Smallholder farmers in Embu and Kitui benefit from afforestation program

Written By: Claire Wanja
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CS Tobiko: We want to see what the government can do to market ASALs as the new frontier to achieving the 10% forest cover
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More than 4500 smallholder farmers in Embu and Kitui Counties have benefited from a joint commercial tree planting program, supported by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), and Better Globe Forestry (BGF).

KEFRI and BGF came together to mitigate the adverse effects of hostile climatic conditions on ASAL communities and livelihoods by implementing a Social Impact program aimed at Poverty Reduction through Sustainable Commercial Dry lands Afforestation program in 7-Forks.

The centre of operations is Kiambere along the border of Kitui and Embu Counties

According to the Ministry of Devolution and Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs), ASALs occupy approximately 89% of the country’s landmass and are home to about 36% of the population. Moreover, temperatures are high throughout the year, with high rates of evapo-transpiration.

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In Kenya, 29 counties are classified as ASALS with over 60% of its inhabitants living below the poverty line. These counties are among the driest and are known to experience first-hand adverse effects of global warming and climate change, including drought and hunger, malnutrition and poverty, among others.

Speaking during a stakeholder tour at BGF’s Plantation in Kiambere held on Friday, Mr. Keriako Tobiko, CBS, SC, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry reiterated the Government’s commitment to inclusive and evidence-based environmental programs  for sustainable socio-economic development in all parts of the country.

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“The environment is life and it contributes to economic development and livelihoods and has a direct correlation to health, water resources, energy, agriculture, food security as well as national, international and global security.  As such, the environment is a catalyst for attaining our National Development Goals, such as the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030”, said Mr Tobiko.

“Commercial forestry in the drylands is possible, profitable and can be done on a sustainable basis. Science is important to sound decision-making because forestry is long term. Linkages between government institutions, private sector, development partners, communities and farmers are importance to realize the 10% tree cover and the Big 4 Agenda”. There is also need to sensitize investors and the public to create markets for forest products which will later incentivize tree growing in the country”,  added Mr. Tobiko.

Better Globe Forestry’s Managing Director, Mr. Jean-Paul Deprins acknowledged the importance of strategic collaboration between private sector entities and government agencies, including County Governments, in driving the promoting improvement of livelihoods and through the Sustainable Commercial Drylands Afforestation program.

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“As the technical implementing agency, we continue to see positive impacts of how smallholder farmers, previously struggling with the double-burden of harsh environmental conditions and poverty rise and the impacts at household level”, commented Mr. Jean-Paul during the tour. The program is expected to benefit the locals and the nation at large, from a Commercial and Sustainability perspective.

He added that many farmers were now engaging in various income-generating activities, through bio-enterprise using the trees or tree products, such as timber, fodder, apiculture, Fuel wood among others. Participating farmers around Kiambere obtain the seedlings of two drought-resistant tree species: Melia Volkensii (Mukau) and Acacia Senegal (Gum Arabica) from the BGF’s nursery, located within the Kiambere Plantation.

The two species are indigenous, mukau produces high-quality timber like mahogany, and the acacias produce gum arabic. Scientific and silvicultural research has been spearheaded by KEFRI and now further jointly developed.

“KEFRI will continue to play its key role in the development of appropriate forestry technologies, products and service for sustainable and environmental management. In line with our mandate of generating technologies for forestry research and development to improve forest productivity, increase forest cover, and spur development of forest products for improved livelihoods, we are excited to be part of this impactful än innovative initiative”, commented KEFRI – Ag. Director, Dr. Jane Njuguna.

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According to the KEFRI 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, Forestry Research is recognized as a key enables for accelerated economic development under the Science, Technology and Innovation Act 2013.

Dr. Njuguna added that KEFRI remains committed to playing its instrumental role in this way, we contribute to Vision 2030’s Social and Economic Pillars by increasing the resilience of the Agricultural Sectors through integration of trees in farming systems that support livelihood improvement, mitigation against climate change and creation of tree-based industries and wealth.

Climate-related challenges experienced by ASAL communities in Kenya have a ripple effect on other areas of socio-economic development such as health, nutrition, education, economic livelihoods among others, and the joint program seeks to catalyse improvement of livelihoods while supporting national development goals, through sustainable commercial tree-planting. The program entails research, awareness and capacity building, through farmer training and knowledge-sharing.

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