M a r k e t N e w s

Feature: Kenya's rural women invest in trees for retirement benefits

Posted on : Monday, 22nd August 2016

Under the Kenyan public service and retirement benefits laws, Ruth Gachacha, in her 50s, would be counting days to receive her sendoff package, the money that would sustain her day-to-day activities in her frail years.
 
But the rural farmer in the Rift Valley county of Nakuru has an unusual way of preparing for a comfortable lifestyle in her old age.
 
Gachacha's retirement package is in the 5,400 eucalyptus trees she has planted in 10 acres in the rural parts of Rongai, southwest of Nakuru town.
 
"I have invested in the trees as my retirement benefits," Gachacha said in an interview with Xinhua on Monday. "The value of trees increases as time goes by and you can never miss a market. This is unlike the maize."
 
There is minimal management in tree farming unlike in maize which requires use of pesticides and adequate rain, she says. Her trees are seven years old now and she has never sprayed them with any chemical, she says.
 
"From my experience of growing maize, chemicals cost you a lot of money and sometimes you end up making a huge loss," noted Gachacha.
 
She is optimistic of making a total of 162,000 U.S. dollars from her tree farming, an amount she says is enough to meet her immediate needs.
 
When they turn 10 years, she will sell the trees commonly known as blue gum as either timber, poles or firewood and thereafter restock the woodlot.
 
She targets the country's state power distribution company, hotels, schools and households. Kenya Power and Lighting Company would buy poles for electricity supply while others would need firewood.
 
"A pole is currently going for 30 dollars and 18 dollars for one cubic meter of firewood," said the rural farmer. Each acre has 540 trees which she said would be fit for supply of either of the wood products.
 
Rosemary Nyambura, another rural farmer in the Rongai area, has 10 acres under the eucalyptus tree. She says the woodlot is her safe means of survival in the waning periods of her life.
 
"You can sell a tree to buy Napier grass for the cows and you get milk to keep you healthy," Nyambura, also in her 50s said.
 
"What worries me is erratic rainfall patterns. You cannot be so sure whether you will harvest wheat or maize at the end of the season. But if you have drought tolerant trees and they are big enough for sell, you have less worries of suffering from hunger," she said.
 
Since 2000, she has focused on growing trees in large scale and has made good returns from it. However, she says it takes time to reap the benefits -- the reason she gave for considering it as her retirement insurance.
 
"It is an investment whose benefits are reaped later in life. It is much similar to putting money aside for use when you cannot work anymore. The advantage with trees is that you continuously have something to earn you a living even as you age," she said.
 
James Langat, who works as a field officer for Friends of Mau Watershed, an organization that assists farmers establish woodlots and offer advice on marketing, says tree farming provides a sustainable source of income for households.
 
"There are various ways a household can earn a living from trees. The government of Kenya has an elaborate plan of connecting all homes to power; that requires poles."
 
"There is need for timber. There are also very many homes that lack firewood. Furthermore, hotels need firewood or charcoal to do business. It's impossible for a farmer to completely lack a market."
 
Official data from Kenya Forestry Research Institute show a higher demand for wood products than the supply can meet.
 
As indicated in 2012, there was a 41.7 million cubic meters demand for firewood but the country could only manage to supply 31.4 million cubic meters.
 

Woodlots supplement wood resources from the gazetted Kenyan forests, which have in the recent years been under threat from aggressive felling of trees for purposes ranging from accessing the fuel and timber to human settlement. 

Source : news.xinhuanet.com
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