The multimillion shilling tree empire that is the envy of Yatta

Behind the 27 years toil, a national farmer’s award and a clientele base ranging from herbalists and supermarkets is the success story of Peter Nzioki who has defied nature to turn his 30 acre piece of land in the semi arid Yatta area to a towering tree empire.

In an area where no crop sprouts as harsh climatic conditions condemn the land to barrenness, Nzioki has found hope and daily income in tree farming taking the tree business a notch higher from the traditional fuel wood sale business to growing specialist trees associated with medicine and beauty.

He traces his success to childhood ambitions he harboured while growing up in Kangundo. His father had a two-acre farm and was among the first coffee farmers in the area. On leaving school, Nzioki realized that his father’s piece of land would not accommodate all of his siblings. With a burning interest to engage in farming, he acquired a 30-acre piece of land in Yatta in the 1980s and has not looked back since.

He initially planted mango and orange trees and grew French beans and tomatoes, as did most farmers in the area then. His breakthrough however came in 1987 when he acquired a  Sh 500,000 loan from OPEC, which he used to install an irrigation system on his farm from the Yatta canal. He then made a big plunge into tree farming as a commercial venture, planting many orange trees. The Yatta canal is the only source of water in the entire Yatta District.

In the late 1990s, Nzioki became the first farmer in the district to acquire a fruit tree nursery grower licence from the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) and the rest, as they say, is history. He later diversified into other tree ventures such as grafted mangoes and orange trees with resounding success. His efforts saw him named among the top farmers in the district and in the entire Eastern Province.

In 2011 he bagged the Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) Farmer of the Year Award in Eastern Province.
With the tree nursery emerging tops in the district, Nzioki has since diversified into new tree farming frontiers specializing in medicinal trees species, which he supplies to herbalists. He also keeps bees and processes honey in his farm for sale.

He currently supplies tree seedlings to Mwingi, Machakos and Kitui districts.Apart from Eucalypts, grafted mangoes and improved paw paws, Nzioki grows the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), aloe species (Aloe secundiflora and Aloe latifolia), moringa (Moringa oleifera) and muthaiga (Warburgia ugandensis). The last is for medicinal purposes and doing surprisingly well on the farm.

The Aloe latifolia and A. secundiflora have cosmetic and medicinal value and Nzioki has installed a machine for extracting the sap for making body lotions and soaps. Extension officers have selected his farm as a model for farm visits and training. Farmers are taken through training practices on seed planting, care and harvesting techniques.

Although he has achieved much, Nzioki is not yet done yet. He is planning give mango farming for the export market a fresh look. He is also planning to take a plunge into the mango juice processing business soon. He has also diversified into eucalyptus tree farming (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) to reap from the booming construction business in the area. Already, he has over 3,000 mature eucalyptus trees and several thousand seedlings in the nursery, which he sells in the entire Ukambani region.

His Eucalyptus plantation is entirely rain-fed, and occupies a patch of infertile murram soil. Despite this, it is producing sizeable poles for commercial sale. The eucalypts are not from clonal origin, but originate from seeds that were originally imported from Zimbabwe through a Kenyan-Belgian government assisted development programme within the Forest Department.

Nzioki has faced a number of challenges on his venture. “The market is not big as not many people know the benefits of tree farming. It’s relatively new in this area,” he says. He calls on the government to intervene by giving subsidies to farmers as incentives to engage in tree farming.

“Tree farming is big business, considering eucalyptus trees do not require any special care and mature between six and 10 years. At the age of 10 years, one tree can fetch an average of Sh6,000. Isn’t this good money?”, he asks with a smile. Nzioki's success seems to be reverberating across the district and more farmers are getting into tree farming.