Makueni County is located in Eastern Kenya and lies between latitude 10 35’ and 30 00’ South and longitude 370 10’ and 380 30’ East. The County is generally dry, exhibiting semi-arid to arid conditions. The average annual rainfall ranges between 600 mm to 750 mm, while average temperature is about 230C. However, low lying areas may experience temperatures of up to 35oC. Rainfall is bimodal with long rains occurring from March to May and short rains from November to December. The short rains are more reliable than the long rains with about 60% of the annual rainfall being received during the short rains. The soils are primarily sandy and generally low in organic matter.
Makueni County is characterized by a rapidly growing population, water scarcity, declining food production, and low resilience to climate change. These challenges have led to food and nutritional insecurity, as well as low income for many small holder farm families.
Economic empowerment for farmers living in Makueni County lies in diversification and investment in low risk ventures such as growing of appropriate high value trees. A suitable candidate is Melia volkensii (Melia, Mukau), a tree species native to drylands of Eastern Africa. The tree is deciduous (sheds leaves during the dry season), fast growing, drought tolerant and produces high quality timber that is termite resistant. Other products from the species include; poles, posts, fodder, bee forage, medicine, and firewood.
Objectives of growing Melia on-farm include:
- Diversification of farmer’s income sources
- Environmental conservation
- Adaptation and mitigation to climate change
Over the years, rainfall in Makueni County has been declining, leading to low crop production, hence the need for other investment alternatives such as tree growing. Melia growing was introduced on-farm after identification of the species as suitable for growing in dryland conditions, and training of model farmers such as Mr. Jonathan Kituku by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).
To establish Melia, site preparation is carried out through; clearing of land, fencing, ploughing, harrowing and leveling. Planting holes should be 45 cm deep x 45 cm wide x 45 cm long at a minimum spacing of 4 m x 4 m. Melia seedling should be planted at the start of the rainy season.
Management of the tree is through weeding twice per year for the first three years, and pruning which is carried out through removal of buds (de-budding). De-budding begins three months after planting, and is carried out up to two thirds of the tree height until a desirable clear bole is attained. Pruning from the second year could be undertaken to remove large branches and to ensure a clear bole.
Growing of Melia has improved farmers’ income through; sale of Melia seed, seedlings, timber and firewood. One kilogram of Melia seeds sells at between Ksh 5,000 and Ksh 8,000 (~US$ 50- US$ 80), while a Melia seedling sells at Ksh 50 (~US$ 0.5). Value of a mature Melia tree is about Ksh12,000 (~US$ 120). Value addition to Melia tree can be done by sawing to timber.
Growing of Melia has contributed to; soil and water conservation, improved soil fertility, enriched bio-diversity and improved resilience to climate change.
Trees have also improved micro-climate and aesthetic value of the farm, and act as windbreak.
Innovations and Success Factors
Melia growing has been adopted by many farmers in Makueni County. Adoption has been enhanced through; training of Melia growing farmers, and raising seedlings on farmers own nurseries.
In order to increase quality and volume of Melia timber, Mr. Kituku increased tree spacing from initial 4 m x 4 m which was introduced by KEFRI to 5 m x 5 m, 6 m x 6 m, 7 m x 7 m, and plans to increase to 8 m x 8 m. The farmer also intercrops Melia trees with green-grams and natural pasture grasses for hay making to increase food security and diversify income sources, respectively.
Some of the constraints experienced by the farmer include:
- Livestock damage to trees
- Diseases incidences, especially canker
Some lessons learnt include:
- Farmer modification to technology maximizes productivity
- Farmers raising their own Melia seedlings ensures sustainability as seeding are available during planting season
- Intercropping Melia trees with food crops and pasture grasses ensures food security and increased income
Growing of Melia is a viable enterprise and has potential to; improve farmer’s income, conserve environment, and enhance mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The practice has been widely adopted within Makueni County.