Unlike other wards of Meru district which COMECA is implementing the project on the 1998 forest policy training, Songoro does not have that much forest degradation as compared to her neighbors, Nkwarisambu and Sing'isi. The hills of this periphery ward looks well conserved, the trees and other vegetation looking younger in most parts. When you are here, u can hardly feel that scorching sun which is a character in most dry not-well-conserved areas including populated urban areas.
The the population of 13247 the village has been able to maintain a well conserved village forest approximated to be 2 acres. But as Mr Furahini Lewoi, Songoro ward Executive Officer explains, it has not be a simple task achieving such standards. It took time for the degraded forestland to be rehabilitated, after the impacts of reckless harvesting of trees stroke the area.
As it is often said that, you will never know the value of something till you miss it, and so it happened here. About six years ago communities here slowly stared abandoning coffee cultivation after the crop's price went down. So all the coffee plants were uprooted and vegetable farming, like carrots was adopted by many. It didn't end there, even the trees on the farms that seemed to bother the verges were uprooted too. Soon the area looked bare ground and, as they put it, they weather changed, and soil erosion was so high when it rained. The state of the environment got worse.
Then this approach was changed. Even though the coffees were not replanted but through village assembly meetings and Sunday services the communities just reminded the people of the good days they used to have, and the benefits that came with it all. Village government leaders started to replant the lost vegetation, and the current view of the area is flourished with younger gravileas (grevilea robusta). This just give hints as how politics can be an important stakeholder if well used in making people realize that they live with the problem which they can solve.
The learnt lesson here is sometimes people tend to forget all the ecological benefits that the environment well conserved provides. The tributaries that tend to flow from smaller springs and irrigate the farms, at no cost, the cool weather that comes with fresh air, voices of birds singing and such things are always overlooked until they are nowhere to be seen. Then the costs of re stabilizing the environment becomes even higher after degradation, and who is ready to bear that cost?
During the discussion after the training, most villagers said that they have their own forest ranging from ¼ acre to 1 acre which were established after the campaigns with the help of natural resources division of the district council. Elisaria Nko who owns large portion of land on Lemika Hill was visited to share his experience and its amazing how small land can be very productive. With hanged hives for honey and the mixed cropping he says trees help attract the bees while keep the soil moist. Many people have learnt from him, on how conservation can be that rewarding.
That is why conservation skills need to be built among leaders. Community leaders who are really committed to conservation and not just there to serve their political interests. Those can see the real value of the environment and how if well put into use can transform lives within their localities. The efforts like those in Songoro have not been absorbed by the neighboring areas like Nkwarisambu or Sing'isi. Just from observation, its time now these neighbors learn from their fellow. Or else are they waiting for 'experience' to be their only 'teacher'?
Written by Innocent Kisanga-YET 2011