The Kiswahili saying, kuzaa mwana si kazi, kazi ni kulea perfectly applies to trees.
Planting a tree is the easier task. Ensuring that it grows to maturity for you to reap the fruits of your labour is the challenge. This is more so if you are away from your farm most of the time.
A young tree has many enemies. Insects, rodents, bigger animals and the weather. It has to be watered and protected from all these dangers.
But the greatest danger to your dreams can also be people — neighbours, strangers and own relatives. So, how does one handle such dangers?
Just a day after I planted these Elgon Teak and other seedlings in Munyikana village in Webuye, Bungoma County, in 2009, they all vanished. I was puzzled. How could trees decide to grow legs and walk quietly away from me?
Determined to find out, I reported to the coordinator of the Nyumba Kumi community policing.
“Give me a few days. I will ask around and get back to you,” he said. Two days later, the Nyumba Kumi official came to see me.
“Come with me,” he said. He led me to a homestead not far from my farm.
There, behind a simba (hut) belonging to one of the young men of the home, were my trees, freshly replanted.
The simba’s owner was not at home but his elderly mother was. Her son, she said, must have bought the trees from a notorious chang’aa den in the neighbourhood.
CULPRITS COLLUDE WITH BROKERS
Here, petty criminals exchange their loot fot shots of the liquor. I left after telling her I was headed to the police station to fetch officers.
Instead, I went to Kapchai where I spent the night. When I returned the following day, my trees had walked back home and each was in the exact space I had planted them.
Theft of trees is a challenge to agroforestry farmers. If they are not stolen as seedlings, thieves will wait until they mature.
I know a friend who lost a five-acre plantation of blue gum trees to thieves. The culprits collude with brokers and timber or firewood merchants. Some are insiders.
For years, one such person gave me grief in Kapchai. We were neighbours, so he would be watching as I planted my trees.
Once they were ready, he would be the first person to cut them down to sell to brick makers and brokers in the firewood industry. Eventually, he started a firewood business using my trees as stock.
I had many face-offs with him and his customers. Sometimes, I used administrators to recover the logs he had sold from his clients. At some point, I realised that short of having him jailed, my efforts were futile.
Then one day, I had a brainwave. Why not enable him to plant and care for his own trees? His farm was larger than mine and had lots of space for trees.
From then on, for every 100 trees I plant, I donate 10 to him. By the time mine mature, his will also be ready. He has stopped bothering my trees.