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Government gives Meru farmers free forest land to grow potatoes and peas

potato meru

More than 500 Meru farmers have been allowed to cultivate crops such as potatoes and peas side by side with indigenous trees in a section of the Ontulili forest, Buuri sub-county in a bid to conserve it and increase forest cover in the region.

So far more than 700 hectares of the forest has been rehabilitated according to the Kenya Forest Service who are partnering with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture.

Kenya has a forest cover of 6.2 per cent and targets to achieve at least 10 per cent by the year 2030.

Forests are key water catchment areas that provide water and attract rain in a country that more largely depends on rain fed agriculture to grow food.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food production in the region remains almost entirely rain fed and only two percent of the total cultivated area is irrigated.

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The Kenya Forest Servive is giving each farmer  640 seedlings to plant in a small parcel of land and take care of until they mature after which they are offered another piece of land to continue with the process.

The indigenous tree species grown include red cedar, rosewood and olive.

So far, the farmers have planted 300,000 indigenous tree seedlings with the Ontulili forest association targeting to plant at least one million trees in the coming months.

This comes at a time when tree planting failures and damages from forest fire resulted to loss of 2,100 hectares of forest stocks.

This mainly resulted from the widespread drought experienced in the country during the year according to the 2018 economic survey report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in April this year.

However, the total area of government forest plantations increased from 131.4 thousand hectares in 2016 to 135.1 thousand hectares in 2017, an increase of 2.8 per cent. Area planted with trees grew by 6.8 per cent from 10.3 thousand hectares in 2016 to 11.0 thousand hectares in 2017 while area clear-felled decreased from 6.8 thousand hectares in 2016 to 5.2 thousand hectares in 2017.

Over 100 youths in the region have since bought motorbikes to conduct bodaboda business from the proceeds of farming in the forest according to Ontulili Community Forest Assciation official Anthony Mwenda.

“This initiative has provided a lifeline to our youth who were previously unemployed and is a great initiative towards conserving our forests,” said Mwenda.

A 110kg bag of white Irish potatoes is currently retailing at between Sh2300 and Sh4400 according to Soko+, an online didgital trading platform that links farmers to markets.

A 51kg bag of fresh peas on the other hand is retailing at between Sh1500 and Sh2700.

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