YALI Graduates Help Ensure Water Stay Abundant in East Africa
Photo Credit: Mark Simiyu: YALI Alumni plant the first of 300 samplings as part of an environmental event in the County of Makueni in Kenya

Two East African graduates of USAID’s Young African Leaders Initiative are doing their part to protect a vital and delicate environmental area of Southeastern Kenya from deforestation.

On April 14, Harrison Mwololo, the founder of the Chyulu Development Foundation, and Andrew Muendo Nyamu, both graduates of the East Africa Regional Leadership Center in Nairobi, held a tree planting event distributing 300,000 seedlings to farmers in Tawa just outside of Tsavo National Park.

Chyulu Hills in Southeastern Kenya is one of the critical landscapes and water towers in the country. The Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA) estimates Chyulu’s economic value to the country to be at least $409 million (USD) annually. This value includes providing fresh water, storing climate-altering carbon, protecting important biodiversity, supporting tourism and other vital ecosystem goods and services.

The Chyulu Hill water towers are a critical source for the major springs and rivers that sustain a significant number of people, wildlife and livestock in the coastal region.

However, the area has been threatened by deforestation, overgrazing and illegal logging. Experts say that the loss of forest cover has the potential to reduce the capacity of the water catchment, which could cause the loss of water availability in the future.

To counter the loss of the trees in the area, the Chyulu Development Foundation, led by the two YALI graduates, is working to plant and grow two million seedings by the year 2024.

The Chyulu Development Foundation works with local partners, including PlanetPlus, a Kenyan non-profit organization working to restore degraded forests, farmland and pasture through alternative livelihoods like beekeeping, urban farming and tree farming. The foundation also works with the Kenyan-based environmental organization Gro, which helps companies, financial institutions, and governments better understand the complex ecosystems of agriculture, climate, and the economy. In addition, the Chyulu Development Foundation also partners with the County Government of Makueni as part of the tree planting activity.

The initiative started in 2013, and this is the 10th anniversary for the tree planting event. More than 300 volunteers were part of this year’s efforts.