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This report seeks to provide a better understanding of the economic framework of smallholder agriculture in Kenya, particularly in relation to tree growing management and practices. Although much of the report focuses on tree-growing activities in the Murang'a District, a high potential agricultural zone in the Central Province of Kenya, many of the observations and conclusions are relevant to other parts of the country.
Both casual observation and land use inventories provide strong evidence that trees have an important role as one of many smallholder land use options 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 other crops such as tea or coffee.
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 closely related issues. Others have been adopted either as a result of relatively recent interventions or are due to the evolution of traditional tree management practices.
Chapter 1 explores the current state of knowledge about the extent of tree growing in high potential areas of Kenya. Chapter 2 examines how rural capital and labour constraints may account for the widespread adoption of different tree growing practices.
In the pre-colonial economy, farm labour was a controlled by kinship ties and was a responsibility of the sub-clan. Many labour tasks and cropping patterns were also gender related. Major changes in farm labour use were brought about during the colonial area as the Colonial Administration fixed forest boundaries and as European settlement limited the land available for expansion.
During the same period, many Africans - mostly male - were forced to seek wage employment on large agricultural plantations or in urban areas in order to pay their taxes. With the emergence of this migrant and wage labour force, less labour was available to work on small rural holdings. Trees, such as black wattle, filled the niche created by rural labour shortages and provided an income during times of need.
Constraints on capital also provided an impetus for tree growing. Formal credit mechanisms for smallholders are a recent phenomenon dating from the 1960s. Even today, commercial lending to farmers remains at an all time low and there are few credit sources to support labour activities. Thus tree cultivation, 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.
Chapters 3 and 4 explore the evolution of the traditional land tenure system in the Murang'a District and the resulting changes in the relationship between land tenure and tree tenure.
There are strong traditions of tree cultivation and management in Kikuyu tribal areas of Kenya (such as Murang'a District). Trees were used to demarcate boundaries, were cultivated in protected forests for use as fuelwood and were preserved as sacred groves for the site of ritual ceremonies
Traditional law in many parts of Kenya, distinguished between rights of control of land and rights of use and access. As a result in pre-colonial times, rights of tree ownership and exploitation could be held separately.
In the earliest Kikuyu settlements, land acquisition was based on the rights of first use, by the exercise of hunting and trapping rights. These rights were strengthened by forest clearance and cultivation and belonged to families with lineage rights. However land could be lent to people outside the sub-clan for cultivation or tenancy. Land lending and tenancy arrangements were also inherited.
European settlement brought increasing pressures on the traditional land tenure system. Under the villagization programme mounted during the 1952 State of Emergency, over 100,000 people who had lived on small homesteads were forcibly moved to large villages. This removal from smallholdings on which they held traditional rights, permitted the Colonial Administration to consolidate holdings which over generations had been fragmented into separate plots.
Consolidation provided the basis for major land reform legislation that became the foundation for the 1963 Registered Land Act. Under its terms, customary land rights were no longer valid. With respect to tree tenure, trees as well as all things growing on the land, became the property of the registered landowner. The effects of the legislation were most profoundly felt by the landless who lost many of the rights of access to land they once had under traditional law.
Chapter 5 describes the importance of black wattle production during the first half of this century. Africans were excluded from producing cash crops and the returns from food crops were low. Wattle, valued for the high tannin content of its bark, became a major export crop for Kenya and an important source of income and political power in many Kikuyu areas. Although wattle continues to be grown in parts of Murang'a District, its role in the smallholder economy declined during the State of Emergency. With the removal of controls on smallholder coffee and tea production, wattle lost its value as a cash crop.
The concluding chapter examines some of the challenges facing planners and developers in their efforts to encourage farmers to grow more trees. First of all, tree planting innovations must be placed in a context which takes into account local farmer ability and knowledge. It is also evident that tree growing is one result of labour and capital constraints limiting agricultural development. If these constraints are effectively addressed, there will be less of an incentive for farmers to grow trees. Finally, existing controls on tree cultivation and management must be more consistent. If farm production of trees is to be encouraged, farmers must be assured that they - not the Government nor the local administration -will reap the benefits.
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