- Jan Vandenabeele
It is April 16: In Kenya, we are now in our fourth week of a partial lock-down, still working from home, with schools being closed. The curfew is still in place, and there’s a travel ban for the four counties: Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa county, Kilifi county and Kwale county, as these are the places where most people infected with the coronavirus have been found. We cannot travel in or out of these counties, only within the county. Officially we now have 225 cases of infection, 10 fatalities, and 53 recoveries in Kenya. These figures are not high, as the government had estimated in advance 5,000 cases of infection in the middle of April, and 10,000 by end of April unless strict prevention and containment measures were put in place, which the government enforced.
We are free to speculate on the reasons why Kenya is managing the spread of the coronavirus. Is it because the government intervened, taking the right measures (including stopping incoming and outgoing flights) when the first signs were there? Is it because the ecological environment, with low air humidity, a high occurrence of UV light (and light in general) and high temperatures, does not favour the virus out of the human body? Is it less survival time and fewer possibilities of contamination through exposed surfaces? Is it because the Kenyan population is very young? Is it because there is not much testing going on compared to countries like Germany? Is it a combination of these factors?
In Uganda, movement is more restricted than Kenya, and the figures are lower, with 55 cases of infection and zero deaths. Be it as it is, we still have travelling restrictions until end of May. Afterwards, your guess is as good as mine.
Taking all this into account, we’re still functioning pretty well. Fortunately, essential supplies like mukau seeds have been transported from Nairobi to Nyongoro site, and some key purchases like drills for making planting holes have been delivered. Repair of Caterpillar machinery has been delayed, but essential travel permits for specialised technicians have been obtained, spare parts are being sourced, and soon our park of three Cats will be clearing again. Otherwise, operations are just normal, our Health & Safety (H&S) committee has things under control, and all mitigation measures are respected. People are taking this seriously.
In the Seven Forks area, over 90 percent of the seedlings have been distributed to our contract farmers, according to plan, while in Dokolo (Uganda), listed farmers are collecting seedlings from the nursery themselves. The local government approved continuous presence of some workers to maintain the seedlings (mostly watering). This week we will meet the resident district commissioner to seek a movement permit for our lorry to distribute seedlings on a massive scale, which is some hundreds of thousands of them. The rainy season there will be going on for the next month up to October, with a slight dip in August, so the timing is fine.
Direct field site control is obviously not possible, in view of being grounded, and we compensate for that pretty well through photos and WhatsApp or Telegram videos taken by field staff and sent to our (now virtual) Head Office. Training of new field staff is done online, but farmers training is understandably affected. The whole exercise is backed up with scheduled local radio announcements. Regular Zoom meetings take place with senior management, and procurement of items is done as planned.
So yes, Better Globe Forestry is affected in its normal functioning though the effects are limited and well mitigated. Let us see how the situation will evolve. On a positive note, trees do not get the virus.