BY CATHERINE KARONG’O
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 22 â€“For the first time in the history of the country, five soldiers in the armed forces and two barracks have been recognised for their work in environmental conservation.
The seven who include the Chief of General Staff (CGS) Jeremiah Kianga were awarded on Wednesday by the Green Belt Movement under the Kenya Defence Forces Environmental Soldier Programme which began in 2003.
The CGS was recognised for his leadership role in the environmental programme while the other soldiers were awarded the Wangari Maathai Environmental Award for their environmental conservation work.
“It is clear to us that although the soldier may be the best defender of the nation’s borders, the tree was the best and unfailing defender against environmental degradation and therefore we determined that a partnership between the soldier and the tree offers the best possibility of total national defence,” he stated.
The Kenya Navy – Mtongwe and Moi Airbase were the two barracks recognised for their work in the environmental programme.
“It gives us hope that we will win in our war against environmental degradation,” General Kianga remarked.
He however revealed that the Environmental Soldier Programme was not started with the sole intention of conserving the environment but was aimed at being a money making venture for the army.
“In 2003, our welfare fund was under threat of redundancy and so I had to look for an alternative source of funds and at that time the idea of planting fast growing trees and marketing them to KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company) was doing the rounds and so I picked on it,” the General disclosed.
But the turning point was when in the same year there was a conflict in the North Rift over minimal shared resources like water and the army had to carry out an operation to sort out the conflict between communities and cattle rustling.
“I flew over Marsabit and Maralal forest in the same year and realised the forests were no longer there and I had trained in those forests in early 1970′s,” he remembered.
“That is when we went knocking at the Ministry of Environment to look for partnership in the environmental programme,” he added.
Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai who is also the leader of Green Belt Movement said the environmental soldier programme had become a source of inspiration for many other countries across the globe.
“Our country and region are still young and we have not yet learnt to recognise service,” she said.
“We have been saying that many of the wars that have been fought in the world are because of the competition over resources so if we protected the resources and governed ourselves better, we would be able to pre-empt many of the conflicts that we engage in and lose especially young people,” she added.
The first two years of the Environmental Soldier Programme involved tree planting activities confined to the military where soldiers and their families voluntarily participated in tree planting campaigns.
Each soldier with their family was assigned a portion of land in the camps to plant seedlings and attend to them to ensure maximum survival.
It later scaled up and went beyond the military camps to the communities and so far 10 million seedlings planted over the years have survived.
“It is not the numbers that count but the idea,” the CGS remarked.
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