Driving along the Kericho-Sotik highway by the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, the breath-taking landscape is full of hilly terrain, farmlands, and seemingly endless rows of trees.
The landscape looked different just a few years ago. In the late 2000s, the forest cover was dwindling in the Mau Escarpment, a steep slope along the western edge of the Great Rift Valley. The forest in this area plays an important environmental role, helping to mitigate floods, regulate river flow, recharge the groundwater, and purify water.
Today, the forest is coming back, thanks to community initiatives spearheaded by civil society groups working in partnership with government agencies.
Locally Rooted Transformation
As reports emerged about the diminishing forest cover, community members came together to form Transformers Community Based Organization (CBO). Transformers CBO works with a network of more than 100 community groups from Bomet and Kericho counties to promote environmental conservation and encourage tree-planting.
Ronald Keter, secretary of Transformers CBO, notes that the main challenge facing environmental conservation is a lack of understanding of the benefits of tree planting and conservation.
“We work first to change the mindset of the community and show them the benefits and need to conserve the forests,” he said.
In 2019, Transformers CBO was one of the civil society organizations that took part in the Yetu Initiative bootcamp. Yetu is a partnership between the Aga Khan Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to strengthen local organizations. Through bootcamps, Yetu equips Kenyan civil society organizations with practical knowledge and skills to mobilize resources locally.
Using the training from the Yetu bootcamp, Transformers CBO was able to establish key partnerships and raise $100,000 USD (KES 10,000,000).
“We used to write proposals or hold fundraising activities once or twice a year,” Ronald explained. “However, through the bootcamp, we learned that this is an [ongoing] process and we should have someone dedicated to fundraising throughout the year.”
Transformers CBO also learned how to approach and partner with businesses and government institutions to meet their environmental conservation goals. Since participating in the Yetu bootcamp, Transformers CBO has established partnerships with Finlay Tea, Unilever, Kericho County government, Kenya Forest Service, and Kenya Forest Research Institute.
The partnership with Kenya Forest Research Institute gave Transformers CBO an opportunity to nurture a culture of tree planting and environmental conservation among school children. It allowed Transformers CBO to launch a program to plant fruit trees at public schools in Bomet and Kericho counties. These trees provide much-needed tree cover in the area and produce nutritional snacks for the students. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut schools down across Kenya in 2020, Transformers CBO had partnered with more than 50 schools to plant over 20,000 trees.