In 2017, one of my friends decided to run for a National Assembly seat. He came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea.
Instead of giving his potential voters little cash hand-outs as is the norm in Kenyan politics, he would give them tree seedlings. To start with, he set up a nursery of nearly 30,000 Blue gum seedlings.
In 10, 15, 20 years, he reasoned, the people will thank him when they start selling the trees to pay school/college fees for their children and for their own upkeep.
Unfortunately, not many voters bought the idea. Needless to say, his political ambitions did not go beyond the party primaries. The Blue gum, also known as Eucalyptus, has been on the spot in recent years.
It has been blamed for drying up of rivers and wetlands. Ironically, this tree that is native to Australia, was introduced in Africa to dry up wetlands. The French planted the first Blue gums on the continent in a marshland in Algiers.
They turned one of the marshiest areas of the city into a dry and healthy environment, thereby driving away malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The trees were then planted in temperate areas around the world in the fight against malaria.
I wrote last week that the first Europeans in Africa wrongly blamed the yellow-barked acacia for malaria because it grew in marshlands where disease-causing mosquitoes thrived.
They even called it the fever tree. When they finally discovered the cause of malaria, they introduced Blue gum which they called the anti-fever tree because of its ability to dry up marshes and chase away mosquitoes.
Unlike trees like Cypress and Pines whose roots are fibrous, Blue gums have tap roots that grow deep into the ground hence extract a lot of water.
Consequently, the species should not be planted near water points like rivers and wetlands. I have grown them since 2005.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
This tree has many other medicinal uses, according to The Complete Book of Natural and Medicinal Cures. Rodale Press, Inc., 1994.
Modern medicines around the world have included Eucalyptus in their practices. Indians use Eucalyptus to treat headaches resulting from colds. Eucalyptus is listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia as a skin irritant used in nerve pain.
In France, its leaves are applied topically to relieve congestion from colds and to treat acute bronchial disease. A standardised Eucalyptus tea is licensed in Germany to treat bronchitis and throat inflammations.
Eucalyptus also fights plague-forming bacteria and is used to treat gum disease and gingivitis. Many rural communities in Africa where toothpaste is unheard of, use Blue gum twigs for dental hygiene.
The trees can also be used in honey production although their honey is not as good as that of the Acacias or even Bottle brush. It is strongly flavoured and dark as opposed to the golden yellow of Acacia.
The most important use of Blue gums is in the construction and energy sectors. They provide timber, treated fencing and power distribution poles and of course offcuts, wood fuel and charcoal.
Blue gum timber is hardwood and is favoured for trusses, flooring and paneling. A Blue gum takes up to 15 years to be ready for timber and five to 12 years for poles.
A 25-year-old tree, planted in high rainfall regions, can yield up to 5,000ft of timber of various sizes. Then add offcuts, fencing posts, droppers and firewood.
In the market currently, Blue gum timber is selling at an average of Sh52 a foot. One tree can gross up to Sh250,000 on timber alone if you do the value addition yourself. Which brings me back to my politician friend’s idea and why people need to buy it.
Suppose you had a child today and planted 100 Blue gums to mark their birthday. By the time the child joins Form One or college, just imagine the return on investment.