While most people watch, read and hear news about our communities and climate change with passivity, Daniel Murende of the Isukha Heritage Organisation (IHO) would not just sit and watch the rich cultural biodiversity of his community melt into oblivion from immense depletion of vegetation and other environmental hazards. With a background in conservation knowledge, Daniel teamed up in 1996 with Mathew Shilabula to set up the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) to spur improved livelihood from a rich biodiversity and enhance sustainable development.
The group whose membership is spread across gender and age barrier carries out several activities and programmes geared towards attaining their goals and objectives among the Isukha sub-tribe of the Luhya community found around the Kakamega Forest of Western Kenya.
In early 2001, they established three plant nurseries at Isecheno Forest Station where they have raised over a million seedlings in collaboration with other groups and organisations. The seedlings have been donated to over 60 schools, 20 churches, individuals and other institutions around the region. They also run Shinyalu Botanical Gardens (SHIBOGA) a leading botanical garden in Kenya with over 2,000 species of plants. The garden is used for educational, conservation, research and recreational purposes. The botanical centre is also registered with various international authorities and collaborates with the same in its effort to enhance its commitment to not only the local agenda but the international communitys too. Some of its affiliates include Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).
IHO runs a community library with over 2500 books. The facility is open to members and the general public. It has benefited researchers and learning institutions in information and knowledge dissemination. In the same line, Daniel and his group carry out environmental education programmes in schools, herbal centers, village administrative meetings and cultural functions. The group actively participates in marking international Days devoted to environmental matters. For over 4 years, it has actively participated in events such as World Environmental Day, Water Day, Clean up the World Day and Tree planting days.
IHO has offered training on environmental stewardship, nursery management, seed technology, energy conservation and integrated pest management in order to improve food production and maintain a healthy environment.
The team has also collected various Isukha cultural artifacts and information that spans over 30 years for establishment of Isukha Cultural Home. They have also acquired a plot near Kakamega Forest to preserve, revive, sustain the rich cultural heritage within the region and promote ecotourism of the same. This helps to preserve information on the unique culture, which was almost becoming extinct.
Attached to the Botanical Gardens is an arboretum consisting mainly indigenous species of trees. The group is planning to increase lianas and few exotic species in the plant population. They organize guided walks in the Arboretum and have a Tree Walk once a month. You can adopt your own tree at the Arboretum, said the Arboretum Manager.
To preserve the Isukha Indigenous Knowledge, the group has gathered information for documentation, and promotes its application in development. To facilitate this, they have registered with the International working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and Kenya Society of Ethno ecology. Being one of the endangered languages, the NGO is in the process of developing an Isukha Dictionary to allow other publications in the language.
In their endeavor to make their community a better place, the group has received several awards and certificates for their participation and contribution to the environmental and conservational activities. In 2005, they received the coveted Golden Total Eco-challenge Award for a commendable work in raising and planting trees within Kakamega Forest.
As they build their heritage, we may want to learn, contribute, collaborate or partner with them.
By Akinyi Janet
Editor of The African Executive
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