Growing trees without using plastic bags in Kenya

Plastic bags are known for their environmental impact. They slowly release toxic chemicals once in the soil, for instance, and find their way into the guts of animals that often choke and die as a result.

Kenya banned the use of plastic bags in 2017. And thanks to a 43-year old Kenyan, Teddy Kinyanjui, an innovative afforestation and reforestation method for developing seedlings without using plastic bags is in place.

Teddy Kinyanjui
Teddy Kinyanjui shows Maasai grass specie sprout. He says that grass seed bank is diminishing due to overgrazing especially in Northern Kenya. With his seed balls innovation he hopes to help restore grass cover. | Verenardo Meeme

A resident of Nairobi and founder of Cookswell Jikos Limited, Kinyanjui has invented small, portable seed balls to grow and easily disperse seedlings. He is working in partnership with Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), which certifies seeds.

When tree seedlings are grown in plastic bags in a nursery, he explains, the roots get squeezed and this limits their ability to grow fast. The seed ball method enables roots to adapt easily, with less disturbance.

Kinyanjui says he has engineered a method of coating each seed with charcoal dust, and corn or cassava starch, to bind each ball so the seeds are protected from prey, pests and diseases.

He says he has the capacity to make one tonne of the seed balls per day. So far, since the project’s initiation in 2016, about one million seeds of different species of certified indigenous trees have been dispersed throughout Kenya through partnerships with locals and with a germination rate of 60%.

“Good environmental management is, therefore, crucial for peace among these communities,”Teddy Kinyanjui

“People use charcoal every day, necessitating for more trees. Climate change has also caused community conflicts, especially among pastoralists in Northern Kenya who fight over pasture for their animals,” says Kinyajui. “Good environmental management is, therefore, crucial for peace among these communities.”

He hopes to partner with like-minded organisations and youth who herd livestock with slings to disperse more seeds in arid lands.

“We would [also] like people to see the value of this simple technology as a contributing factor in combating and adapting to effects of climate change, as this is the cheapest way to encourage tree planting, especially in arid and semi-arid areas,” adds Kinyanjui.

Cover image credit: Verenardo Meeme

This article was published by SciDev.Net.

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