As I ventured further into the homestead, I encountered Monica Juma, a spirited 73-year-old smallholder farmer, diligently harvesting groundnuts from a small portion of land. Monica wastes no time asking me if I've planted my tree for the day. I confess that I haven't, and she grabs the harvest, ushering me under a tree next to her house. She jumps right in to explain why it's of utmost importance.
"I first planted 60 Grevillea robusta tree seedlings when Barack Obama was still in office," Monica reminisces as she meticulously removes any dirt from her groundnuts. Today, she sells the timber from those trees, earning a valuable income that has changed her life.
Grevillea, a hardy drought-resistant tree that requires little care, can stand up to 30 meters when mature. Its multi-branched nature makes it ideal for firewood. You do not need to cut down the tree but just prune the branches.
Widowed, Monica lived with her nephew and funded the child's education from nursery school all the way to Kabianga University. Her resources came from practicing agroforestry. As she cultivated cassava, maize, bananas, and vegetables on her quarter-acre plot, she was able to sell the trees for firewood and make a hefty profit. While gas and kerosene prices have skyrocketed, most of her neighbours use firewood for cooking.
“I am also patiently waiting for the trees to mature. If I sell now, I earn Ksh. 1000, but if they mature, I will end up earning a minimum of Ksh. 3000 per tree,” she notes.
Monica emphasizes the need to plant trees with future generations in mind. She observes how drastically the climate has changed in the past seven years, reminiscing about the days when March was the ideal time to plant due to predictable rain and reliable yields, with fewer pest problems. She reminds me that she made a choice not too long ago to invest in tree seedlings.
“One time I tried to convince my neighbour to join me in buying tree seedlings, despite her neighbour’s concerns about spending money on trees rather than food. Today, ‘that neighbour deeply regrets her hesitance.” Monica's investment has paid off, from soil conservation, shade, ornamental, firewood to timber for construction, and she even extends a helping hand by educating her neighbour’s children about tree planting.
She chuckles at the skeptics who questioned her decision to plant trees at an older age. "When will they grow?" they asked. To her, trees represent a promise of a better future, and she's still reaping the benefits while ensuring future generations will do the same.
"It's never too late," Monica asserts. "My neighbour has now planted trees after witnessing the numerous benefits. I'm glad I can provide small loans to my neighbours after selling tree products."
But Monica's commitment to trees did not stop at timber and firewood. She had discovered the myriad uses of tree-related products, such as sawdust, which she employed as mulch for her crops, aiding in moisture retention. Her expertise in banana farming had not only provided sustenance but also generated income.
She champions agroforestry, urging fellow farmers to embrace this practice to diversify income and enhance soil fertility, especially in the era of climate change. The integration of trees with crops had proven invaluable in maintaining the health of the soil.
As Kenyans unite for National Tree Planting Day, Monica reminds us that tree planting should be an ongoing commitment. She commended the government's ambitious plan to plant 15 billion trees by 2032, recognizing that this nationwide effort is essential in combating climate change.
"Planting trees should be a monthly occurrence," she declared. "Whenever you have a spare shilling, invest in a seedling of hope." As we wrap up drying the groundnuts, she nudges me to plan my own tree planting for next month. Seated under the protective canopy of trees that have witnessed many yesterdays, I marvel at their ability to shield us from strong winds as the clouds signal an impending downpour.
Written by Mercyline Tata