Pay a tribute to Prof. Wangari Maathai by planting a tree

In memory of Wangari Maathai


Mike Mungai

A tree; A plant beneficial in many ways but most are the times that only a few of us bother to think of the particular benefits. Prof Wangari once remarked, “It’s really amazing. You plant a seed; it germinates and looking so fragile, and within a very short time it becomes a huge tree. It gives you shade and if it’s a fruit tree it gives you fruit.” In times that we travel to “ushago” many see the avocados and mangoes and actually forget to look at the tree, only noticing it’s absence and of course that of fruits, only when it has long been cut down. The more trees are cut down either for firewood or simply because we want to expand our houses or initiate a poultry project, that is another source of fruit terminated. Next time you go to the market and find that the prices of these fruits are high or experience scarcity of particular fruits, do not complain since you played a role in the price hike.

As above stated, apart from providing fruits there are nitrogen fixing trees, trees that improve the fertility. Nitrogen is an element so necessary for the proper growth and development of crops. As such, some trees are natural fertilizers, which could be of great economic importance in areas where soils have lost their fertility. Trees also act as wind barriers; they reduce the impact of strong winds on crops and buildings. Felling down of trees not only keeps crops and buildings exposed to strong elements of weather which may in the long run lead to retarded crop growth and weak buildings. Apart from increased soil fertility, the amounts that would have been used to purchase fertilizers can be put to other uses by farmers.

A group of trees also function as water catchments. When hundreds of trees lose water daily through transpiration to the atmosphere, the water vapor rises accumulates and condenses to form clouds which result in rainfall. The importance of rainfall water for our economy is great considering the fact that as an agricultural dependent economy we also rely much on rainfall fed agriculture rather than irrigation. Rainfall water in rivers is used for hydroelectricity production, for consumption and rivers provide shelter for fish. Cutting down of trees for whatever purpose is detrimental to the constant supply of rainfall which leads to adverse effects on agricultural and energy production. It also leads to pipe water shortages or rationing.

Trees consume Carbon Dioxide, a green house gas that causes global warming from the atmosphere and gives out Oxygen a vital gas for the survival of human beings and animals. Global warming leads to; adverse climate changes such as increased or decreased amounts of rainfall, very warm summers or very cold winters, melting of glaciers and consequential rising of sea and ocean levels. Desertification, the spread of deserts also occurs due to increased temperatures and decreased vegetation covers amongst other factors. It is said that the Sahara Desert expands at a rate of 48 kilometers every year. Pretty soon it will be knocking at our doors. Prof Wangari’s advice in addressing the desertification issue was, “We want to see many Africans planting trees. There is absolutely no excuse to stop desertification because this is something that is doable and cheap.”

Every once in a while it is possible to see individuals taking a rest under trees. Trees provide shades from sun radiation. Years ago, I recall that Wazee’s baraza used to be held under the shade of trees, and to really understand the importance of these shades, imagine Uhuru Park or City Park without trees.

Trees provide much needed shelter for different types of animals and birds. It cannot go without mentioning the economic importance of these particular animals to the much needed income from tourists who come to see the different bird and butterfly species among other animals. The resulting effects of tourism is the many jobs created in the hospitality industry. Accordingly, tourism is the third largest contributor to the gross domestic product of Kenya.

When it comes to property ownership especially real estate, it is much more expensive to purchase a piece of land or a house in areas where there are trees as compared to those that lack trees. Most of us study, find employment and make a lot of saving so that one day we can purchase land or a place to stay in the posh neighborhoods’ of Lavington, Kilimani, Karen, Runda, Kitisuru to mention just a few. Why not save for a piece of land or a house in areas with little or no tree cover? The answer is simple, the trees add aesthetic value to the surroundings and many times where there are trees, there is beauty and there is fresh air.

The above are just some of the benefits of trees to the world – the environment, economy and to us. Sadly we never put into consideration some of these benefits before we encroach and settle in forests, before we cut down every tree that we see before us for either charcoal production, firewood or so that we can use the wood to construct houses, make sculptures or furniture.

We should all engage in afforestation and reforestation programs. Planting trees where none exist and where others had been felled. We should also strive to plant a tree whenever we cut down one. As we commemorate an year since the passing of Prof Wangari Maathai, let us take it unto ourselves to engage in environmental conservation initiatives. There is a lot to be done when it comes to the environment, it can be done but what matters is are we ready to do it? Are we ready to participate in cleanup activities? Are we ready to engage in recycling processes, especially that of paper bags? Are we ready to participate in proper waste/garbage management practices?

The environmental challenge and responsibility is up to us; to act negatively, remain as bystanders or act constructively. However, we should remember that if only we could act like the hummingbird in Prof Wangaris’ fable, we could achieve a lot, collectively!


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