“My interest in tree planting started when I was very young, when I used to go with my mum to plant trees in the forest, as part of the shamba system of plantation establishment [a Kenyan form of taungya],” recounts Zipporah Matumbi.
She lives adjacent to the Upper Imenti Forest, part of the Mt Kenya forest ecosystem, and has a formidable track record in reforestation, community organising and influencing policy change.
Matumbi’s talent and passion for getting other people involved in conservation started young, too. Through the Girl Guides, she started encouraging other girls and women to plant trees. And since then, it seems, she hasn’t stopped!
In the 1990s, Matumbi began instigating community reforestation, livelihood and governance initiatives with women in her community. Deforestation was affecting rainfall, and local women were particularly affected by this, “since they have to go long distances looking for water,” she explains.
Then in 2000, she became involved in the drafting of the national Forest Bill, which sought to enshrine community participation in forest management. “It helped me to understand that the forest belongs to us communities, and that we have to protect it,” she says.
As a result, in the early 2000s, she spearheaded the formation of the Meru Forest Environmental Conservation and Protection Association (MEFECAP), in order to organise women’s community participation in protection of the Upper Imenti forests, where the Meru Municipality was dumping solid waste next to a water source. MEFECAP mobilised a number of other community groups, and successfully lobbied the municipality to stop this practice.
MEFECAP was registered as a Community Forest Association (CFA), and Matumbi was elected chairperson in 2005 – a role she held until 2017. The Association now has over 2000 members, and more people join each year, which speaks volumes to its success in raising community awareness and support of environmental issues.
Matumbi also began travelling within the country and mobilising other communities to form their own CFAs. She helped establish 18 CFAs (11 in Meru county) with a total of approximately 27,000 members.
In 2008, MEFECAP carried out the first participatory forest management plan (PFMP) for upper Imenti forest, which allowed them to design restoration programmes in the area.
Then, in 2014, Matumbi led the establishment of an umbrella body to coordinate the eleven CFAs in Meru county, entitled the Meru County Community Forest Association, of which she is also the chairperson.
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This story was originally published as part of a publication titled “Communities restoring landscapes: Stories of resilience and success.” Produced for the Global Landscapes Forum by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), “Communities restoring landscapes” is a collection of 12 stories about community-led efforts to restore degraded forests and landscapes. To access the publication and other stories, click here.
CIFOR is a non-profit, scientific institution that conducts research on the most pressing challenges of forest and landscape management around the world. Using a global, multidisciplinary approach, we aim to improve human well-being, protect the environment, and increase equity.