Small Green Things

By Isaac Kalua
Ant. A three-letter word. An insect so small that it often goes through life unnoticed.

How then does this little creature manage to build an ant-hill that is trillions of sizes bigger than it? Even more astounding than this,how does it manage to play a pivotal role in sustaining ecosystems.

E.O. Wilson the American biologist asserts that, ‘in many environments, take away the ants and there would be partial collapses in many of the land ecosystems.’ Simply put, these tiny, black creatures are cornerstones of the world’s vast ecosystems. They are small things, that in their own way, shoulder a big, big world.

Small things - two words with gigantic implications. I will add a third word to these two words – green. Small green things. This letter is about these three words.

I will start with my own small green thing. And as I tell you about my small green thing, I would like you to think deeply of the answer to this important question, ‘what is your small green thing?’

In Kitui, Eastern Kenya, in a land so dry that I often feel like pouring into it a glass of ice-cold water, there is a village (my home) that I love. In this this village I created my small green thing. The small green thing became the Green Africa Village.

Like many other African rural homes, this village neighbors simple ordinary villagers. It has a farm that grows more than ten types of vegetables and a variety of fruit trees. Food is a basic human right and the silent writing on the wall in this village is that, ‘no one should EVER sleep hungry because the earth has enough food for all.’

This Village also has something pretty cool – a large greenhouse where we grow tomato seedlings.It produces and supplies the region with tomatoes throughout the year at affordable prices.

We call it the Monaco Greenhouse, in honor of Prince Albert of Monaco II who is a leading fan of this village.In 2010 when he visited the village, he said with conviction as he gazed across the gathered villagers, ‘we are trying to improve the lives of those living in the environments that we take action. Those who are the first to suffer from the environment’s deterioration and also the first to protect it...’

In extending a hand of support to our village, Prince Albert was executing his very own small green thing. What is your small green thing?

This village in Kitui also has a fish pond, an indigenous forest, biodiesel producing plants demonstration plot and a bio-fuels extractor.  The fact that it has all these things doesn't mean that it’s a complex village. Very far from it! The fishpond is for fish that villagers can eat and sell, improving their health and enhancing their livelihoods in the process. The bio-fuels extractor is for squeezing oil and fuel from energy plants like Jatropha, Croton, Candle nut and Castor.The Village acts as a demonstrative Centre at the grassroots level for over ten different activities namely, tree production, Waste Management, Water harvesting, Bee keeping, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry, Ecotourism, Renewable Energy, Green Mobility, Fish Farming. Sounds complicated eh? Come and see its simplicity. In short, it’s a village that is growing its own food and its own energy! It has now become a small economic hub at the grassroots level!

This village, also known as the Kitui Green Africa Center of Excellence, is my small green thing. Like small seeds that birth giant trees, this small green thing has already multiplied into hundreds of similar green Africa villages all over Kenya and even crossed borders to other African countries - Villages that put food on the table, money in the pockets, knowledge in minds and compassion in hearts.No wonder it has become Green Africa Foundations occupational to create such villages across the continent. And yes, it is the village that was humbled by President Kibaki’s visit last year in April as he launched the National tree-planting season.
What is your small green thing?

This very simple, albeit powerful village in Kitui Eastern Kenya, produces over one million tree seedlings a year. Yes, you got that right – one million. These trees are not there for public relations purposes but for the real life purpose of ensuring that as many trees as possible are planted across Kenya.It is a centre that simplifies the spirit of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) just like it does to Kenya’s Vision 2030.

Tree planting was Wangari Maathai’s small green thing. In 2004, decked in a beautiful orange dress and a matching headscarf of a similar color, she accepted the Nobel peace prize. In her acceptance speech, she said in her usual passionate manner, ‘tree planting is simple, attainable and guarantees quick, successful results within a reasonable amount time.’

In 2011 September when I learnt of Wangari Maathai’s untimely passing on, I closed my eyes, took several deep sighs and said a silent prayer. After several days of grieving, I decided that one of the best ways Kenya could honor her was by ensuring that as many Kenyans as possible emulated her ‘small green thing’ and planted as many trees as possible. ‘Kenyans should try to establish a Wangari Green Corner (WGC) by planting 71 trees in their homes, Schools Churches, Forest land or any other preferred institutions, in tandem with Wangari Maathai’s age.’  I sent out this clarion call. This decision later birthed the ‘Plant Your Age’ campaign that went further and called on African populace to plant trees commensurate with their respective ages every year and ensure that they grow. Thanks to partners that passionately came in.

Tree planting was Wangari Maathai’s small green thing. What is yours?

I would now like to share with you some thoughts from Nelson Mandela, another Nobel laureate and one of Africa’s greatest leaders. This is one leader who is on the ‘my heroes’ list of the most of the world’s seven billion people.This ability to inspire is his small thing, with which he has used to change South Africa and the world. He used to say often, with his gentle, but piercing eyes shining brightly that, ‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’
Rising every time we fall! Remember, we cannot fall if we are not walking. We cannot walk if we don’t take one small step at a time. Martin Luther King Jnr captured this immeasurable power of small things when he said that, ‘if you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’

Keep moving forward. And rise every time you fall.

I will conclude by reminding you about YOU. Maybe you are a student, who sometimes studies for the entire night in search of those good grades. Or you are a politician who has promised your people a heaven that you sincerely want to deliver to them even though earth keeps getting in your way.Or maybe you are a CEO whose gaze never wanders away from the healthy bottom-line that your shareholders demand. Or it could be that you are an Executive Director of a big organization that depends on you for stewardship into a better place.

Whoever, you are – a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, an employee, an employer – you have a small green thing that can usher more sustainability into a world that dearly lacks it.

What is your small green thing? Just like the ants, your small green thing can make a big difference in our ecosystems and in our world.

Think and Act Green.

(Dr Isaac Kalua, is the founder and chairman of the Green Africa Foundation, an African organization founded to  support ecological conservation and economic well being of vulnerable communities in arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya. He is also a presidential appointee as the chairman of the Kenya Water Towers Agency, a body established to coordinate and oversee restoration, protection, resource mobilization, community livelihoods support and ecosystem monitoring of all the 18 water towers in the country.)

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