A youth group in South Nandi forest area of Western Kenya is earning up to Sh1 million a month from sale of tree seedlings and sale of honey from the beehives, a venture that has now seen them invest in buying land to diversify their farming. This at a time when majority of farmers have shunned tree farming on the premise that the returns take time and are not rewarding.
Working with conservation organization Nature Kenya, the Tebeswet Ogilgei Youth Group who live next to South Nandi forest decided to protect the forest from deforestation while still earning from it.
In 2002, working the 17 member group were given tree seeds and tree nursery equipment which included a wheelbarrow, 20,000 polythene tubes, two spades, one watering can and two rakes by Nature Kenya.
Through co-financing by the Community Development Trust Fund (CDTF), the group got 25 modern langstroth beehives and harvesting kits. The Nature Kenya project built the group’s capacity through training on tree nursery establishment and management; woodlot establishment and management; beekeeping and honey processing, product value addition, enterprise management; business planning and marketing, leadership and group management, the Participatory Forest Management process and how to engage with the Kenya Forest Service, and exchange tours to learn from their fellow community implementers.
Since 2009 the group has earned cash income from the sales of tree seedlings and planting materials for individual member woodlots. In 2009 the group sold 20,000 seedlings for Sh200, 000. Sales were less in the following years but still provided a significant income. Under the beekeeping enterprise, the group produced 600kgs of honey in 2009, which they sold to African Beekeepers Ltd for Sh120,000. The next year there was a decline in honey production because of dry weather, but in 2011 the group produced 460kgs of honey, consumed 10kgs themselves, and sold the rest locally and in Nairobi for Sh135,000, a trend that has continued todate. The group invested some of the income to purchase small parcels of land for diversification of income generation activities. On about half an acre they put up a fish pond, tea nursery and joint apiary.
The group also opened a hardware store at the Yala Trading Centre. These activities have added to the benefits from the investment support given by the project. At the individual level, Jonah Kiptanui Koech is a case of success. He established a woodlot of eucalyptus trees on an acre of his land through project support in 2009; these will be ready for sale as poles in 2016. In 2010, he received dividends from the group and two grants from the revolving fund, and sold 4,000 seedlings from his own tree nursery. In 2011 he started his own fish farming pond and bought a milk cow. He also built a permanent toilet and started the construction of a 3 bed-roomed semi-permanent house.
Since engaging in Nature Kenya project activities, Jonah Koech is able to pay school fees for his two children in Chesumei Academy, a private boarding primary school, and to start his own Diploma course in Project Planning and Management at Moi University. In 2011 George Williamson Tea Estate employed him as its Environmental/ Project Officer in charge of Fair Trade Premium Projects, as a result of his visible and active engagement in project activities amongst forest-adjacent communities and the skills he learned following capacity building by the Nature Kenya project.
He trains local communities on environmental conservation and carries out the company’s activities supporting woodlot establishment, offering loans to tea farmers as a revolving fund and coordinating the company bursaries scheme. Tebeswet Ogilgei Youth Group also supported their former Chairman, Joseph Songok, in fee payment for a first degree in Business Management at the Adventist University of Eastern Africa at Baraton. Songok has since graduated with a Masters degree in Human Resource Management from Moi University in Eldoret.
The wider South Nandi forest adjacent community is now emulating these groups and individuals who have shown that actively engaging in on-farm forestry can provide tangible and sustainable benefits. This in turn reduces the need to directly extract resources from the gazetted forest and reduces the human population pressure on these relicts of natural vegetation stands within agricultural landscapes. Through this the micro climate that enhances agricultural production is thus maintained as well as the biodiversity and cultural heritage of these unique areas.