Wood consumption — including logging and the production of charcoal — is a leading cause of forest degradation in Africa. In some of Kenya's coastal regions, recurring droughts have made the problem even worse. Now, farmers in those regions are planting trees, putting their once-barren land to use in a venture that enables them to earn a living and conserve the environment at the same time.
At Be Sulubu Tezo, in Kilifi county, Kenya, Kanze Kahindi Mbogo tends to her tree farm. She thins out the trees whose wood is now strong enough for her to sell for home-building and making fences.
The money she makes is for her six children.
A better life
Kahindi says she has been able to educate her children, pay a couple of debts and do lots of other things. She adds she was also able to take one of her sons to college and right now he is a driver.
Before growing trees, putting food on the table was difficult in this land where droughts are common and crops often fail.
With the help of NGOs and entrepreneurs, farmers are learning how agroforestry can make them money and at the same time save the environment. One of those firms is Komaza, a Kenyan firm that is working with 14,000 farmers to plant drought-resistant trees for harvest, reducing the drive to deforest.
Help with the harvest
“Farmers are able to nurture the seedlings into trees, and then the trees become fully grown trees ready to harvest,” said Allan Ongang'a, a manager at Komaza. “Once they are ready for harvest we have the operations team from the forestry department that identify trees that are ready for harvest, agree with the farmers on a fair price, the trees are marked and harvested.”
The firm trains farmers on cultivation and selective harvesting.
But not all farmers have the resources to plant a tree and wait for it to grow, so some farm subsistence crops among the trees. Researchers say this arrangement counters the effects of climate change.
“Trees end up absorbing carbon dioxide when they making their food and therefore essentially the trees are actually getting to bring carbon from the atmosphere into the tree stem and therefore on land,” explained researcher John Recha with the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program, a private entity in Nairobi.. “That means there is the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emission through more enhanced agroforestry systems.”
For these Kenyan farmers, environmentalism begins to make sense when it starts to translate into a sustainable income.