Many farmers in Kenya grow trees. For most, trees are not their primary source of income or interest, but wood can be sold to pay school fees, a debt, or expand a business. The influx of cash after years of growth can be a good complement to a farmer’s income. With this in mind, the agricultural service provider One Acre Fund set up a program to ensure Kenyan farmers had access to grevillea tree seeds.
One Acre Fund supplies low-cost, high-quality agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers, along with other ancillary good (e.g., sanitary pads, solar panels) to farmers throughout 6 countries in East and southern Africa.
One Acre Fund currently offers farmers the opportunity to buy a packet of approximately 100 grevillea tree seeds for 200 Kenyan Shillings (2 USD), together with training on how to grow them. Grevillea trees are relatively easy to grow and grow quickly — they can be sold for a profit after just eight years.
Laterite is working with One Acre Fund to assess what happens after a farmer buys the seeds: Did they plant all the seeds? How many grew to be seedlings? What kind of trees do farmers want to grow? What kind of farmer is interested in growing trees? These questions, and many others, help us understand the motivations and background of farmers. We talked to about 1,850 farmers for the baseline in February 2019. Now we are preparing for a midline survey in early 2020.
In the meantime, our team has been working to map the tree market in Kericho and Uasin Gishu counties. This will tell us what trees are worth in the local market, who is buying them, and how much farmers who plant trees now can expect as a return on their investment. The market includes sawmills, tea plantations, furniture makers, coffin makers, charcoal producers, and even schools where headmasters accept wood in lieu of fees. Speaking to each actor to understand what trees they buy and how much they pay for them will be key in mapping this complex system.
The goal is to compile a map of the local tree market so that farmers and One Acre Fund trainers can be informed when deciding what is best for them: should they sell their tree after five years, or wait until they reach eight? Should they sell to the sawmill in their neighborhood, or to the tea plantation further away? What types of trees should they grow?
Information is power. Just giving farmers access to tree seeds is not enough. To empower them to make the best decisions for themselves and their family, they need to know how much their assets are worth. Our hope is that the answers to these questions will give farmers the information they need to demand a fair price, and diversify their incomes sources in a changing environment.
Tessa Ahner-McHaffie is a Laterite Research Analyst based in Kenya