PIRES (Partners in Restoration of Environment for Sustainable Development) is a young community-based initiative active in the rural area of Meru county, in central Kenya. This is one of the five counties hosting the Mount Kenya ecosystem, classified by the Kenyan Government as a protected area due to its biodiversity and water catchment values. Meru is placed between the northern Kenya arid and semi-arid regions and the Lower Imenti Forest, an important wildlife corridor that connects the Mt Kenya with surrounding ecosystems. However, human encroachment and excessive deforestation for conversion into farming and grazing areas have led to an expansion of the arid sections. The local communities begun associating the deforestation with stronger variations in rainfall patterns, and with increased temperatures and melting of the ice peaks in Mt Kenya, all leading to serious water shortages.
This grassroots initiative was started in 2017 by the Kenyans Patrick and Catherine Muthomi, in partnership with the local communities of Kithima, Kanjai and Ruiri. PIRES works on two fronts:
- Promoting agroforestry in private lands, to increase tree cover and improve farming results. PIRES educates farmers in techniques and sets targets on the number of trees to plant by every member so they achieve a tree cover of at least 30%. A certificate of recognition is given to those who improve year on year, with future plans to provide support as grants and contributions to its members. In addition, seedlings for planting are also sold at affordable prices to non-members.
- Increasing tree cover in public lands and spaces. Assisted natural regeneration (ANR) techniques and tree planting are being used to restore the Lower Imenti Forest and two areas around water sources. In parallel, planted spaces have been created in primary schools, with the involvement of the students.
The initiative involves the communities, the members (mainly farmers) and public authorities. Ongoing monitoring is done through collaborative efforts of all group members, with support from the office of the chief (government administration) and local forest services. The group has elected three officials who coordinate the group activities and hold meetings weekly to review and plan for activities. So far, funding has been in kind by the starters of the initiative, in the form of tree raising bags, soil, nursery spaces and watering devices, while the members contribute with the work and upkeep.