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Friday, 28 November 2014

Medicinal Tea Tree changing farmers’ lives in Nanyuki

By Noah Lusaka
The trip to Nanyuki from Nyahururu took us about two hours. I was part of a group that participated in an exchange visit to learn more about growing tea tree. As we approached the lush green patch neighbouring Mr. Joseph King’ori’s dairy shed, we could see beautiful green shrubs waving about in rhythm with the light wind that was blowing.
 I was convinced they were young Eucalyptus trees commonly grown in many parts of Kenya only to learn from our host that it was another type of tree.
Tea Tree after 15 months after planting
“This is my tree tea crop,” Mr. King’ori announced as the group stood on the edges of the tea tree plot. He explained that he was introduced to tea tree farming by officials of the Earth Oil and Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN).

The Many uses of Tea Tree        
According to the popular website known as Web MD, tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) has been used traditionally as a tropical antiseptic and antifungal treatment. Additional uses include treating skin infections and warts among more than 20 others.
In the outskirts of Nanyuki, farmers have reported to make more than Khs. 75,000.00 from an acre of tea tree. This income is much higher compared to what they obtain from growing maize or beans.
Challenges of growing tea tree
High evaporation rate of the Tea tree’s essential products restricts distances between farms and the factory to only 25 kilometres. Farmers living further than that cannot grow the crop. Another challenge is the fact that many women farmers are unable to grow the tree because they do not own or have legal authority of the farms they occupy.
A programme has been initiated by KOAN to sensitise men on the need to give legal rights to their wives when they chose to get into tea tree farming.
Facts about growing tea tree
The KOAN project and Earth oil Company is currently working with 460 farmers within Laikipia County spread in Huku, Mwireri, Mwiriti, Burguret, and Gatuanyaga (Matanya, Sweet water, Marura and Ndurukuma are the new areas where expansion is being done) to organically grow the tea tree.
Cattle in a Tea Tree farm
Tea tree is more resilient to effects of climate change and performs well in extremely harsh dry weather conditions. Tea Tree matures within 15 to 18 months after establishment and is harvested twice per year under good management.
The tree requires low labour inputs and less field management since it’s not affected by pests and diseases and is not eaten by domestic animals. Tea tree can only be intercropped with desmodium to enhance soil fertility but not any other crop to prevent contamination
During harvesting time, the whole stem is cut down around 15cm-20cm above the ground at an angle using bending saw. The central stem is then removed. Branches and leaves are then sold for oil extraction. After some time, new shoots will emerge from where the tree was cut. All the shoots are left to grow, and the farmer is advised to cut them back after 6 months. This is a continuing cycle and Tea Tree is expected to be highly productive for 25 years under good management.
Earth Oil Extract Company Limited has a factory at Nanyuki. They signed a contract with the farmers in order to buy all the biomass of Tea Tree. They extract the oil, bulk and export to United Kingdom (UK) to a company called Body Shop. Three thousand (3000) tea trees can be planted in a quarter acre of land yielding four kilos per tree per season and can be sold at Ksh10.50 per Kilo.
Noah Lusaka is Projects Manager at ALIN, he can be reached through: nlusaka@alin.net
Original source: Laikipia Maliasili
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