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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A new ‘‘cereal’’ for a climate smart enterprise.

By Bett Kipsan'g

Traders in Sipili area of Laikipia County have discovered one unique climate smart business venture; they harvest and sell tree seeds, instead of cutting down the whole tree for timber. The trade can be traced back to the year 2009, when Laikipia and especially Sipili experienced a prolonged drought which affected every other crop in the farms, prompting the locals to think of an alternative source of income. The dry spell was the turning point for the new enterprise. 

It is interesting to note that, seeds of Grevillea Robusta tree have been accepted and are regarded as any other cereals: maize and beans. Stockiest and traders in Sipili buy the seeds from farmers and bulk them for resale to other buyers for profit. In a good season, up to 700 Kilogrammes of Grevillea seeds are collected and traded every week during the market day.   

Climate change consciousness
  Climate change awareness is beginning to sink into the heart of the society, with most members of the community beginning to explore and readily adopt new and innovative climate smart economic activities. Instead of cutting down trees for timber, why not just harvest the seeds and trade it for money? This happens to be a new multi-million shillings business venture in Sipili today.
Harvesting is done before the pods break and get dispersed by the wind. The newly harvested seeds are good for marketing just after drying. It is recommended that seeds are not supposed to stay for more than six months since the viability is reduced.
 It is very advantageous to spare the tree; this is due to the climate mitigation roles of trees which acts as carbon sinkers and hence contribute towards reduction of the atmospheric heat and global warming.

 How the trade started
 During the dry spell in 2009, communities had to rely on money from the sale of Grevillea seeds. Others could cycle for several kilometres to harvest hay for sale. All the crops had been wiped out by the dry spell and the only way to survive was to collect and sell the seeds at the market, where a cup was costing Ksh 50 per Kg. The price latter rose to Ksh 100 per Kg. By then one kilogram of the seeds was selling at between Ksh 1,200 and sh 1,500.
 In March 2010 Mr. George Kamau a field officer with Tree Is Life Trust (TILT) based in Sipili attended a workshop organised by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (K.E.F.R.I) at Muguga. The workshop was on participatory natural resource management. That seminar was an eye opener to the field officer, who saw an opportunity and realised that trading on the seeds had great potential in the area. 

 When he came back, Kamau started mobilising community members and groups and trained them on the new enterprise of collecting and selling tree seeds. The free Internet access at the ALIN’s Ng’arua Maarifa centre provided a leeway for him to write emails to potential seed buyers outside the area. He got orders especially from the western parts of the country, where the demand sometimes could not be met.
The economics of the seeds trade cannot be underestimated; if each kilogramme goes for Ksh 2,000 then 700 Kgs traded every week amounts to Ksh 1,400,000. That is the money brought to the semi arid area through the seeds alone.
Currently a cup of the seeds goes for between Ksh 100 and Ksh 180 depending on the supply and available markets. Buyers are the ones to determine the local market prices based on the end market condition and where the seeds are taken. It is said that there is not yet big market for the commodity.

Value of seeds as compared to the tree
 Mr. Kamau went ahead to estimate the value of a seeds as compared to trading on the timber. A mature Grevillea Robusta (Mukima) tree, two to three years old, can produce three to four kilogramme of seeds each costing Ksh 2,000. In a good season a mature tree can fetch four to five Kilogramme per year. That is estimated to raise between Ksh 8,000 to Ksh 10,000.

 The same mature Grevillea Robusta tree, sells at less than Ksh 500 which is 95 percent less than the cost of seeds. Also considering that the seeds can be harvested every year, the loss of cutting a tree is really huge. The low value of timber from Grevillea tree is attributed to the high susceptibility to attacks by mites and other boring insects. To maintain the timber requires chemical treatment which is sometimes expensive and causes environmental pollution. The chemicals are also expensive and not available at the local market.
Grevillea grows fast and is suitable for agro-forestry. It can be grown together with food crops, (agro-forestry) without any harm. The trees can be planted along boundaries and are easier to control. It has a lot of forage for animals like cattle and the browsing goats. The branches can be used as sustainable source of wood fuel, because they rejuvenate very fast after cutting.  ‘‘The branches from a mature Grevillea tree can serve for a week as fire wood,’’ said Mr. Kamau. ‘‘If every household of an average of five members can grow at least 52 trees, the branches could provide fuel for the whole year round,’’ added Kamau. 

Grevillea seeds from Laikipia are touted to be the best in the region, maybe due to the climatic and ecological factors. This has given a competitive edge to the seeds business in this region. Grevillea

Trees are classified as exotic, indigenous and natural. Natural trees are either indigenous or exotic but can grow in any climatic condition. The seeds from Laikipia and the lower parts of Subukia in Nakuru are very suitable for germination.

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