Farmers in Uasin Gishu County, Kenya Plant Grevillea Trees to Boost Soil Health

person reaching out to touch a green tree
Kass FM
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Uasin Gishu County, Kenya

Farmers in Uasin Gishu County, Kenya Plant Grevillea Trees to Boost Soil Health

Chelimo is a mother of three who lives in Chepkoilel River in Uasin Gishu County, Kenya. She tells us that the rain this time round is less than anticipated. “It started raining here in late April, but I can count the number of days we have received rainfall since then,” she says, as she walks us around her small-scale coffee plantation farm.

She further reiterated that this delay in rainfall has led many farmers in the area who had planted maize seeds as per their normal schedule in anticipation of rain to be highly disappointed. Many now have opted to count their losses and replant again, if they expect to reap any produce come harvest season.

With the changes in rainfall season being experienced across the country, Chelimo decided to practice sustainable production by introducing agroforestry in her farm. “I chose to plant grevillea trees in this land because they are good for coffee plants. Its roots hold water, meaning even in sparse rainfall, the coffee can still draw moisture from the tree.”

She further expounded on the advantages saying that the trees provide shelter for the coffee on sunny days. When the tree sheds its leaves, they surround the plants and are used as fertilizer, because she practices organic coffee farming.

The Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) has been campaigning to encourage farmers to adopt agroforestry.

I reached out to Ann Nyaoke, the Uasin Gishu County Forest Conservator to talk about this land restoration and climate mitigation plan. In about eight minutes of recorded phone conversation, the Officer lauded the actions of farmers like Chelimo.

“We at the office of Kenya Forestry Services have been embarking on a mission to educate farmers on the importance of agroforestry,” she said. “We tell farmers to consider the needs of their lands, and we have noticed more large and small-scale coffee farmers prefer grevillea trees because it is said to fix nitrogen in the soil.”

As we continued walking in Chelimo’s farm, we noticed the division of various plants. There were beans planted in the ground, and ahead we could see Terrance Napier grass on both sides of the trench. The fencing was a mixture of cypress trees, flowers and mango trees. We saw two avocado trees and a banana plantation. As we got to the boundary of the farm, I looked down and noticed what seemed to be vetiver grass.

“My farm sits in a loose soil, there are plenty of pure stones underneath this land, we have sand here too, so when it rains, water washes away the majority of good soil and drains it to Chepkoilel River,” said Chelimo. "This is why I decided to plant these trees, Terrance with Napier grasses, as a move to try to hold on to as much soil as I can even when it rains.”

Ann Nyaoke tells us that the theme of Kenya Forestry Service right now is to let the public know that without trees, there is no sustainable production. "In order for the country to attain 10% forest cover, we should all endeavor to plant trees if we have any hope of mitigating climate change," she said.

Waziri Shadrack Yatich, the CEC of Tourism from the county of Elgeiyo Marakwet said that “land degradation is today more pronounced because of human activities as opposed to climate change.” He said that the legislature now has a huge responsibility of passing bills that are good for conservation practices.

With the United Nations terming this decade of 2021-2030 as the ‘UN decade of Ecosystem Restoration’, every one of us has a huge responsibility to make this vision a reality.

These sentiments are echoed by delegates in the ongoing United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) COP15.

During the opening ceremony of this convention, Deputy Secretary General of UN, Amina J. Mohammed, said that “we are faced with a crucial choice, we can either reap the benefits of land restoration now or continue on the disastrous path that has led us to the triple planetary crisis of climate, biodiversity and pollution.”

“Now is the time for action, said the UNCCD Executive Secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw. “There is no future for our children or the planet if we continue with ‘business as usual’ when it comes to managing our land.”

While speaking to journalists covering the UNCCD COP15 convention, Dr. Gaius Eudoxis, co-chair of the intergovernmental Working Group on Drought, said that right now, about 20.6 million people are facing hunger and drought, keeping in mind that 60% of Africa is a dry area.

With this shocking statistic, Ann Nyaoke says that communities need to take responsibility for good practices that are meant to reduce loss of productive land. Stories of keen farmers like Chelimo are a good example that self-driven initiatives are possible.

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This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in Kass FM on May 16, 2022.  It has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image: Chelimo on her small-scale coffee plantation farm / Credit: Kass FM.

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