Farmers in drought-prone Ganze are now putting their barren land into productive use in a venture that could see them reap millions of shillings.
About 1,000 farmers in the area are involved in a large-scale tree-planting project that has seen them plant over 250,000 eucalyptus trees in the last two years.
The project is coordinated by Komaza, a US not-for-profit organisation, which encourages farmers to plant trees as an investment and a means to fight poverty.
Over 400 acres have already been put under trees in the project that has seen Komaza spend about Sh80 million ($1 million) in training farmers and providing tree seedlings and inputs for the enterprise that could see a once neglected area turn into a rich timber-producing zone.
There are large tracts of land
Komaza executive director Tevis Howard said Ganze was chosen because there are large tracts of land that are not being used for agricultural production.
“Although many people understand that trees are valuable, the issue of value addition to earn more from them is still elusive to most farmers who also face the danger of falling prey to middlemen.
“Under this project, the farmers enter into an agreement with us to set aside a portion of their land to plant trees. We in turn give them the seedlings, fertiliser and other farm inputs in form of a loan,” he said.
Under the agreement, Mr Howard said, the farmers are supposed to take care of the trees and not to cut them. After three years, the organisation will sanction the cutting of the trees after finding an appropriate buyer.
He said that during the first three years, the farmers will only harvest a small section of the farm. The rest of the trees will be left to grow until the sixth year.
The final phase of cutting, according to the agreement, will be done after 10 years when the trees will be sold as electricity poles, which fetch more money.
Farmers who talked to the nation in Tezo area said they welcomed the project even though it was difficult at the initial stages.
Mr Douglas Yeri and his wife Lizzy of Ngerenya village in Kilifi said they have allocated three quarters of an acre for the eucalyptus trees and are optimistic that when the first harvest is due next year, they will start getting returns for their sweat and time.
“It was not easy at first, particularly knowing that there would be no food crop planted.
“We did not have any idea about trees and our neighbours were taunting us that we were wasting time on trees that will not yield anything.
“But nearly three years down the line, the beautiful trees have become the talk of the village and other farmers are coming to enquire how they, too, can be involved in the project,” said Mr Yeri, a retired school teacher.