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Citi Entrepreneurs: encouraging farm-based tree nurseries

Kew staff are training selected farmers in Kenya to help establish sustainable farm-based enterprises. The aim is to significantly increase the quantity of quality tree seedlings available for planting and restoration projects.
Ezekiel Kyalo of KEFRI Kitui regional centre explains to Citi Entrepreneur trainees how the growth rate of Melia volkensii compares to Eucalyptus species in a field demonstration site at Kitui, eastern Kenya. (Photo: Humphrey Gaya)


The Government of Kenya has stated in their future vision for the country (the so-called Vision 2030) that the forest cover of the country, currently down to c. 2% will be increased to 10% over the next two decades. This is an encouraging commitment, but what will be the major challenges?

While there is no shortage of seed of some exotic timber species such as the many fast-growing Australia gums (Eucalyptus) and the Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta), the supply of indigenous tree seed and planting stock will continue to be a significant bottleneck in the process. On its own admission, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and their National Tree Seed Centre will not be in a position to satisfy the demand of the many millions of seedlings required for this ambition. And so the process to formally register private seed collectors and tree seedling suppliers from amongst Kenya’s rural farming communities has been started.

Developing the private sector to support seedling supply is a rare example of a potential 'win-win' for both biodiversity conservation through increased tree cover and providing opportunities for new income generation streams resulting in measurable improvements to on-farm income.

A three-year project funded through the Sustainable Enterprise Development Programme of the Citi Foundation is enabling Kew's Millennium Seed Bank to collaborate with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute to ensure farmers have access to the necessary business skills to enable the development of these on-farm enterprises.

Developing a farm-based training curriculum

A two-part training programme has been developed focusing firstly on technical aspects of seed collection, germination and seedling husbandry. This is complemented with a curriculum tailored to suit the entrepreneurial needs of trainees, equipping them with the necessary skills to establish and run plant-based farm enterprises. The curriculum modules include:

  • Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Market Assessment
  • The Value Chain
  • Business Planning
  • Managing Accounts and Book-Keeping
  • Contract Negotiation
  • Introduction to Microfinance
  • How to develop a good Business Plan

This training course has been delivered by a number of Kew’s Kenyan partners through field-based demonstration days. The project has also established a strong relationship with the Mount Kenya University  at nearby Thika town to deliver the classroom-based modules and to award certification to the trainees.

It is intended that the course will become a regular part of the University’s curriculum and that the project will ensure that it will be available to farmers and young entrepreneurs beyond the immediate district of Tharaka.

Establishing the market and value chain

A Nairobi-based NGO, Farm Concern International, has undertaken an initial market assessment and documented the current supply and potential demand for seeds and seedlings of indigenous tree species in the District of Tharaka and in Nairobi City. The report has also identified additional plant products that may also be developed and marketable from Tharaka, such as the fruit of the Tamarindus tree, much prized by Asian cuisine. We therefore now have key statistics for market supply and demand and suggested opportunities for improving the existing market chain from farmers to tree-planters.

The report has also highlighted potential new end-customers not yet serviced appropriately by tree seedling suppliers. These initial findings have uncovered a significant potential for developing this market and our next phase of market analysis will focus on improvements for entry into the market chain.

Stimulate new local markets

In a small way, the project is also being used to encourage the establishment of community and private woodlots throughout Tharaka. It is an opportunity for Kew and its country partners to introduce exciting new species trials for widening the range of useful species available to growers. These species will be appropriate to the environmental conditions in these dryland areas and offer significant benefits to on-farm biodiversity, forest restoration, increasing the availability of useful species for the community and importantly, revenue streams for farmers and other tree producers.

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