The weather is sunny as Rose Makimei walks on a narrow path cutting through indigenous trees, shrubs and wild fruits on her farm in Gituamba village, Kiambu County.
As the retired hotelier uses her right hand to push aside the shrubs, birds chirp, seemingly acknowledging her presence.
Next to the thicket is a plantation of pine and cypress trees planted three by three metres apart, creating a canopy.
The 3,000 eight-year-old trees, 1, 500 pines and 1, 500 cypress, Makimei says, sit on two acres, part of her land, where she also grows eucalyptus, grevillea robusta, pears and plums, as well as vegetables. She further rears 15 sheep.
Makimei is a seasoned tree farmer, a venture that she has engaged in since 2005, when she retired.
“I planted 3,000 eucalyptus trees soon after retirement after buying each at Sh20 to ensure my land is not idle,” she says.
Though she did not plan to sell them, three years later a buyer surfaced, seeking the trees to use in construction industry.
Makimei harvested 2,200 trees that she sold at Sh100 each because they were smaller in size.
“I realised that even though I had planted the trees to conserve the environment, I could still make good money from them,” she tells Seeds of Gold.
Encouraged, she planted 3,000 more eucalyptus trees, which earned her up to Sh500,000.
“The money was all profit because after buying the seedlings and taking care of them at the initial stage, you do not incur any other cost,” she says.
She chanced upon an opportunity to work with the Kenya Forest Service, which was willing to provide free tree seedlings to land owners, who would later allow their farms to be demonstration centres.
“I was lucky to ink the deal, getting the 1,500 pine and 1, 500 cypress trees. KFS provided me with the seedlings and brought in youth who did the planting. In the deal, KFS was to look for loggers to buy them at set prices,” she explains.
EFFORTS IN PLANTING TREES, CONSERVING FORESTS
She is projecting that in the next three years when the trees mature, she will earn between Sh21 million and Sh30 million, with a mature tree fetching between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000.
Joseph Mureithi, the principal of the Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre in Githunguri, Kiambu, notes that tree planting is a viable venture that has economic and environmental benefits, adding that instead of leaving the land idle, one should grow them.
“With the increasing population, there is a high demand for wood products such as timber and poles, therefore, a tree farmer will definitely make a killing from such a venture.”
Makimei teaches various groups how to plant trees and take care of them.
She says that seedlings must be planted in a two-feet-deep and two-feet-wide hole, and the distance from one tree to another should be eight feet.
“You should put in manure in the hole and mulch the seedlings. If there is rain, the seedlings grow firm in one to two months. If there is no rain, it should be watered once in three days.”
At seven months to one year, one should prune the branches of the trees at half the length of the tree.
“In second and third years, we prune to three-quarters the length of the tree. This allows the tree to grow taller and to thicken up,” she says.
At year four or five, the farmer again has to prune to three-quarter the length of the tree. From year six to 10, the tree grows freely to maturity.
Due to her efforts to conserve the environment, Makimei has earned recognition nationally and globally.
In 2014, she won the Total Eco-Challenge Award, which is organised by Total Kenya, for her sustained efforts in planting trees and conserving forests, where she also keeps bees in 40 hives, harvesting honey from 10 that she sells at Sh700 per kilo.
Last year, she was the second runner-up in the Kenya Forest Service awards and was honoured by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta for her tree-growing efforts. She also received the Green Apple award due to her environmental best practices in a ceremony that was held at the UK Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, where she was named the Green Apple 2019 ambassador.