.

“I’m happy to be part of the fruit tree planting process. It will now help me to practically take care of our environment,” bubbly Shasha said.

Growing fruit trees, said Jane Waiyaki, Absa Bank’s Head of Sustainability, “will help improve our country’s tree cover while also assisting in  improving national nutrition security, particularly among school-aged children,” said Waiyaki during the recent launch of the initiative at  Cheleta Primary School. 

It will also go a long way in teaching children about nutrition, climate change and agriculture, she said.

The Birdies for Good initiative, now in its second year, will donate Sh1,200 to plant and grow additional fruit trees in Kenyan schools this year over and above the 10,000 trees commitment. Absa hopes to raise at least Sh6 million through this initiative.

Waiyaki said investing in the entire ecosystem is vital at a time when climate change is taking its toll on forest cover.

“We want to make a difference in people’s lives beyond the tournament, and the initiative exemplifies this commit.

As a result, we challenge the golfers to bring their best game to the tournament and be a part of impacting our community through their scores,” she said, adding the lender is committed to plant 10 million trees in five years.

Kenya is rushing against time to meet the 10 per cent forest cover target by this year. The country’s forest cover stands at 7.2 per cent and there has been several initiatives to uptick the percentage.

Francis Kariuki, Head of Nairobi Forest Conservancy, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) said nature conservation is critical in the fight against climate change. “Whatever tree we plant today will go a long way to assist towards the country’s goal of 10 percent forest cover by 2022. We need everybody in this country to contribute to environmental conservation. It can only become better with the target if everyone is active in tree planting activities.”

Kariuki said planting trees will help secure future, lives and livelihoods of our children and their children. He called on other stakeholders to join the initiatives noting, “Protecting and conserving our environment is a shared responsibility.”

The school’s head teacher, Mary Kimani, while lauding the initiative noted that: “As a school that neighbours urban green space of Karura Forest, we are very passionate about environment conservation. We commit that the fruit trees we plant today will be taken care of and nurtured until maturity.

“Our learners will interact with fruit trees. The pupils can walk into the orchard and enjoy the fruits.”

Shasha said she has planted flowers before, but not trees or fruit trees. 

“I feel excited, because it’s my first time and I want to make sure my avocado grows healthy,” said Shasha, who would like to become a pediatrician in future.

Shasha said most of her friends eat a lot of processed food, adding that the fruits they are growing will be a way out of the current situation.

Nurtured to maturity

Kariuki stressed on the need to label and include the medicinal aspects of the trees in the orchard to create awareness among learners.

“I urge the school to create a medicinal tree section to help the learners grasp the values of some of the indigenous tree species. The labelling process will be carried out in conjunction with officials from friends of Karura Forest, Kenya Forest Service, Absa Bank Plc and Cheleta Primary School. “Fruit trees are very demanding in terms of nutrients to help them in faster growth. We will need to top dress and apply manure to power their maturity.”

The Birdies for Good initiative, launched during the 2021 Magical Kenya Open, raised Sh8 million for long-term community development projects. A women’s bead-making enterprise, tree planting and the distribution of sanitary pads to schoolgirls in Laikipia, Isiolo, and Samburu counties were among those who benefited.

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