Chetenet Interview with Equity Group Foundation on Conservation of the Environment

Shortly after Equity Group Foundation celebrated this year’s World Environment Day by planting over 65,000 trees to help conserve the Nyakanja Springs Ecosystem in Nyandarua County in Kenya, Chetenet reached out to them to ask them why they thought actively participating in environmental conservation was important for Equity Group and Equity Foundation. Here is how the interview went (Chetenet questions are in bold):

World Environment Day is observed on June 5 every year to remind people about the importance of nature. And this year the theme was “Ecosystem Restoration”. Were there significant actions taken by the Equity Group Foundation to mark the day?

Equity Group Foundation: Equity has been at the forefront of environmental conservation. Since we took up the initiative of planting 35 million trees to conserve nature, we have so far planted over 5 million trees. The tree planting exercise is part of our strategic plan to drive sustainability and environmental management in recognition and support of the government’s 2 billion tree planting initiative to increase forest cover by 10% by the year 2030. 

In line with this year’s theme of Ecosystems Restoration, we chose to mark World Environment Day by planting 65,000 trees to help conserve the Nyakanja Springs Ecosystem in Nyandarua County in Kenya. The spring is an important ecosystem supporting over 5,000 households with water for household use and farming. Simultaneously, several Equity branches planted trees in various locations across the country to mark the day.  

Ecosystem restoration implies assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed. It also includes conservation of the ones that are fragile but also, and more importantly, protecting the ones that are still intact. An ecosystem can be restored in many ways. Planting trees is one of the easiest and best ways of caring for the environment, but we also need to work very hard to eliminate pressures on the environment through the extraction of trees for wood fuel and charcoal. Therefore, as part of marking the day, we continue to encourage households and institutions to transition to clean energy. 

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Equity and KFS partnered in the implementation of the Sustainable Livelihood Development Project (SLDP), funded by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The project empowered communities around the Mau Forest water catchment area in developing environmentally positive livelihood activities. Equity rallied support from like-minded partners to come together in conserving MAU Forest, which is the largest montane forest in East Africa. MAU serves as a critical water catchment area for the country and is the source from which numerous rivers flow, many of them draining into bodies of water like Lake Victoria, which receives 60% of its water from Mau and is a source of river Nile that feeds many.

Equity and other partners have championed SAVE THE MAU TRUST INITIATIVE. The project was a partnership between the Bank, East African Breweries, Nation Media Group, Kenya Wildlife Service and the Green Belt Movement. The main objective of the project was to sensitize communities on the need to conserve the MAU Forest as well as spearhead a campaign that involves Kenyans in rehabilitating the Mau ecosystem. Equity branches also supported local communities in tree planting exercises and also engaged in various interventions that benefitted the communities in their areas of operation. Over 1 million trees were planted in the area.

Last month, Equity through its branches in Mombasa partnered with the County government to rehabilitate the mangrove ecosystem that has been threatened by human activities. The Bank planted 100,000 mangrove seedlings. These trees provide a self-maintained buffer against storms and high winds, thus reducing coastal and riverine erosion and helping in shoreline stabilization. They also act as a windbreaker and provide protection from saline intrusion for the agricultural hinterlands.

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It is natural that Urban and rural landscapes have different ways to adapt and restore ecosystems. In Nairobi for example we have seen a lot of flooding any time it rains. Many argue that it is due to poor planning or congestion of the city. What are some of the things that private companies and the private sector, in general, can do to help Nairobi and other Kenyan urban centres rectify the situation?

The problem of flooding in Nairobi and other cities and towns in Kenya can be attributed to many reasons, among them planning. The way we dispose our waste is also a big challenge. When drainage systems are clogged by waste material, especially plastics, then flooding is inevitable. The private sector can play a key role by promoting responsible production and consumption through integrated waste management from the source to the disposal point. Such measures include awareness creation on proper waste disposal and investing in technologies that convert waste to value. When waste becomes valuable, it will naturally disappear from our drainage systems. The government needs to enhance the regulatory environment and incentives that allow the private sector to make these investments.

Environmental sustainability can be thought of in many ways as a Government responsibility, but I believe that all should bear the responsibility and what can Equity do for example do help raise awareness about environmental sustainability?

Environmental conservation is the responsibility of many actors including government, private sector, development partners, the citizens, politicians etc. The private sector can provide its infrastructure and expertise to accelerate and scale programs and projects aimed at protecting our planet and our ecosystems. That is why at Equity, we have availed our infrastructure of branches, people, technology and financial resources to reach many parts of our country with environmental conservation work. We create awareness and support communities in all the areas that we have a presence to plant trees and transition to clean technologies and fuels. We have deliberately targeted learning institutions at all levels in environmental conservation, so that we can start creating future environmental champions by influencing young minds. Our approach is not only to plant trees with communities and institutions, but also to transition them into clean energy technologies and fuels. Other areas we are focusing on include renewable energy, energy efficiency, water harvesting and storage, green building, climate-smart agriculture and waste management. All these areas support environmental sustainability.

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This year, Pakistan hosted the World Environment Day 2021 event. What should Kenya as a country do, going forward given this year’s theme?

This year’s World Environmental Day also marked the launch of the UN decade for ecosystem restoration. For Kenya, there are many ecosystems and water towers that have been adversely affected. These require concerted efforts from the government, the private sector and the public for restoration through tree planting and agro-forestry. But equally important is reducing pressure on forest resources and trees livelihood and clean energy transition programs. Secondly, Kenya needs to deal with the menace that is plastics and other single-use materials through the provision of incentives to SMEs that are working in this area to convert waste plastics into usable products.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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