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Even as millions of hectares of tropical forest are lost each year and large numbers of reforestation efforts have failed, there are smallholder farmers in the world who, for years, have grown and managed their own trees on a sustainable basis. For those involved in community forestry, why farmers plant trees is every bit as important as why they do not.
This study by natural resource economist Peter A. Dewees of the Food Studies Group of Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University, is the result of research which was undertaken to explore the rationale for smallholder tree growing in its historical and socio-cultural context in Kenya. Although much of the study focuses on tree-growing activities in Murang'a District in the Central Province in that country, many of the observations and conclusions are relevant to other parts of Kenya, and there are certainly parallels to other parts of Africa as well.
Both casual observation and land use inventories provide strong evidence that trees continue to have an important role as one smallholder land use option in many high potential agricultural zones in Kenya. In some cases, farmers grow trees to meet the demand for construction poles, charcoal and fuelwood, and in response to other market forces. Trees are also cultivated to demarcate boundaries or to shade crops such as tea or coffee. Tree cultivation, it would seem, which requires less labour and less capital investment than other types of crops, has emerged as an important income-producing land use option for the smallholder.
Still, there remains the question of why farmers maintain trees on land that could be used for the cultivation of other crops which could potentially generate a substantially higher income. Central to this discussion of tree planting in Kenya is the interlinkage of issues such as land tenure, capital accumulation and labour use. Several of the most common tree cultivation and management practices are the long-term outcome of these three closely related issues. Other practices have been adopted either as a result of relatively recent interventions, such as the introduction of black wattle during the first half of this century, or are due to the evolution of traditional tree management practices.
Dr. Dewees concludes his study by examining some of the issues of relevance to planners and developers in their efforts to encourage farmers to grow more trees. First, he suggests that tree planting innovations must be placed in a context which takes into account local farmer ability and traditional knowledge. Second, it is important to recognize that tree growing is a viable option especially when labour and capital constraints limit agricultural development. And third, existing controls on tree cultivation and management must involve the local population and be more consistent. If farm production of trees is to be encouraged, farmers must be assured that they - rather than the Government or local administration - will reap the benefits.
The research for this study was supported with funds provided primarily by the Rockefeller Foundation through the Oxford Forestry Institute's Smallholder Incentives for Tree Growing Research Project. Additional funding was provided by the Research Committee of the World Bank, the Overseas Development Administration and by Oxford University. The publication of this Case Study was funded by the multi-donor Forests, Trees and People Trust Fund, which is devoted to increasing the sustainability of women and men's livelihoods through self-help management of tree and forest resources. Within the FAO Forestry Department, the activities and publications of the Programme are coordinated by Marilyn W. Hoskins, Senior Community Forestry Officer, in the Forestry Policy and Planning Division.
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