A couple of days ago we had a meeting with Friends of Shimoni Forest (FSF) that went rather well, so I thought I’d tell you about it! GVI work very closely with FSF, passing on the results of our research to them, and helping them to achieve their aims of community-led conservation and sustainable livelihoods.
At the meeting there was myself, Kez and Jodie representing GVI, and about 10 member of FSF including Matata (Chairman) and Athumani (treasurer). It was really good to see a few of the younger men from Shimoni as well. FSF are in the middle of a recruitment drive, so we had made a presentation for the newcomers, covering the history and past achievements of FSF, current initiatives and future plans.
First on the agenda was the tourist trail. The tourist trail has been moving ahead well, with the trail cut and ready, but has ground to a frustrating halt due to the lack of tour guides. GVI had offered to fully train the guides, passing on all of our collective knowledge about the flora and fauna of the forest, as well as the broader environmental issues facing the forest. We would also provide some basic training on dealing with tourists and hospitality. Unfortunately, we have had difficulty in finding appropriate candidates.
We hope to have solved this problem now, thanks to the presence of two young men who are part of the Safe Shimoni Youth Group. They loved the idea, and invited us to present the opportunity to their members at their next meeting, as there were many young people just out of school who would jump at the opportunity for free training and further education, and the potential for a job. We went to their meeting yesterday, and are thrilled to have four enthusiastic new applicants!
Next on the agenda was the alternative charcoal we have been researching. We have lots of information on various different methods, and have begun stockpiling materials. We are now simply waiting for the prototype briquette press, which has been donated to us FOR FREE! So a massive heartfelt thank you to Paul Alley and the Beaverton Rotary Fuel Briquette Team! We discussed the plans for future training, and already have a group of eager volunteers, thanks to the meeting. We also discussed how to go about harnessing all of the burnable organic waste in the village that is going to fuel our alternative charcoal industry! We are joining forces with the GVI community development team who are planning a waste disposal drive with the Shimoni Health Committee.
We then put forward the idea of planting fast growing trees such as bamboo and neem, so that they can be harvested for fishing and construction materials – which are a major threat to young trees in the forest at the moment. The major hurdle right now is land. There is little or no land in the area that is not in private hands, so the solution is finding people who own land that is currently unused, who would be willing to let FSF plant these trees. Some ideas included using areas of land in schools, and unused parts of local shambas (farms). It was mentioned that planting trees on and around farms would yield benefits to the farmers, such as soil anchorage. A meeting is being set up with local farmers and the village chiefs to discuss the issue of land.
The final point was about tree nurseries. The forest is in desperate need of re-planting, if we are to begin reversing some of the damage done. FSF are going to start indigenous nurseries in schools with the advice and help of a local botanist from National Museums of Kenya. It was decided to start these in schools, as looking after the trees can be done (in part) by the children, and will instil a sense of pride and ownership of the trees, as well as educating them in the importance of indigenous trees to an area like Shimoni Forest.
All in all we think it was a productive meeting, and the ideas produced a lot of enthusiasm amongst the members and non-members alike. We are going to continue to push these ideas with the communities, and hopefully soon we will have the beginnings of some excellent initiatives that will yield vital changes and benefits, not only for Shimoni forest but for the local people as well.