Tea trees mitigate impact of drought and change fortunes
A drought tolerant and pest resistant crop is changing the fortunes of farmers in Kenya’s Mt. Kenya Region. Tea tree farming, a climate smart agricultural technology, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF); Small Grants Program (SGP), through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Kenya, has enabled farmers in Laikipia County increase farm resilience to climate change and their household income, while mitigating the problem of food security. A 2016 Food and Agriculture Organisation ( FAO) report reveals that 1 out of 4 individuals above 15 years of age in Sub-Saharan Africa, on average, are “hungry but did not eat or went without eating for a whole day because there was not enough money or other resources for food”. (PDF)
In a county classified as arid and semi-arid due to its cycles of drought, hunger and famine, smallholder farmers are now raking in major profits from agriculture as a result of their venture in alternative sources of livelihood. In addition, over 5000 households from Laikipia, now have access to food and parents can afford school fees for their children’s education.
“I used to plant food crops such as maize and beans but these would go bad when there was no water. The returns were meagre,” explains tea tree farmer, Mr. Gitahi Gituko. “We barely had enough to eat, and it was very difficult to take our children to school. I never imagined a small-scale farmer like me would have enough to sustain my family and have two daughters studying in universities abroad!”
On average a farmer harvests about 1200 kgs on half an acre, per harvest – which is usually after every six months. A kg of harvested tea tree goes for KES 19, which translates to about KES 23000 (USD 230).
On Mr. Gituko’s four acres’ farm, he has Tea trees growing on one and a half acres. In the last harvest, he earned KES 500,000 (USD 5000) and is confident that he will even make more in the coming harvests. This was against a maize harvest of 4 kilograms (kgs) that he sold for only KES 6000 (USD 60).
Another farmer, Ms. Alice Muthambure also grows tea tree alongside food crops and horticulture. “Of all the crops, I have, tea tree has been the easiest to farm! I get a bumper harvest without constant weeding, with minimal water and without fertilizers. Tea tree is also pest resistant. It is amazing the kind of conditions tea tree can survive in. The market price is also fixed and once delivered to the processing factory, we receive our payment within a week.”
The mother of three who left formal employment to pursue farming has been a farmer for the past 20 years. For her, income from tea tree farming has not only helped her earn a living even in times of drought, but has also allowed her to venture into real estate. Since 2008, she has been using proceeds from her tea tree produce to build residential houses. She currently receives monthly rental income from eight households every month, and is looking to expand her housing unit to accommodate up to 20 households.
To boost food security, Ms. Muthambure is also an organic farmer, only using botanically based pesticides and fungicides on her farm. Alongside the introduction to tea tree farming, GEF; SGP through UNDP Kenya has facilitated training on organic farming - done by Kenya Organic Farmers Network (KOAN)- that has seen farmers switch to organic technologies which are cheaper, more resilient and adaptable to climate change effects.
“Farming is good, you employ yourself and plan for yourself. As a woman who is in farming, I cannot remember the last time I borrowed money to take care of my needs. In fact, I severally lend money to my employed husband!” Ms. Muthambure remarks.
The farmers sell their tea tree produce to Earth Oil Extracts, who distill the plants for the oil and export it to the United Kingdom and United States of America. The oil is used for cosmetic purposes. Tea tree project manager at Earth Oil Mr. Martin Wainaina says that they now have 741 certified farmers across the eight regions within Mt. Kenya trained by UNDP Kenya. 60% of the farmers under this project are women.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF); Small Grants Program (SGP), through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Kenya put KES 3,825,000 (USD 45,000) in to the project.
GEF through its strategic investments, works with partners to tackle the planet’s biggest environmental issues. Its funding helps reduce poverty, strengthen governance and achieve greater equality between women and men.