Africa Wood Grow

Healthy ecological balance as stimulus for sustainable economy

From eroded land to a green, biodiverse area – for 12 years now, Africa Wood Grow (AWG) has been making a difference in Kenya by planting trees. Together with H+N+S, Witteveen+Bos created an area and landscape vision to help AWG have an even bigger impact on Kenyan people and their environment.

Africa Wood Grow is the initiative of Roeland Lelieveld from the Netherlands and his collaboration partner Daniel Muvali from Kenya. Together they have managed to halt erosion in an area covering 50 km2 in southern Kenya’s Kitui County, west of the Tiva River. This part of the country has an arid climate: short periods of heavy rainfall (300-700 mm per year) are almost always followed by extended seasons of drought. To ensure a sustainable solution to the problems this causes, AWG is working together with local farmers and their families.

In recent decades, the area’s farmers have primarily engaged in goat farming, hunting and gathering practices and rain-dependent agriculture. The local people rely heavily on what their natural surroundings offer them; however, due to overuse and population growth, these surroundings have become severely degraded. Overgrazing and cutting down trees for charcoal have been responsible for the further depletion of natural vegetation, leaving seasonal rivers completely unchecked and accelerating erosion.

New economic perspective

By planting trees, AWG has succeeded in halting groundwater depletion and erosion in the area – and they have also offered farmers a new economic perspective. Trees reduce erosion and enrich the soil, allowing other crops to grow. As many as 150 families have made their land available; as a result, native trees now ensure that the soil is covered with vegetation all year round.

This, in turn, enables farmers to generate both short- and long-term income. In the long-term, trees provide income through the sale of timber. In the short-term, the land between the trees can be used by farmers to plant seasonal crops such as maize, beans, papaya and bananas – proof that a healthy ecological balance can be the impetus for a sustainable economy.

Scaling up with area and landscape vision

To help AWG increase its impact, Witteveen+Bos and H+N+S prepared a vision document. In line with the CSR concept, this task was taken on at Witteveen+Bos – on an unpaid basis – by an expert team with knowledge on landscape architecture, urban planning and architecture.

An area and landscape vision formed the basis of the document, supplemented by an action plan, choice models and other elements. By making use of the structure this offers, AWG can more easily determine where ecological gains can be achieved and what actions will make the area more resilient and prosperous. The concrete answers provided will help in obtaining funding, enabling AWG to get more farmers involved in the transition.

A team of leading experts at Witteveen+Bos also provided advice from a wider perspective. Jacobiene Ritsema (social and environmental impact assessment), Herman Mondeel (water management) and Guus Kruitwagen (ecology) all made use of their experience on the African continent to contribute on behalf of Witteveen+Bos, also making their networks available to AWG.

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