I recently visited Masai Mara University and was impressed with their passion for environmental conservation. One of the innovations that captured my attention was how the university has made it mandatory for students enrolled for degrees in fields of Forestry and Environmental Sciences to plant trees and take care of them upon which learners earn marks. The university system has mainstreamed this innovation to an extent that the Senate has approved the activity to be awarded ten (10) marks.
Any student enrolled for Bachelor of Science in Forestry or Bachelor of Environmental Science must contribute to greening the campus. The students are assigned an area and given each between 5-10 seedlings. They are expected to plant, water and nurture the trees to make them survive. This care is necessary since Narok region is relatively semi arid and if trees are not taken care of, chances of survival are minimal.
I asked the lecturer in charge, what happens if the seedlings dry up, whether the student is penalized and denied the 10 marks. He responded that the students are keen to make their trees survive and in case any dries up, the university has a tree nursery where the student gets another seedling. Hence the university is not ready to entertain any excuses.
I also inquired if the mandatory nature of the activity could be seen by learners as coercion. The response was to the contrary and the lecturer explained that the learners have a passion to improve their environment but are not normally given the opportunity. The university encourages the learners to “adopt the trees” and each feels proud to see his/her tree surviving. Since they undertake the activity as a group, there is a lot of excitement, each competing to ensure survival for the trees. Of course earning the marks acts as an extra motivation since this only demands physical engagement.
The University administration confirmed that they are ready to expand the same initiative to all students in the university. They explained that they are developing a common course on Sustainable Development and students will be expected to undertake practical conservation activities and earn marks for that.
One of the investment programmes prioritized by the recently created Green Climate Fund under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is land use, deforestation and forest degradation. This initiative by Egerton University goes a long way in making this investment priority a reality. If all universities adopt a similar challenge, Kenya would contribute a great deal in mitigating against green house gas emissions by trapping the gases and hence assure a clean and healthy environment. Climate change is a reality and we have to do everything possible to address it using whatever minor contribution within our ability.