Tharakanithi (Kenya) – Groups of reformed youths who once sold drugs and stole from their neighbours are helping protect trees in rural central Kenya from illegal loggers, group official said on Tuesday.
The young adults, whose previous activities were a source of community tension, now report suspicious logging to village authorities.
They are also contributing to an effort to boost Kenya’s forest cover from seven per cent to 10 per cent by 2030.
It has been illegal to cut down trees in Kenya’s forests since 1999, but a new constitution in 2010 extended the ban to rural farms unless the feller had official permit.
Murithi Ntaru, a member of the Muiru Youth Reform Group from the parched village of Weru in the lowlands of Tharaka Nithi County, finds his new calling more fulfilling than his former life dealing drugs.
“This is better than when I would hide from the authorities for days as a drug peddler,” said Ntaru, 34.
Ntaru has a friend in prison for narcotics-related offences.
“I now use the skills I learned when I was doing bad things to outsmart the timber cartels,’’ he said.
Ntaru and other young people resorted to crime to support themselves.
After the ban on cutting down public forests stopped their lucrative local trade of transporting logs for sale, which many had quit school to do, they now collaborate the law.
Now their knowledge of the timber trade is being put to good use.
Group members select a specific ringtone on their cell phones to notify each other when they are alerted to tree-felling activities.
“The community tells us when a timber broker is seen in the village or when a neighbour is planning to meet the broker.
“When we report, the chief sends scouts to monitor the suspects’ movements,” said Ntaru.
“I feel safe because all I have to do is send a text message to the chief.”
In exchange for information about illegal logging, the group is given the opportunity to sell seedlings in new reforestation areas.
For the past three years, the Muiru youth have run a tree nursery on the banks of the River Naka at the behest of the county government.
This development has identified an opportunity to protect forests and channel young people’s energy away from delinquency.
The Muiru group is one of a growing number of youth-led projects that cultivate seedlings for reforestation drives in the area.
On a good day, Ntaru’s group can supply seedlings worth up to 20,000 Kenyan shillings (around 200 dollars), sharing the profit among its 10 members. (Reuters/NAN)