Creating Wealth For Smallholder Farmers In Arid Areas Of Kenya: The Case of Mukau (Melia Volkensii)
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Many trees and shrubs are a source of commercially exploitable products (Weiss 1984; ICRAF 1992). For instance, Acacia Senegal, produces gum arabic (Herlocker 1979), Boswelia produces frankincense, Jatropha, a tropical tree/shrub, produces oil-containing seeds, with potential of producing bio-diesel. The Neem tree, a tropical evergreen tree/shrub has high medicinal potency. The Doum palm (Hyphaena compressa ) leaves, on the other hand, fulfill many subsistence needs of the nomadic pastoral and agro-pastoral communities. It produces high quality fibre for basketry, edible nuts, fuelwood, fencing and building post. Other high-value trees include Adanosonia digitata (Baobab), Mangifera indica (Mango), Kigelia Africana, Tamaridus indica, and Melia (Melia volkensii {Gurke}). However, despite the many opportunities provided by trees, their potential is far from being fully harnessed.

Melia, a member of the family Meliaceae, grows wild in the ASALs of eastern Africa, from southern Ethiopia, through northern and eastern Kenya, Somalia, to northern Tanzania at 350—1700 m above sea level and 300—800 mm annual rainfall. The species is one of the most highly sought multipurpose trees producing a wide range of useful products. It is mainly planted for high-quality timber for construction and furniture-making. The timber is also suitable for other domestic uses such as drums, grain containers, mortars, bee hives, wood carvings, fencing poles, etc. Its timber usually fetches over four times higher price than other local tree species like cypress. The flowers of Melia provide excellent bee forage, while its twigs, leaves and fruits are good fodder for livestock, especially in the dry season. Like the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), Melia contains a compound toxic to insects and it has been traditionally used to control ticks, fleas and desert locusts. It is a tree with a great potential of meeting many basic needs of smallholder farmers in rural marginal areas. Its ability to intercrop with other crops with little competition ranks it high among the high-value trees in the ASALs of eastern and southern ASALs of Kenya. Exploitation of M. volkensii without matching replanting has resulted in rapid depletion of the natural supply.

         The research proposed here seeks to promote commercial production and utilization of Melia (Mukau, Kenya and Boba, Somalia) in rural ASALs through creation of socio-economic institutional frameworks that support income, wealth and employment creation for sustainable livelihoods. Empowerment of the local communities, particularly women and the youth (educated but lacking gainful employment), through capacity-building is viewed as the most important factor as far as delivery of the projects’ output is concerned. To attract investment into the anticipated local processing and value adding cottage industries, creation of consumer and investment cooperatives is viewed as another critical output. The results and experiences gained from this project will be used to prepare policy briefs for dissemination among the policy makers. All this is in line with the Kenya government’s emphasis on afforestation and conservation of indigenous forests as spelt out in the 2005 Forest policy Sessional Paper No.9 which unequivocally states that forests and other types of woody vegetation (in drylands) will be managed sustainably, and establishment of forest-based micro-enterprises and community-based forest associations will be supported, while degraded and over exploited areas will be rehabilitated by communities with government support.



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