Kenya Distributes Improved Eucalyptus to Farmers

By Jennifer Wanjiru

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 28, 2003 (ENS) - A new variety of genetically superior eucalyptus trees has been introduced in Kenya, a move that could save Kenya's forests from further depletion. The trees are being introduced to rural farmers in an initiative spearheaded by the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Program - an extension initiative funded by the Swedish International Development Agency.

With the concept of afforestation on farms changing in the last few years rural farmers appear to have realized that they can grow trees as an economic enterprise and diversify income generation in their areas. For Susan Mwangi of Kamuchege village in Kiambu the idea to spare more than two acres of her farm to plant trees was as a result of this new realization.

"We have been told that these trees can fully mature in six years and can be available for other use in two years. I would want to start a beekeeping project here and get double income as a result," she says on her farm. Mwangi is one of the many small-scale farmers in Lari division of central Kenya who have planted the new genetically superior eucalyptus.


Pastoralists using a traditional wood stove in Bura, Tana River District, Kenya (Photo credit unknown)
"Such an initiative will no doubt contribute to the national goals of alleviating poverty among the resource-poor farming communities", says Gabriel Ndungu, a National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Program (NALEP) officer in Kiambu.

The planting of the genetically superior eucalyptus is part of a National Agroforestry Research Project, a collaborative project jointly implemented by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF).

A similar initiative has also been launched in Kajiado, which also aims to provide superior clonal material to both rural Maasai communities - an initiative that aims to enhance forest production through the integration of improved forest biotechnologies into the traditional propagation systems.

The Kajiado project is a partnership biotechnology transfer project between the Forest Department of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in collaboration with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute and Mondi Forests, which is a division of Mondi Ltd., South Africa. The Gatsby Charitable Foundation of United Kingdom funds this project, while the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications facilitates the undertaking.

Over the years, rural women in Kenya experienced scarcity issues in relation to fuelwood procurement for their domestic use. The reforestation programs often disseminated through government agricultural extension workers or rural development projects attempted to address the fuel wood crisis, but to little avail. This is because most of the answers to rural problems came from the top - an extension approach that has now been abandoned.

The NALEP initiative is a new demand driven system that has been tailored to respond to real needs in the rural areas as opposed to the previous top down approach.

"We let farmers tell us what they want and we get it for them," says Gabriel Ndungu, a NALEP extension officer.


Karura Forest, Kiambu District, Kenya (Photo P. Hiepko courtesy Southern Illinois University)
Farmers in the east African nation have partly been accused of invading forests for timber and firewood. The new move is to encourage farmers to have their own wood supply rather than relying on government forests. Conservation experts say fuelwood consumption in Africa has doubled since 1950 with the demand for fuelwood in Kenya outstripping the supply by at least four percent each year.

In Kenya, wood fuel accounts for about 70 to 75 percent of the total energy used, which includes both fuelwood for cooking and heating in the rural areas and charcoal for the urban areas.

Researchers say that in many rural areas of Kenya, 90 percent or more of the energy for household use, schools and clinics, as well as for most cottage industries - fish smoking, brick burning, pottery making, beer brewing, tobacco curing - is wood fuel. This has put a strain on Kenyan forests and is the reason why afforestation on individual farms is gaining ground and becoming a challenge for extension workers.

"The eucalyptus trees can be useful for sawing timber and earn us some good income in just a few years," says Mwangi.


Kenyan women gathering fuelwood (Photo courtesy UK Department for International Development)
The genetically superior eucalyptus tree seedlings and clones are being distributed by Kenya Forestry Research Institute at Karura Forest near the city of Nairobi. The role of NALEP in the initiative is to rally farmers groups to realize the potential of planting the genetically superior trees in their own farm plots.

"Farmers can be able to commercially exploit the trees after about six years but within two years the trees are available for firewood and fencing uses," says Kihanya Mwaura, a NALEP extension officer in Kamuchege village, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Nairobi.

"The trees have superior grains that reduce splitting of sawn timber and grow uniformly thus reducing logging costs", says Mwaura.

For Mwangi the planting of the superior eucalyptus trees on her farm will soon make a difference to her domestic requirements. For those in semi-arid areas the eucalyptus trees are being regarded as an opportunity to earn income from yet another source.

Researchers say the new genetically superior eucalyptus may be the future answer to afforestation in some of the arid Kenya zones and if well managed it could save the country's forests from further decimation.