Better Globe Forestry Ltd (BGF), our mother company, started its first fieldwork in Kenya at the end of 2006, at Katithini by Lake Kiambere in eastern Kenya. The Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) owns the land and its management was keen to implement an afforestation project of 5,000 hectares around the biggest part of the lake.
The lake is fed by Kenya's biggest river, the Tana, which originates from the slopes of Mount Kenya. Its tributaries find their way to the lowlands through densely populated areas, carrying plenty of soil from erosion.
TARDA has a catchment protection programme, but the waters of the river are very brown every rainy season. The situation is compounded by intense erosion around the lake, where literally thousands of tonnes of soil are washed into the lake after every major downpour. This fills up the dam, decreasing its lifespan, and hence reducing the capacity for provision of affordable electricity.
BGF has demonstrated that it can stop erosion on the lakesides completely, by planting trees and blocking erosion gullies with thousands of check dams. The tree species planted on this site are mostly mukau (Melia volkensii) a few neem (Azadirachta indica) and a trial of Acacia senegal. These three species are adapted to the local environment, that is, hot and semi-arid, with irregular rainfall. In particular, Melia volkensii and Acacia senegal are extremely drought resistant.
BGF will utilise the neem for its oil, which is used in biological pesticides, and has medicinal properties. Mukau, the principal species for BGF, is planted for its superior mahogany-type timber. BGF's trials have shown that it can be planted year-round, provided it receives adequate care and irrigation. Growth is excellent, with seedlings reaching 3 metres in height, after barely one and a half years.
BGF has also established a trial plantation of different provenances of Acacia senegal, which produces gum arabic, a valuable stabilising agent with many industrial applications in the food, beverage and printing industries.
BGF has the full and active support, with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS). BGF has Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with these institutions.
BGF employs between 50 and 200 people in the Kiambere pilot plantation, depending on the work, which in turn depends on the season. There is overall supervision by BGF staff and security to guard against theft and damage of trees by goats and other livestock. The works in the plantation include the whole cycle of land preparation, tree-planting and plantation maintenance. BGF is the biggest employer in the area, with payment of salaries signifying an important injection of cash into the local economy. BGF is also planning to start an out-growers programme with the farmers around the Kiambere area.