Grafted mango seedling covered with a polythene bag to trap moisture to prevent infection of point where the scion joins with the rootstock. Photo: Grace Koech

By Grace Koech

Training farmers in tree-nursery establishment and management is a critical, nature-based solution to achieve restoration targets.

‘Did you know that a “tree nursery kiosk” can generate as much money as any other small-scale enterprise?’

So said Agnes Gachuiri, a community tree nursery specialist at the World Agroforestry (ICRAF), during training in nursery management and vegetative propagation held in Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya with participants drawn from Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Nakuru and Laikipia Counties.

Representatives of the Chogoo-Cheptengis-Okilgei group at the training confirmed that this year they had already sold tree seedlings worth KES 650 000 (around USD 6234) from their 0.5-acre (0.2 hectare) tree nursery. The main species sold were grevillea (Grevillea robusta), cypress (Cupressus spp), Casuarina spp, Eucalyptus spp, Olea africana, Dombeya spp, Prunus africana, ‘podo’ (Podocarpus latifolius), cedar, rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo) and giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus).

Philemon Chebii, a farmer operating a mango and citrus fruit nursery on a 0.25-acre (around 1011 m2) piece of land, stated that he never thought a nursery could give him so much money.

Inspired by the testimonies, Moses Munjuga, a consultant on tree nursery and vegetative propagation, sought from the rest of the participants their experience with tree nurseries. Surprisingly, out of the 93 trainees only 36 were already engaged in tree nursery activities, of whom only 17 reported to have accomplished to successfully establish, manage and generate income from their nursery.

Moses Munjuga demonstrating collection of scions for grafting mango seedlings. Photo: Grace Koech

 

‘Why haven’t you started any nursery activity?’ he asked.

The difficulty of acquiring good-quality seeds, ensuring access to plentiful clean water, finding a suitable site, marketing seedlings and general lack of skills were the main reasons mentioned in answer.

Water should never be a challenge’, interjected Tabitha Wanjiku, a nursery owner from Nakuru County. ‘You can easily recycle water used for washing by treating it with ash. The same applies to saline water’.

What is the secret of success with tree nurseries?

‘Sourcing quality seeds, responding to farmers’ preferences, environmental suitability, building your skills in nursery management, conducting small experiments on farm to see what works and what doesn’t and learning from other farmers are the main reasons for success,’ explained Agnes, chairperson of the Chogoo-Cheptengis-Okilgei group.

Considering that quality seeds and seedlings is a perquisite for the success of any tree-growing programme, the Regreening Africa project, which is implemented in Kenya by World Vision, organized the two training courses to develop the capacity of lead farmers by empowering them with skills and hands-on experience in nursery practices and vegetative propagation techniques. Given that it is not enough to just produce quality seedlings — the nursery operator must know who to, and how to, sell them — the concepts of marketing and business development were incorporated into the training.

At the start, trainer Robert Oroiyo of World Vision asked the participants what their expectations on the course were. Responses included learning how to establish and manage tree nurseries, manage pests and diseases, how to graft seedlings and what to do to generate money from a nursery.

Demonstrating that the trainers had done their research, the course that the participants then followed covered nursery design, potting media collection and preparation, nursery tending practices (weeding, watering, shading, transplanting, prevention and control of pests and diseases) selection of seed sources, seed harvesting, pre-treatment, storage and sowing, seedling propagation by stem cutting, layering, marcotting, budding and grafting) and operating a nursery as a business (how to determine prices, calculation of profit/gross margins and the importance of keeping records, such as a simple register, calendar and visitors’ book).

 

 Trainees practicing how to graft seedlings. Photo: Grace Koech

With the skills and knowledge acquired from the training, the participants stated that they would be able to save money that otherwise would be spent on paying skilled technicians to graft their seedlings at KES 50 (around USD 0.48) per seedling. They also recognized the need to keep accurate nursery records to assess progress and performance of their nursery. Further, there was a general commitment to reach at least 10 farmers each and train them in what they had learned.

Margaret Tanui was unaware of how important it is to comprehensively record the visitors’ book, but she was able to learn about it during the training. She had only been allowing senior people to sign her book and didn’t realize that comments from anyone visiting her nursery could help her improve her practices and the performance of the nursery.

Upon completion of the training course, participants were presented with certificates by Magrine Serem County Director of Gender and Social Services, of Elgeyo Marakwet County.

‘The trainees noted that the certificate will serve as their weapon for defence’, she said. ‘When local authorities agents ask them why they are practising nursery activities, they will tell them they have been trained professionally and the certificate will serve as evidence of the training’.

The training was held twice at A.I.C. Cheptebo Rural Development Centre — 8–12 July; and 28 July–2 August 2019 facilitated by Robert Oroiyo of World Vision; Agnes Gachuiri, Moses Munjuga and Grace Koech of World Agroforestry (ICRAF); and John Kitilit of A.I.C. Cheptebo Rural Development Centre. Training design and module delivery was supported by Sammy Carsan of ICRAF.

 

About Regreening Africa

Regreening Africa is an ambitious five-year project funded by the European Union that seeks to reverse land degradation among 500,000 households, and across 1 million hectares in eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. By incorporating trees into croplands, communal lands and pastoral areas, regreening efforts make it possible to reclaim Africa’s degraded landscapes.

This story was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Regreening Africa and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.