Rehabilitation of River Voi offers hope to locals

Thursday, May 20th, 2021 23:47 |
A herder watches as cattle drink water in Voi River at Kasarani area. Kenya Forest Service has embarked on a project to plant trees on the banks of the river. Photo/KNA

The rehabilitation of Voi River in Taita-Taveta county has rekindled optimism among residents in the region that the endangered resource will be protected from further degradation resulting from destructive human activities.

Kenya Forest Service (KFS) County Eco-System Conservator Charles Kuria said the programme will entail intensive planting of indigenous trees in degraded riparian zones.

The exercise will start from the source of the river in Taita Hills to where it drains at the Tsavo National Park.

Kuria was speaking at Mnaoni area on yesterday during the launch of a tree-planting exercise.

“We have chosen to plant trees on the riparian land as a symbol of our intent to rehabilitate the Voi River eco-system by populating the banks with indigenous trees,” he said.

Voi River is the longest river in the county. In the past, environmental experts have severally warned that the 210km river is under serious threat from human activities, including unregulated sand-harvesting, brick-making and aggressive farming in riparian lands.

Recently, the river has also come under threat from the highly aggressive Prosopis Juliflora commonly known as Mathenge  weed that has colonised vast swathes of the land.

Human interference

Over the years, the volume of water in the river had sharply declined with some areas drying up completely in what is attributed to human interference with the natural flow of water.

 Ironically, unusually heavy rainfalls in Taita Hills have also caused massive flooding downstream, especially in low-lying villages in Voi displacing thousands of residents.

Conservationists have blamed this on interference with the natural contours of the river, including attempts to change its course by farmers.

KFS expressed optimism of full revival of the river and called for more engagement with stakeholders to ensure its survival.

Voi Deputy County Commissioner, Daniel Nduti noted that conservation of the river should be the responsibility of everyone and urged the members of the public to spearhead initiatives that promote environmental conservation.

“This River is a resource for us all and we should lead at protecting it,” he said.

Zacheaus Maghanga, Water Resource Users Association chairman said his organisation was collaborating with the Department of Lands and Environment in the county to launch a pegging exercise along the river to delineate the riparian lands saying such an exercise would show boundaries that would guide on tree planting exercise.

“The riparian land would be clearly indicated. This will assist in knowing where the trees will be planted,” he explained.

There are locally-driven initiatives that complement efforts by the government towards revival of the river. Chief among them is the Voi River Tree Planting project, which is supported by local conservationists and the public.

Viable interventions 

The project is experimenting on encouraging the placement of commercially viable interventions as a way of enticing the public to participate in the project.

This includes planting of vetiver grass on the Voi riverbanks to stabilise the soil and prevent it from being washed away whenever the river floods.  

Maghanga said the project would also involve planting of bamboo trees which can be harvested when mature for sale. There will also be a drive to plant fruit trees on the riparian land. “Farmers and other local residents can benefit from these initiatives and will participate in conserving them,” he explained.

The large-scale planting of trees in the region is expected to take off once the heavy rains start later this month.

Currently, the county has a total of 80-hectares of planted trees. This includes trees in protected forest, public institutions like schools and hospitals and individual farmers’ land. — KNA 

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