Inspirational youth are combining sport, arts, fun, passion, networking, science and technology to lead restoration of Kenya’s degraded lands.

By: Tengetile Zanele Mphila-Nguru

Kenyan youths have over the years been playing a crucial role in landscape restoration. As a way of recognizing their efforts and inspiring them to share their experience more widely, the Reversing Land Degradation in Africa by Scaling-up Evergreen Agriculture (Regreening Africa) project in collaboration with GLFx Nairobi, supported by the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), hosted a youth-led virtual learning experience on 27 January 2021. The aim was to spotlight youth taking the lead in restoring their landscapes and fostering synergies to increase the scale of restoration in Kenya.

The youth webinar was one of a series of webinars as a build up to the launch of the National Landscape Restoration movement in Kenya, scheduled for June 2021. The young and lively event was joined by more than 100 people via Zoom and Facebook, hosted by Kiptoo Chemoiwo and moderated by Laura Mukhwana, both from GLFx Nairobi.

Amongst the speakers was Patricia Kombo, the founder of PaTree Initiative, named a Land Hero by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in 2020; Milton Oboka, the co-founder of One Vision Kenya and Green Ambassador for Climate Change Africa Opportunities; Fredrick Okinda, the chairman of Komb Green Solutions; Charity Lanoi, the livelihoods team leader at Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust;  Janet Chemitei, the social media coordinator at Creative Waste Network; and Lesein Mutunkei, the founder for Trees for Goals.

From the discussions with these inspiring young people, it emerged that a majority of youth are seeking three key things: 1) meaningful partnerships in implementing restoration initiatives on the ground with state, local, national and global partners; 2) income-generating restoration initiatives that provide them with sources of livelihoods while restoring degraded landscapes; and 3) access to knowledge and technology through capacity building that helps them address real-world challenges.

The speakers noted that thousands of young people in Kenya are taking the initiative on climate change and the environment in their own small ways something that is hardly ever mentioned in the mainstream media. They shared their experience of the steps they have taken to start their organisations or join existing ones, how to start businesses geared towards the 3Rs (Reduce, Re-use and Recycle), how to network with others in the restoration business, how to gain wider community support, income-generating opportunities for youth in restoration and the use of various means, including sport, to promote restoration.

Most of the speakers mentioned that the journey to starting an impactful youth organization in landscape restoration requires passion and dedication to serve the community. Speaking on how she started her organization, Patricia Kombo said that she did not have any support from her parents but because of her love and dedication for the environment she used her savings and asked her friends to support her first project. She advised that young people who want to start a restoration organization should be aware that people want to see action in order for them to understand and join or support the work.

‘In my journey,’ she said, ‘I have realized that one greatest step to restoration is mindset change.’

More advice was shared by the young speakers during the event. Milton Oboka shared the most important points on how to network and engage with others and have successful partnerships. He explained that when engaging in partnerships with other organizations, trust and shared values were important, knowing what you want from the other (resources, skills, a platform etc), having a team with shared values, having something to bring on board, knowing your strengths as an organization, embracing change, sticking to the ‘thing’ and being persistent in that thing.

For some youth, landscape restoration is a form of transformation and the restoration of minds. This came out clearly from Fredrick Okinda’s story on how he and other young people in Korogocho transformed themselves from committing crime to forming a group that works on landscape restoration, as a way of giving back to their community.

‘We decided to stop doing criminal activities and give back to our community, hence, the decision to transform a dumpsite in our community into a park,’ he said.   

The different efforts youth in Kenya are putting into restoration are more evidence that young people are the future of restoration and by combining restoration with income generation, more young people are starting to see the opportunities that come with it.

‘It is a matter of empowering youth with knowledge and assisting them to acquire finances for starting restoration projects,’ said Charity Meitekini.

She also mentioned that her organization’s projects are centered around income generation and improving the livelihoods of youth and women. May Muthuri, a representative of the Regreening Africa project, also shared ways in which the project supports Kenyan youth. She mentioned that they ensure that young people have incomes and enjoy the benefits of trees and the restoration practices they promote. They do this by working with high-value trees — such as mango, pawpaw and avocado — and conducting training on value addition in order to enable them to earn higher incomes.

‘In other counties, the youths have been introduced to fish farming, honey production and tree nursery establishment, where the project provides the seedlings,’ she added.

It was also interesting to see that some youth have come up with artistic and creative ways to engage in restoration. Some are upcycling waste while others are using sport to upscale their efforts. Janet Chemitei spoke on how their organization upcycles food waste, plastic waste and fashion waste. She said that their aim is to change the ‘use-and-throw’ culture that most people have.

‘Instead of using every item you have in your house once and throwing it away,’ she said, ‘there are a number of cheap ways to upcycle it into a beautiful work of art.’

The use of sports and talent gave other perspectives on combining landscape restoration and fun. Lesein Mutunkei explained how he uses football to upscale restoration efforts. Through his initiative, Trees for Goals, he started planting trees for every goal he scored in football. He has so far been able to plant over 1400 trees and aims to reach out to as many schools and football clubs as possible and have them adopt his project.

‘My main goal is to have FIFA adopt Trees for Goals into different football clubs around the world,’ he said.

The webinar’s participants engaged vigorously in the discussions. They asked numerous questions concerning youth engagement in landscape restoration and suggested ways to improve the engagement. Most of the participants raised the issue of income and finance in landscape restoration: they wanted to find out how youth can create sustainability in restoration projects that generate zero income and how a youth-led restoration campaign can establish long-term finance. Other concerns were about partnerships and opportunities, particularly, how to secure partnerships that will help them up-scale their work. Technology was also a point of interest for most participants, who were keen to know more about existing technologies used in landscape restoration. 

Since most of the young people face different challenges as they work on restoration, it was important to have experts to advise them on how to tackle the challenges as they up-scale their work. Cathy Watson, the chief of Partnerships for the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and World Agroforestry (ICRAF), shared tools that can be used to empower. In her speech, she mentioned what some would call ‘simple tips’ but which are very important for young people to consider when doing restoration work. These included taking pictures of their work, using their curiosity, searching online for what they did not know, being organized and how and where to secure funding. She also recommended that they download, Useful trees and shrubs of Kenya, to help them know which trees they are dealing with.

The final speaker of the day was Teko Nhlapho, the focal person for AFR100, who reminded everyone that there are 10 years left in which to achieve the world’s most ambitious goals to beat climate change, help billions of people overcome poverty and to restore degraded land. Therefore, AFR100 together with World Resources Institute had created a ‘land accelerator’ program to train and support entrepreneurs whose companies restored degraded land. He https://thelandaccelerator.com/urged participants who were entrepreneurs in restoration to apply for the program.   


About Regreening Africa

Regreening Africa is an ambitious five-year project funded by the European Union that seeks to reverse land degradation among 500,000 households, and across 1 million hectares in eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. By incorporating trees into croplands, communal lands and pastoral areas, regreening efforts make it possible to reclaim Africa’s degraded landscapes.

This story was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Regreening Africa and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.