Three years into planting trees in Kitui, Jacob Mwanduka is looking back at the risk he took by quitting his job and heading back home with glee. But the three years is courtesy of three decades of experience working in the non-state sector on environmental issues.
He established Watersheds Ecosystem Conservation (WEC) which works with local community schools and churches in Kitui to run tree planting projects.
WEC typically plants an indigenous crop tree, Melia volkensii (known locally as Mukau), because it is fast-growing and the timber is strong and dense. It is much prized in construction because it is decay-resistant. The cuttings from branches produce good firewood and when the tree is coppiced at harvesting time it naturally regrows.
Each school will plant 400 trees on one acre of land. After just a year the Melia stands almost six feet tall and schools and churches can start using the trimmed branches as firewood
The trees will be harvested when they are around 10 to 15 years old and should sell for up to sh1.5 million.
As well as planting the Melia volkensii each school will plant 20 additional indigenous trees that will not be harvested and are planted specifically for environmental reasons. The species chosen will vary depending on location.
A tree nursery was established to supply quality seedlings to local growers in 2019 and today tree farmers are now able to acquire seedlings within the locality hence time saved in sourcing for them.
WEC introduced on-farm tree growing for the purpose of making money and conservation
Before starting WEC Jacob worked for 15 years as Operations Manager and Executive Officer for one of our other tree planting partners, Friends of Mau Watershed (FOMAWA) based in Nakuru, Kenya.
“Our tree planting projects bring a number of benefits including generating money into the school or church from the sale of timber, branches provide a vital source of free firewood, and inter-cropping between the trees during the first 18 months provides food that the school, church and local community can either use or sell – crops such as vegetables, beans, green grams and cowpeas are planted between the trees”, Jacob said.
He added that it also teaches children how to grow and take care of trees, and gives the teachers the opportunity to discuss environmental concerns at a practical level and offers shade and a pleasant environment in schools and churches.
In November-December 2020, WEC was contracted by Equity Bank on tree planting in Kitui South through Mutomo branch. “By the end of the season, we planted 20,300 trees in 34 projects, mostly primary and secondary schools, and churches. The initial plan was to do 23,000 trees”, he asserted with pride.
For each project, WEC provides the logistics and management to ensure that the woodlots are planted to a high standard and are well managed. The schools and churches provide land for the woodlot, fence posts for the stock-proof fencing where it is needed, and are responsible for planting and caring for the trees – something teachers, children, parents, and church members all get involved in. An example: during the school holidays each school must set up a rota for students to come to the school to water the trees.
The projects are monitored through regular visits and spot checks by WEC, as well as meetings with the school administration and students or church staff.
The aim is for each school or church to take ownership of its woodlot which leads to sustainable outcomes. As the schools and churches start to see the benefits of their woodlot, which initially is just a small amount of firewood from pruning the growing trees, they are motivated to keep working and looking after their trees.
He sees the engagement with the bank as beneficial especially in surmounting some of the challenges he faced including working capital and market for seedlings. In addition, the 34 projects planted now know their existence through bank network hence more customers expected in future.
Jacob is optimistic that in the future, working with the bank, they can help or fund the purchase of wood processing plant-value addition, purchase of a truck to help in deliveries and acquire water tanks to ensure throughout the year seedlings production.
Looking forward, they would like to be self-sustaining and making profits, offer employment to at least 10 young people, expand tree growing to at least three more regions in Kitui County, and have planted over a million trees in Kitui and Makueni Counties.