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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Tea Tree improving livelihood of farmers

By Faith Kisiangani
Tea tree also referred to as Melaleuca alternifolia is a tree species that was introduced in 2005 by Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) in Laikipia, Nyeri, and Meru Counties. The tree has started having a huge impact in the livelihood of most arid and semi arid farmers as they have started feeling the economic benefits of the tree.
Tea Tree at fifteen months after planting in Nanyuki 2013
Mr.Eustace Kiarii from Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) said that they have been promoting tea tree as it has pharmaceutical components and is also used in production of cosmetics
Mr. Kiarii said that Tea tree is more resilient to effects of climate change and does well in extreme harsh and dry weather conditions. He said it is planted using a small seedling which takes 15 months for the first harvesting and is harvested twice per year thereafter.
During harvesting, a farmer harvests both leaves and tree branches through cropping and then the leaves and branches are packaged and exported to Bio shop located in United Kingdom for extraction of oil.
Melaleuca alternifolia, are native to the northeast coast of Australia and are known for their antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
“The oil crops will provide alternative sources of income to the communities. At the moment, the demand for tea tree oil is very high and the farmers are not meeting it. In this regard we intend to expand the project areas to include more farmers from Ndurukuma, Thome, Kihato and Ngare Nyiro areas of Laikipia county for both tea tree production and the other new oil crops,” said Mr.Kiarii.
KOAN has been promoting organic agriculture in the Country. They have been looking for organic products, markets and training farmers on production value chain and market demands.Mr. Kiarii said that they have been keen to introduce high value crops using sustainable land management (SLM).
Cattle in a tea tree farm
Mr.Kiarii said around 3000 tea trees can be planted in a quarter acre of land and one can harvest up to four kilos per tree per season and sell at Ksh10.50 per Kilo.
He said a farmer can make over 250,000 from an acre per year. Mr. Kiarii also said that Tea tree can be intercropped with desmodium for fodder and mulching.
“A farmer can earn from Tea tree more money than he or she is currently making from other agro-enterprises,” said Mr. Kiarii.
Trees play an important role in our lives for example; they help in improving climate, regulating stream and river flows, and soil conservation and protection. Trees also play a huge role in economy by providing commodities like timber, fuel, papers, fruits, oils, medicines, and they provide a stable habitat for wild animals which act as a foundation of Kenya’s important tourism industry.
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