2016 Annual Report : How agro-forestry is improving soil fertility on smallholder farms in Kenya

Reuben trains members of a farmer group in the process of transplanting tree seedlings.
Reuben trains members of a farmer group in the process of transplanting tree seedlings.

How agro-forestry is improving soil fertility on smallholder farms in Kenya

Like many other graduates, after Reuben Masita graduated with a certificate in Electronics from Kenya Now 54 years old and a father of four, Reuben though shifting his skills to Kebirigo, where competition was not stiff, would also enable supplement his income by doing some farming. A friend, who operates an assorted fruits and tree nursery in Kisii town, explained to Reuben how he started his small tree nursery, the intricacies of management, marketing and the income he was getting.

When he went back to Magwagwa, where he had settled with his family on a plot, an eighth plot of an acre, he decided to try his hands in the agro-forestry tree nursery business. He visited the Ministry of Agriculture in Nyamira, North Sub-County to seek more information on the types of seedlings to start with, where to source them, how they were germinated and managed in the nursery and who the potential customers were. Within a month he had established a small nursery at the backyard of his house with varieties of seedlings that included coffee and tea cuttings, Calliandra and Grevillea Robusta.

During the first year he invested about KES 10,000 to buy seeds and polythene tubes. At the end of that year, his profit was a modest KES 5,000. This did not discourage him since it was a business he did alongside his professional services. The nursery did not prevent him from attending his tea and coffee plantation in Kebirigo and servicing radios and televisions of his customers.

Each time he visited his friend in Kisii and the Department of Agriculture in Ekerenyo, Nyamira North Sub-County, he always got new information on how to better manage his nursery, new sources of seedlings and customer linkages. He introduced new species such as Eucalyptus, Terminalia and Araucallia. In the second year, he spent about KES 15,000  excluding labor, which he estimated to be about KES 10,000 – and was able to earn KES 50,000.

He knew the business had entered a take-off phase. Based on the good linkages with the Department of Agriculture, in his third year of business, he was linked to Africa Harvest, which was focusing on capacity building of farmers in integrated farming systems. Africa Harvest was also providing local nursery entrepreneurs with material support, skills and business development. He was supported with Grevillearobusta, Calliandracalothyrus and Maesopsiseminii seeds and 5,000 sleeves to boost his nurseries.

He also received technical backup on nursery management. In the first nine months of working with the Africa Harvest, which has a strategic partnership with the Department of Agriculture in Nyamira County, Reuben’s gross sale increased to KES 60,000 with still some good stock of planting material to sell during April and May rain season.

He is optimistic that with increased awareness on the importance of integrating multi-purpose trees with the crops, there will be increased demand from the farmers and even institutions on the seedlings he is raising. He is now focused to make it a full-time job considering he requires very little capital to manage and sustain it.