University and communities join forces in conservation

The Maasai Mara University (MMU) has partnered with its neighbouring communities to champion conserving the East African water towers. The university has planted more than 10,000 indigenous trees on 250 acres (101 ha) of land in the Mau Forest for water catchment purposes.

With students engaging in tree planting regularly as a way of cementing conservation programmes offered by the university, the institution has established a tree nursery that provides seedlings to the neighbouring Mau schools and communities to foster reforestation.

On World Environment Day, 5 June, the MMU’s initiative shows how higher education institutions can contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The MMU project links specifically to SDG 15, Life on Land, that focuses on healthy ecosystems, which includes sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss.

At a gathering last week, the MMU urged its community members from the neighbouring counties of Narok, Nakuru, Kajiado and Kericho to fully prioritise conserving the Mau water towers.

The MMU’s acting vice-chancellor, Professor Kitche Magak, said that the institution is perfectly placed to conserve water towers serving East Africa to North Africa, since it is located between the Mara game reserve (the Maasai Mara National Reserve) and the Mau Forest Complex.

“The moment we destroy the Mau-Narok and the Maasai Mara ecosystems, we are destroying the region all the way to the Suez Canal, so we must preserve this ecosystem,” Magak said.

Injecting a fruit culture

The university also seeks to inject the fruit culture into the neighbouring communities to supply fruits for both the university and the communities. Magak highlighted that the university intends to plant mangoes, oranges and avocadoes along the campus perimeter wall for adequate supply to the neighbouring counties.

Anchored to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big 4 Agenda on food security, the fruit culture initiative seeks to end hunger, achieve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture for the university.

Additionally, the institution is steering conservation through a botanical garden where various plant species are planted for herbal medicinal purposes. The garden has plants such as aloe vera, neem, pomegranate, rosemary, and Prunus africana to boost herbal medicine.

Jedidah Nankaya, chairperson of the botanical garden, said that the garden is a field laboratory and an education centre where the professors can research different plants to determine their medicinal value.

“We are encouraging schools to adopt the green cover concept where we are hoping to see them embrace conservation, too,” she said.

“We want to ensure that different species in the Maasai Mara ecosystems are skilfully documented at our university so that we can harness medicinal value growth. We, therefore, intend to partner with both the national and county governments. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has shown interest, too,” she added.

Ben Lenkeu, director of linkages, collaborations and public relations at MMU, says that institutions of higher learning need to form consortia and take the lead in environmental conservation so that findings can help environmental policy-makers.

“As the world continues to face challenges like climate change, conservation is key, and institutions of higher learning should take the lead in solving such problems. They must be part of the solutions to communities globally through a lot of research,” Lenkeu said.

Higher learning institutions can also work collaboratively with communities to provide sustainable solutions to societal challenges through capacity-building, mentorship programmes and enhancing awareness of the need for conservation, he said.

This news report was updated on 6 June.