When two people started cleaning up a beach in Mumbai in 2016, they could never have imagined how their tiny spontaneous action would snowball. Not all environmental interventions are done by governments or large organizations. There's a role for small, motivated groups to make a difference too.
In Kenya, some 140 km southeast of Nairobi, a small group of volunteers is beginning to change mindsets and take action to restore a semi-arid landscape within a primary school compound.
Last year the group - officially registered as the Mission Concern Association - did a survey of the area to look for schools with sufficient available land for tree-planting. Their idea was to beautify a school compound while at the same time provide hands-on education to pupils, their parents and teachers.
Ndemiu primary school near Malili town in Makueni County fitted the bill. It has 108 pupils, a nearby water source, sufficient land (at least 1.6 hectares, or four acres) for tree-planting, as well as the support of parents, teachers and the local community.
"Education is vital if we are to create a young generation of eco-warriors to tackle the huge environmental challenges the world is facing," says Sam Barratt, a UN Environment education expert.
A generation ago, the area had plenty of trees and wildlife, and the aim of the project is to try to restore the landscape and spread the tree-planting habit to other local schools: once the 1,000 seedlings are transplanted, the school will become a source of tree seedlings for other schools.
"You have to start somewhere, and with tree-planting there's no short-cut. You have to think long-term," says Jack Muriungi, team leader of the small band of volunteers (six women and four men from various professions in Nairobi).
Seeds were purchased from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, which also provided valuable advice on which species to plant. In all, the plan is to grow some 20 different varieties of trees, including fruit trees. The trees will provide fuel, shade, act as a wind-break and prevent soil erosion, as well as playing their part in mitigating climate change.
Further technical advice and support comes from "Mwasi" a sub-county Kenya Forest Service officer, who has been actively involved in organizing the school's seedbeds. Watering the seedlings, transplanting them and looking after the saplings will be down to the school.
Seedlings of Faith sideshow
"Small restoration initiatives like this one have been growing worldwide in recent years," says UN Environment Forest and Landscapes Expert Tim Christophersen.
"Our task as the United Nations is to help them connect with each other, learn from each other and help governments to encourage more local action. We need to replicate these examples many times, and grow them to a landscape scale, to have a significant impact on climate change."
Every year, Africa loses an estimated 2.8 million hectares of forest, with deforestation and land degradation seriously affecting its environment and people.
The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) is holding a conference in Nairobi on 28-29 August 2018 to help build and align international, national and private sector support for forest and landscape restoration. Led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) alongside founding partners UN Environment and the World Bank, with core funding provided by the German Government, GLF accelerates action towards the creation of more resilient, equitable, profitable, productive and healthy landscapes, and the achievement of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.
The Global Partnership for Forest and Landscape Restoration is launching a new report at the Forum, titled Restoring forests and landscapes: the key to a sustainable future.
For further information on the Makueni project: Jack Muriungi: mconcern2018[at]gmail.com
For further information on the "landscapes approach" and the GLF: Tim Christophersen: Tim.Christophersen[at]un.org