Page 1

Sawmilling in Kenya Correct drying, handling and storage of wood Tapping into seasonal water flows Working with other forest growers A glue for hostile environments Ksh 250 Ush 7,000 I s s u e N o .9 J an u ar y- Ma rch 2011

Survival amid shortages

Timber-starved Kenya looks for alternative sources of wood

Drylands are not wastelands

They can contribute more to national development

How much does the wood cost?

Timber market prices in Uganda for the 3rd quarter 2010

Let’s plant trees Information on profitable tree growing and maintenance in Kenya

Sweet music from Kenya

Coura African Guitars are strumming up a universal sound from Nairobi

The Magazine for the Children of Africa





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BINGWA magazine is an educational yet fun magazine with plenty of stories, puzzles and cartoons in English and Swahili languages. There are also competitions in every issue with lots of prizes to be won. BINGWA magazine is targeted at children aged between 10 and 13 years. It is published every term with some copies distributed free of charge to primary schools countrywide. BINGWA is now available for subscription at Ksh 300 per year. It is also available in selected outlets. For more information contact us on 020 434 32 68 , 0719 619 006 or email us at Visit our website



22 2


Celebrating the beauty of wood



Your views


Let’s plant trees

Guidelines for profitable tree growing

and maintenance in Kenya


Sawmilling in Kenya

Timber shortage reveals inefficient on-farm wood sawing systems

12 Different strokes for different cuts

Sawing technique determines the appearance and uses of the timber

13 Survival amid shortages

Timber-starved Kenya looks for alternative

sources of wood

14 Home and dry

Correct drying, handling and storage of wood

adds to its value

17 Looking ahead

Ugandan army leader sees a future in plantation forestry

18 Driving commercial forestry


24 All together now Local communities should be seen as co-managers in forest management

26 Drylands are not wastelands

The potential of ASAL to contribute to national

development is largely unrecognised

28 Black wattle for fuel wood

Acacia mearnsii offers potential for profits while

meeting the deficit for charcoal and firewood

30 Sweet music from Kenya

Coura African Guitars are strumming up a universal sound from Nairobi

32 Keeping tabias in working condition

Maintenance and repairs are needed to ensure

continued water harvesting

36 Tapping into seasonal water flows

Weirs are an inexpensive way of providing

water all year round in drylands

38 A glue for drylands

Making money from hagar and other non-wood forest products

39 Uganda timber market report

A report for the 3rd quarter of 2010 Mukau: A Keny with a brigh an drylands tree t future Yatta farm er makes farming big busin tree ess Interview with George Maya Ugandan farm er, nja

Who are the main players in the sector in Kenya?

20 Working with other forest growers


Join the Kenya Forest Growers Association (KEFGA) and reap the benefits

22 Tapping into trees Gums and resins offer an alternative livelihood for dryland communities

On the cover: Coura African guitars made in Kenya and completed in Germany. The high quality guitar frames are crafted in Nairobi. The wood is either Kenyan (mukanga - Aningeria altissinia) or Congolese (mvule - Milicia excelsa and mahogany - Entandrophragma spp or Khaya spp)

Sawmilling in Kenya Correct drying , handling and storag Tapping into e of wood seasonal water flows Working with other forest growe A glue for rs hostile enviro nments Ksh 250 Ush


Surviva amid shlort ag

Issue No.9 Janu ary-M


Timber-star ved Kenya alternative looks for sources of wood

Drylands are not waste

lands They can to nationa contribute mor e l develop ment

How mu ch does the wood Timber mar cost? ket pric


for the 3 rd

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es quarter 201in 0


trees on profitabl and mainten e tree growing ance in Ken ya


Sweet m usic from Ken ya

Coura Afric

an Guitars universal are strumming up sound from a Nairobi

arch 2011


Celebrating the beauty of wood


ood is a noble material and everything related to it should be highly respected. Wood brings warmth and atmosphere and because there are many types of trees, the possibilities for the use of wood both in traditional and contemporary surroundings are endless. In the West, people are fascinated by Oriental crafts. It is perceived that Oriental wooden objects are made using some mysterious skills, unavailable to the West. However, do the majority of people in the West know that Africa has very skilled crafts people capable of making wooden objects of incredible beauty and refinement? Moreover, they have a variety of trees at their disposal with a formidable diversity in characteristics. Increasingly, more trees are being planted in arid and semi arid lands (ASAL). This calls for the development of ingenuous water management and utilisation techniques. We have highlighted some of these, like tabias and weirs, in this edition of the magazine. Miti is a tree business magazine and it is therefore our duty to inform our readers about all aspects of the wood industry - tree species, land preparation, planting, solutions for water, transformation, up to the finished product and not last and certainly not least, the commercial and socioeconomic aspects of the industry. This is our ambitious mission in which we fortunately have the usual input of extremely competent and motivated contributors. In this issue, George Muthike, Douglas Shitanda, Christopher Kanali and Fred Muisu, in an exceptionally long but interesting article, explain how the timber shortage has shifted attention to trees on farms, despite inefficient sawing systems. On his part, Linus Wekesa describes how timberstarved Kenya has looked for alternative wood sources, while Nelly Oduor writes on how correct drying adds value to wood. Clement Ng’oriareng explains how the potential for contribution of ASAL to national development goes largely unrecognised. Herman Verlodt keeps us fascinated with his series of articles on tabias while Erik Nissen-Petersen explains how small and cost-effective weirs can be built to obtain water in drylands. Philip Wamahiu gives us an insight into the few individuals and companies that are actively involved in commercial forestry development in Kenya. From Uganda, Peter Bahizi gives us valuable information about the timber market in that country. Lt Gen Katumba Wamala of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces wants to lead by example in helping civil servants have a worry-free retirement through tree planting. He gracefully granted us an interview on the same and we had the opportunity to visit his impressive plantation. Joshua Cheboiwo and Fridah Mugo remind the ones who know and tell the others what potential Acacia mearnsii offers for profits, while meeting the deficit for charcoal and firewood, while Jan Vandenabeele gives practical information on commercial tree growing in Kenya. Francis Gachathi has written on how hagar and other non-wood forest products offer an alternative livelihood for dryland communities while Wanjiru Ciira met a very interesting trader who does the same through the export of gums and resins. We also bring you a profile of the Kenya Forest Growers Association and Rudolf Makhanu gives his views on how local communities should be seen as co-managers in forest management. Finally, Wanjiru Ciira introduces us to the fascinating world of Peter Coura, a German guitar-maker who builds his exclusive guitars in Kenya. Enjoy the reading. Jean-Paul Deprins

Published by:

Chairman of the Editorial Board:

Ugandan Contact

TQML LTD P.O. Box 823 – 00606 Nairobi, Kenya Tel: + 254 20 434 3435 Mobile: + 254 722 758 745 Email:

Rino Solberg

Joshua Ondyer

Editorial Committee

Contributing Editor

Joshua Cheboiwo, Enock Kanyanya, James Kung’u, Fridah Mugo, Jackson Mulatya, Leakey Sonkoyo, Jean-Paul Deprins, Jan Vandenabeele and Wanjiru Ciira

Mundia Muchiri

Uganda office: MITI MAGAZINE ® P.O. Box 22232 Kampala, Uganda Mobile: + 256 752 896 205 Email:

Editor-in-chief Jean-Paul Deprins

Managing Editor – Kenya Wanjiru Ciira

Technical Editor Jan Vandenabeele

Managing Editor – Uganda Julie Solberg


Designer Daniel Ngugi

Advertising and subscription - Kenya Christine Karanja Tel: 0723 065 510

Advertising and subscription - Uganda Brandvision Agency Ltd Tel: +256 312 111 854 or +256 414 530 259 COPYRIGHT © BETTER GLOBE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Miti January-March 2011

Magazine is highly readable I am a teacher in Kisumu. I came across Miti magazine at a friend’s house in Nairobi during the Christmas holidays. My friend is a subscriber so I was able to read three different issues of the magazine. What impressed me most about the magazine is the fact that while it carries highly scientific information, it is readable. The style of writing is enjoyable even to non-scientists. I appreciate the practical information that the magazine offers to ordinary farmers on tree growing and water management, especially in drylands. It is also encouraging to read the stories of people who started small and are making it in the tree and tree-related business. I found the story of Cornelius Mbithi (Miti issue No 8) and his Audicious Wood Works very inspiring. I am impressed that Mr Mbithi and his partners are particular about the quality of work they produce and in particular, that they use dry timber. This is remarkable, considering that many woodworkers in Kenya use wet timber. As a result, furniture and other fittings become warped after some time and for example, doors no longer close properly. Well done Cornelius. To the Miti team I say, continue the good work. My subscription is on the way. Stanley Odongo Kisumu

The views expressed in Miti magazine are the writers’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of Better Globe or TQML.

Is it time to lift the logging ban?

WRITE TO US We welcome feedback on any article you have read in Miti magazine, or on any issue on tree planting, afforestation and related matters. Please include your name, address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for clarity or space.

I found the article with the above headline, in Miti issue 8, most informative. Simiyu Wasike of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) wrote a balanced article. He showed the positive as well as the negative consequences of the ban. However, it looks like the ban has outlived its usefulness and should now be lifted. I hope the policy makers read your magazine and will lift the logging ban. I enjoy reading Miti magazine but I must complain to the publishers. I only received my copy of the October – December 2010 issue in January 2011! Something needs to be done to publish the magazine on time.

We also invite you to send us any interesting photos you might have. Please send your contributions to: The Editor Miti magazine P.O. Box 823 – 00606 Nairobi, Kenya. Email: OR Miti magazine P.O. Box 22232 Kampala, Uganda. Email: Miti Magazine-Africa’s Tree Business Magazine

Paul Mwanzia Nairobi

Miti is available at the following outlets in Nairobi: • Text Book Centre, Sarit Centre • All Times Village Market, Westgate and Galleria • Virdi Pharmacy, Kasuku Centre, Kileleshwa • Karen Provision Stores • Chandarana Supermarket Yaya Centre, ABC Place and Lavington

Thank you Mr Mwanzia. We have noted your concern about the magazine being late and are addressing the issue. Editor

Com m Tree on An t s an d Sh imalaria East r Afric l ubs of a Com




Book launched Common Antimalarial Trees and Shrubs of East Africa Najma Dharani, Geoffrey Rukunga, Abiy Yenesew, Anne Mbora, Lucy Mwaura, Ian Dawson, Ramni Jamnadass Published by: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) ISBN: 978-92-9059-238-9

Most cases of malaria occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the second highest cause of death from infectious diseases. In 2008, malaria was estimated to have caused nearly 900,000 deaths globally, mostly among children in Africa, where it is the leading cause of under-five mortality. Although malaria is a common disease, it is both preventable and curable. Several prescription drugs are used for treatment,


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East Africa. The 22 species although resistances to some "E chosen for description commonly used medicines F DVMU TDSJQU JP JWBU JPO OPGT BO have been determined have developed rapidly. In EDP QFDJFT OTF BOE SWB B UJPO HVJE F UIS by traditional medical recent years, there has PVH UP IV TF practitioners, rural communities been an emphasis on the and scientists as among those that use of artemisinin-based have potential for further study and medicines based on development as tree and shrub crops. the Artemisia annua The intention of this guide is to support shrub. The interest the further development of the cultivation in Artemisia annua, of these species by smallholders in the developing drug East Africa region. resistances and the limited access of poor communities to modern drugs have stimulated renewed interest in the The book costs Ksh 500 and is available at the: current use and future potential of other plant Publications Office products in treating malaria, both as part of World Agroforestry Centre traditional health care practices and in developing P.O. Box 30677-00100 UN Avenue, Gigiri new conventional medicines. Nairobi, Kenya This guide describes a range of trees and Tel: 254 – 20 - 7224122 shrubs that are used as anti-malarial treatments in Contact person: Hellen Kiarago /BK N "OO B%I BS 3BN F.CP BOJt ( SB OJ+ BN t-VDZ FPòFSZ OBE BTT .XBV 3VLV SBt OHBt *BO " %BX CJZ: TPO FOFTF t Xt

Miti January-March 2011

Tree planting at the Kenyan Coast. A plantation of very young GC-hybrid (eucalypt clones) in the foreground, with Casuarina equisetifolia (left) and Gmelina arborea (right) in the background. All this in sterile coastal sand and doing well. (Photo BGF)

Let’s plant trees

Information for profitable tree growing and maintenance in Kenya By Jan Vandenabeele


enya is ecologically quite a diverse country, so the range of tree species that can be grown for various products and uses is equally diverse. In this article, the range of species will however be narrowed down to commercially viable ones, in view of the current market situation. The title “tree growing and maintenance” is an indication of the fact that not all tree species need to be planted, but some, like Acacia senegal and the other gum and resin producing ones, and also mangrove species, are already there and only have to be protected to stay in production. Apart from that, they grow in inhospitable places like drylands where planting and nurturing a tree is no joke. In addition, fruit trees have not been included in this selection. The species are treated per area (see table).

Coast At the 10 – 15-km wide coastal strip, a variety of species gives good commercial returns. Casuarina

Miti January-March 2011




Casuarina equisetifolia, Eucalyptus subspecies (spp), Milicia excelsa, Azadirachta indica, mangrove species


Eucalyptus spp, Grevillea robusta, Pinus spp, Cupressus lusitanica, Acacia mearnsii, Maesopsis eminii, Casuarina equisetifolia


Melia volkensii, Acacia spp, Azadirachta indica, Boswellia neglecta, Commiphora spp, Eucalyptus spp (marginal, depending on the area), Prosopis juliflora

Lake Victoria Basin

Eucalyptus spp, Terminalia brownii, Milicia excelsa, Markhamia lutea, Maesopsis eminii, Pinus caribaea var hondurensis

equisetifolia (whistling pine, commonly known as mvinje in Kenya) has become the species of choice for many tree growers. It is a fast grower, marketable after 4 - 6 years depending on the use (small to big construction poles) and the market. Spacing can be as low as 1.5 x 1.5m, with the most marketable sizes being 4 to 6


Eastern and North Eastern Provinces

inches diameter at root collar, corresponding to a price of Ksh 250 – 350 per piece. The species has an advantage as it fixes nitrogen and can be cultivated for agroforestry. The clones and improved seedlings of various eucalypt species and hybrids, as distributed by the Tree Biotechnology Programme and its


licensed nurseries, provide an alternative, with equally fast or even faster growth. Land preparation is very important, and the trees do not thrive if there is competition from other crops or grass. Grandis x Camaldulensis (GC) hybrids have shown exceptional growth in areas with about 900mm of annual rainfall, reaching a height of 7m in one year at Arabuko Sokoke. However, termites pose a problem. Milicia excelsa or mvule, an indigenous hardwood species, is well known in the timber trade, and is in fact imported from the DRC. It can be grown in Kenya at the coastal strip or around Lake Victoria. However, it takes a minimum of 30 years, in optimal conditions, to reach marketable sizes. When imported from the DRC, it sells for prices as high as Ksh 100 per board foot (one board foot is 1 ft wide, 1 ft long and 1 inch thick). The exploitation of mangrove poles has to be licensed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), and is practised mostly in the extensive mangrove forests of Lamu County. Poles come in different sizes, with “mazio” and “boriti” (respective butt size 6.1 - 9cm and 9.1 - 13cm) being the most commercial dimensions. The 2009 prices for “boriti” delivered in Mombasa were Ksh 110/piece. Lamu “boritis”, which are bigger, were sold for Ksh 150 a piece. Neem trees (Azadirachta indica) can be grown for poles and timber for carvings, but their commercial exploitation is currently not significant. Seeds, which processors buy at Ksh 40 – 50 (2009 prices), are harvested from trees in Malindi or Kilifi, for making insecticide or soap.

A five-year-old Casuarina equisetifolia plantation at the Coast. Planting distance is approximately 1 x 1m. The plantation floor is free of weeds and shrubs and covered by a carpet of casuarina leaves. (Photo BGF)

Highlands Eucalypts (traditionally Eucalyptus grandis, E. saligna, now including GC and other hybrids) are the most popular species with smallholders for their fast growth, coppicing ability, good stem form, multi-purpose use and marketability. The best commercial undertaking is to grow them as biomass for firewood, for construction poles or for transmission poles. Grown for such, they offer stiff competition to food crops. Eucalypt seedlings are widely available but their quality is variable. There is a distinction between locally harvested seeds, seeds produced by KEFRI from improved varieties and seedlings produced by the Tree Biotechnology Programme. Seedlings produced by the Tree Biotechnology Project sell in Nairobi for Ksh 7 per piece (produced from seed) and Ksh 14 per piece (produced from clones – 2010 prices). Growth rates in Kericho for five-yearold Eucalyptus grandis (KEFRI provenance) are


Sawnwood retail prices rose

Ksh 7,000

from to over Ksh 25,000 per tonne by mid 2003. Similarly, cypress sawlog prices at farm level rose from Ksh 800 to Ksh 3,000 per m3 for premium logs, mostly over 25 years.

12.2cm diameter at breast height (DBH) and 13.2m height (Cheboiwo and Langat, 2010). This is good for construction poles. Sizes for transmission poles can be reached in 6 - 8 years. King post prices in Western Kenya reached Ksh 45 per piece (farm gate) and Ksh 80 per piece (retail – Kisumu). In the Rift Valley by 2005, firewood prices at farm gate had risen to Ksh 600 per tonne and Ksh 1,200 per tonne at factory gate. This was mostly due to demand from tea factories and treatment plants for poles. Higher prices of up to Ksh 1,300 - 1,600/tonne were observed in areas of high demand in Western Kenya like Eldoret and Webuye Pan Paper Mills (Cheboiwo and Langat, 2006). The market for transmission poles is big and growing, but complex in nature. The Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) needs different sizes with rigid specifications regarding strength and dimensions. Semiprocessed poles, that is, cut to size and debarked, can fetch Ksh 2,500 per piece at the farm gate. Cypress and pines are being grown for timber. The most widely grown species in Kenya are Cypressus lusitanica and Pinus patula, though other pine species include P. caribaea, P. oocarpa, P. tecunumanii, P. elliotii and P. taeda. Cypress plantations can accumulate wood at an average growth rate of approximately 26m3/ha/yr and P. patula records higher growth of up to 30m3/ha/yr under good climatic and management conditions. Two commercial thinnings are done at 12 and 17 years, yielding a total volume of 300m3. The final yields between ages 25 and

Miti January-March 2011

30 years range from 420 to 560m3 or 0.78 to 1.5 m3 per tree. At the current stump price 1 of Ksh 2,500/m3, income ranges from Ksh 2.2 to 5.5 million per hectare, or at a net present value (NPV) discounted at 10 per cent, Ksh 240,000 to 400,000 per hectare (Cheboiwo, 2011). Sawnwood retail prices rose from Ksh 7,000 to over Ksh 25,000 per tonne by mid 2003. Similarly, cypress sawlog prices at farm level rose from Ksh 800 to Ksh 3,000 per m3 for premium logs, mostly over 25 years. Black Wattle or Acacia mearnsii is grown for the tannins in its bark, and for firewood and charcoal. It is a fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing species, adapted to a wide range of conditions in highland areas (1500-2500 masl) with 10001600mm annual rainfall. The trees are cut after 6 years if the main product is charcoal, but at 8 - 10 years for tannin production, when tannin content in the bark is highest. The species is mostly grown around Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Keiyo and Trans Nzoia although it is also found in Kiambu, Nyeri and Machakos. A hectare of A. mearnsii can produce between 60 - 80 tonnes of industrial firewood, which at the current factory gate price of Ksh 1,800 per tonne, generates Ksh 108,000 - 144,000. Converted into charcoal (by conventional earth kilns), it can produce 16.8 - 24 tonnes which at the current price of Ksh 420 per 40-kg bag, translates into Ksh 176,400 - 252,000 (Cheboiwo and Mugo). Grevillea robusta is the agroforestry species of choice for many small-holders, due to its compatibility with agricultural crops, and the fact that is can be pollarded for livestock fodder to make up for shortfalls in the dry season. It establishes easily, and grows well in Central Province in areas above 1400 metres with at least 800 mm annual rainfall. It produces a light timber, popular for furniture and roofing, which sells at Ksh 35 - 50 per running foot, according to the area, for various sizes (2” x 2” etc). Trees are felled at an early stage, from 8 years onwards, though diameters are limited then to 25 – 30 cm. In general, later felling (12 - 15 years) would produce bigger trees, and better pruning techniques would improve the timber. Maesopsis eminii, or msisi, is a fast-growing indigenous species that requires plenty of light and that regenerates spontaneously in disturbed natural forests. It produces a good quality, light and general-purpose timber (but susceptible to termites). On good sites, that is between 700 1200 masl, with a minimum of 1000 mm annual rainfall, the rotation length will be between 15 25 years. In Uganda, main annual increments of 15 - 25m3/ha/year are expected. 1 The stump price is for a standing tree.

Miti January-March 2011

A grove of Maesopsis eminii (msisi) in Uganda, altitude around 1000masl (Photo BGF)


Lake Victoria Basin

Melia volkensii, or mukau, is also a fast-growing

Two fast growing indigenous and an exotic species for the Lake area are: • Terminalia brownii. This species is grown on a coppice rotation and produces small-sized poles for construction. Quite drought-resistant. • Markhamia lutea (siala). It produces hard, strong wood, mostly for poles, fuel wood and timber, to a lesser degree. Can grow fast and is drought resistant. • Pinus caribaea var hondurensis: This is a pine species for tropical conditions up to 1500 masl, but requiring at least 1000 mm of rain per year. However, a word of caution – it requires good seed sources, like the Australian improved seeds in use in Uganda. The rotation length is 18 - 25 years, with main annual increment of 15 - 25m3/ha/year. The timber quality is superior to patula pine, while prices are most likely similar.

and drought-resistant species, producing a mahogany-like timber. In an agroforestry context in Mbeere, Tharaka and areas of similar rainfall, it is harvested by age 8 – 10 years, by which time it has reached a DBH of 25 – 30 cm and a clean bole (in case of correct pruning) of 4 – 5 m. It fetches Ksh 35 - 45 per foot for dimensions of 2” x 2” etc. A standing tree of the above dimensions goes for Ksh 2,000 – 4,000 depending on the negotiating skills of the owner and the local market conditions. Acacia senegal and A. seyal, growing in arid and semiarid lands (ASAL) below 400 mm rainfall, produce gum arabic at a collector price of Ksh 40 – 60 per kg. One mature tree can produce 2 – 3 kg per year, but harvest in the bush will give lower yields. Commiphora spp also grow in ASAL, and produce valuable resins like hagar, opopanax (or myrrh), with collector prices ranging, respectively, from Ksh 70 to 130 per kg. Collectors usually are the local pastoralist communities. Prosopis juliflora, the dreaded “mathenge”. This is an invasive species, originating from South America, and growing uncontrollably in certain parts of Kenyan ASAL. It nevertheless produces good firewood and excellent charcoal and poles while pods can be incorporated in livestock fodder. Acacia tortilis, A. polyacantha and A. xanthophloea are excellent species for fuel wood and charcoal production. The latter two can be grown on a 6 to 7-year rotation under good conditions.

This brief overview does not cover all the tree species that can be grown for profit and much more can be said about each species and the money it makes. This overview is just meant to direct potential growers towards some preliminary choices. Further information can be obtained from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) (0722-157414, 0734-251888) and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) (0715-735555, 0735-909227) headquarters or the regional centres, spread all over the country. The article has drawn on KEFRI expertise and information from Uganda (Sawlog Production Grant Scheme -SPGS for the Lake Victoria Basin, among others). The writer is the Executive Director, Better Globe Forestry. Email:


Sawmilling in Kenya The timber shortage has shifted attention to trees on farms despite inefficient sawing systems By George Muthike, Douglas Shitanda, Christopher Kanali and Fred Muisu


enya is internationally considered to have low forest cover since less than 10 per cent of its 569,250-km2 land area is classified as forest (MENR, 2005). Nevertheless, the forest sector, by providing forest-related goods and services, is a vital part of the livelihoods of the Kenyan people. Forests provide energy for domestic and industrial processes, timber for construction and environmental concerns such as regulation of water flows, regulation of local climate conditions and provision of carbon reservoirs and sinks. It is estimated that 80 per cent of the population uses biomass wood for energy while urban people rely heavily on hydro-electric power (Luvanda and Muthike, 2008). The forests contain 50 per cent of the nation’s tree species, 40 per cent of larger mammals and 30 per cent of birds. Indigenous forests also host some endemic and threatened species. In addition, they serve as cultural, ceremonial and recreational sites and provide a variety of non-timber products. In recent years, more people have been engaged in the production and processing of non-timber forest products, especially in the dry areas, where forests are scarce. Most closed canopy forests are gazetted forest reserves managed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Other gazetted areas are national parks or game reserves managed by the Kenya

Freehand chain sawing is a common practice on farms. It is also called “splitting”. (Photo: KEFRI)


Table 1: Number of sawmills in Kenya, 1913–94


Number of sawmills


Inside the forest

Outside the forest






Operating under special concessions





Initial growth of the sector





Mainly providing timber for consumption of local settlers





Timber export markets open up

1945- 1950


1960- 1964








During and after the World War II


Mau Mau rebellion and independence struggle



Africanisation Programme





Ban on exports of all indigenous timber













Government regulation to remove sawmills from inside the forests Ban on all operations on state plantations

Wildlife Service (KWS). An estimated 100,000 ha of forests are managed by county councils, which hold the land in trust for the local people. Forests in the Trust Lands are often not well managed, with total deforestation taking place in some cases due to lack of capacity or interest by the councils to manage these forests. An unknown portion of indigenous forest is privately owned. Although these holdings tend to be small, they are considered important especially for

water catchments and environmental conservation. Their exploitation is also difficult to control. In the dry lands, farm forestry initiatives are becoming a major contributor to improved forest cover.

The sawmilling industry The first sawmill in Kenya was set up in 1913 (Table 1) and the number of sawmills increased steadily to about ten in 1920. The second notable increase took place during World War

Chain sawn timber surface: This timber was sawn by a chainsaw. One can clearly see its marks, translating in more loss of timber after planing. (Photo KEFRI)

Miti January-March 2011

II (1939–45), and was attributed to the high demand for timber for the construction of army barracks and railway sleepers for both local and export markets (MENR 1972). Another increase happened just after the war, mainly to produce timber for reconstruction work. The Mau Mau rebellion of 1952–60 and the years before independence in 1963 however resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of sawmills due to the uncertainties about the future of the country, with many British sawmill owners leaving the country. The sawmilling industry experienced its highest growth between 1965 and 1970, due to the establishment of the Investment Credit Development Corporation (ICDC) by the government shortly after independence. ICDC financed the purchase of existing sawmills and the start-up of new ones with African participation under the Africanisation programme. The rebate on royalties for export timber was also highest (50 per cent) during this period, which encouraged many saw millers to export timber, especially hardwoods. This growth was again negatively affected by the 1982 order to stop the exploitation of camphor wood (Ocotea usambarensis) and by the 1984 presidential ban on the export of indigenous timber. In 1985, this ban was extended to cover all timbers unless one obtained special clearance from the Office of the President. Consequently, most sawmills turned to processing plantation grown softwood for local markets and some limited export. With the availability of softwood timber in gazetted plantations, the number of sawmills increased further. However, this increase was not accompanied by efficiency of sawing systems and some of the sawmills recorded conversion factors from logs into timber as low as 30 per cent or even lower (Muthike and Mbaabu, 1994). This was mainly caused by: • Use of very thick circular blades • Poor saw maintenance practices due to lack of adequate training of the saw doctors • Lack of adequate sawing skills and record keeping. This in part contributed to overexploitation of the forest resources, which in addition to low replanting rates and abusive practices in the timber sales, forced the government to impose a ban on operations in gazetted forests by all timber processors in 1999. The ban saw most sawmills close due to lack of raw materials.

Miti January-March 2011

Table 2: Recovery rates per sawing method

Sawing method

Chain saw

Mobile bench saw

Pit saw

Circular saw

Band saw

Timber recovery (%)






Source: Muthike, 2003.

The emergence of on-farm timber processing Before 1999, on-farm timber sawing was insignificant, since sawmills were able to meet the demand for sawn timber. However, the ban on wood harvesting from government plantations resulted in an acute shortage of timber, prompting increased imports from neighbouring countries and cross-border timber trade, both legal and illegal (Samuel et al, 2007). Trees on farms became the principal alternative, and quickly made up a significant proportion of all traded timber despite lack of efficient sawing systems. A substantial amount of Grevillea robusta was planted on farmlands in the 1980s. Grevillea and eucalyptus species were also promoted for shade in coffee and tea plantations. Many indigenous species are also found on farms, remnants of natural forests. The few sawmills still operating used on-farm trees, although this became uneconomical as distances to the tree sources increased. Consequently, portable mills and tractor-mounted circular saws were used to harvest on-farm trees (Muthike et al, 2006). Farm forestry continued to receive support from the government and development partners in the last decade. Several initiatives promote on-farm tree growing in the drylands. The government, through the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), also dedicated a large portion of its research grants to farm forestry and onfarm timber processing technology development initiatives.

On-farm timber value chain Unlike the natural and plantation forests, which belong to the government and are managed through KFS, trees growing on farms belong to farmers, who either planted or inherited them. Most farmers sell standing trees, which generate little, if any, value. Price depends on how urgently a farmer needs money, tree quality, accessibility and the farmer’s knowledge of the tree’s value. At present, timber prices are relatively high due to a shortage of supply, although farmers receive little of this revenue. Farmers are approached by one of several types of buyers: • Private individuals who require timber for a project. Individuals hire sawing machines and operators to saw the trees

into the desired dimensions. This category includes some larger corporate users such as tea factories, schools and hospitals, which mainly fell trees for fuel wood. In the process, valuable timber trees are commonly felled for fuel wood. • Timber dealers who buy standing trees. These dealers saw the trees on-site with either bench saws and/or chainsaws or take the logs to a static sawmill. The dealers sell the sawn timber to end-users or other dealers. • Timber brokers who buy standing trees from farmers and sell them to processors, making a profit without any physical effort. Brokers often offer the lowest prices to farmers. • Tree finders who are hired by any of the three groups above to locate suitable trees and negotiate the cheapest price. They are paid a commission by the processors/ brokers, depending on the number of trees found and the price negotiated.

Institutional and legal framework Since independence, the forest sector has faced many constraints that have hampered its development. A weak legal framework did not allow the private sector or communities to participate in forest management, or permit the then Forest Department (FD) to manage resources outside gazetted forests. The Forest Act 2005 provides for the participation of more stakeholders in the management and conservation of forests. Under the old Forest Act, the FD was characterised by centralised decision-making and inadequate financing. This resulted in ineffective management, best illustrated by the poor condition of industrial plantations and the degradation of indigenous forests. Under the new Act, sustainable forest management is being carried out by KFS. The parastatal is charged with forest administration, policy development, forest regulation, training, extension and protection of natural forests. The Act also promotes commercial tree growing by the private sector, farmers and communities by providing incentives for forest development. In addition, KFS works closely with various sectors such as agriculture, water, land, energy and tourism. And in the area of


Framed chainsaw: A frame is attached to the chainsaw so that timber is sawn in a regular way, into planks of equal thickness. (Photo KEFRI)

research, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) plays an important role of generating and disseminating the necessary information and technologies for development, management and utilisation of forests and forest products.

Policy and legislation Before the 1999 ban on wood harvesting from government plantations, timber dealers who bought trees from plantations used chain saws to convert them into beams for ease of transport. Chain saws were also used to convert illegally acquired timber from both indigenous and plantation forests. Their use has since extended to timber of commercial sizes, especially on farms. Mobile saw benches are also used but are quickly being substituted by the inexpensive, easier to operate and faster chain saw systems. Today, chain saws present the major legal challenges due to frequent misuse. The saws are legal in Kenya and can be used by operators without restrictions. Currently, no registration, licences or levies are imposed on chainsaw operators, so it is difficult to know how many chainsaws are operating in a particular area. Therefore, while it is assumed that most of the traded timber comes from farms, substantial quantities are illegally sourced from government plantations, especially in areas bordering natural and plantation forests (Samuel, Pasiecznik and Fehr 2007). To minimise illegal practices, two requirements have been put in place by the government: • Farmers who intend to sell standing trees on their farms require certificates of tree


origin. These are obtained from the local chief before felling and affirm that the trees are from individually Framed chainsawn timber: This timber is produced by a framed chainsaw, and owned farms. it is regular and smooth on the surface. (Photo KEFRI) • Loading and transportation tree prices) and the timber consumer (in terms of permits from the local increased timber prices). district forest office certify that the timber Other steps to reduce illegal timber trade in is from the trees identified by the chief Kenya include meeting the demand for timber by and shown in the certificate of origin and increasing the timber production and processing are authorised for transportation. Although these documents are considered capacity of timber-deficient regions. With natural essential to minimise illegal trade in timber forests protected and plantations having to products, enforcing them is a challenge. Since compete with agriculture, growing timber trees there is no supervision during harvest operations, outside forests is increasingly being seen as unscrupulous traders can acquire a certificate of the way forward. Farm forestry has shown huge origin from the local administration officer for potential to meet the demand for more wood, a few trees, use it to steal and process wood and Kenya’s vast drylands are slowly being from a nearby plantation as well and obtain a turned into productive agro-forests, supported by appropriate skills and tools. transportation permit for the mixed timber. Although the transport permit is supposed to be signed after a forest officer has supervised the Drivers and impacts of loading of the timber from the sawing site, some on-farm timber processing traders process timber from different sites and Three on-farm sawing methods are commonly gather it in one place. Illegally obtained materials used. These are chainsaws, mobile bench are difficult to differentiate from legal timber and saws and pit saws. The chain saw is preferred can easily find a way to the market. because it is faster than the pit saw, it requires Abuse of the legal requirements - e.g. only one operator and at most an assistant, it bribes given to administrative officers to release is cheaper and less limited by terrain than the certificates of origin or transport permits - have tractor-pulled bench saws (Oksanen, Pajari and been reported (Luvanda and Muthike, 2008), as Tuomasjukka 2002). have cases where security officers at roadblocks When operated freehand, however, the chain delayed lorries carrying timber to extort bribes. saw system has the lowest mean timber recovery This abuse increases the costs of providing due to the wide chain kerf, machine vibration and timber to the market. In most cases, these costs to some extent, the operators’ skills. Freehand are passed on to the farmer (in terms of reduced milling causes poor surface finish and a low

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recovery rate, as large quantities of wood are lost in the form of sawdust. Unlike large-scale industrial harvesting and processing techniques, on-farm methods are often inefficient. Chain sawn timber is generally of poor quality. Users have to buy more than required to allow for the excessive planing needed to obtain a consistent thickness and acceptable finish. This is partly because chainsaw operators are unskilled, inexperienced, or drink alcohol to overcome fatigue while sawing. However, chainsaw milling has a number of social and economic benefits. The main social impact is local employment and business opportunities, provision of building materials and adding value to farm trees. With improved sawing systems and training, the social and economic impacts of the systems could be increased to include: • improved timber recovery, • high-quality timber, • operator safety, and • improved income. On-farm timber processing is likely to continue as farm tree growing is promoted and demand for timber keeps rising.

Table 3: Performance of the on-farm timber processing systems

Sawing method

Freehand chain saw

Framed chainsaw

Mobile bench saw

Pit saw

Estimated initial investment cost (Ksh)

60,000 (Chainsaw only)

75,000 (Chainsaw and locally fabricated frame)

1,500,000 (Used tractor and locally fabricated bench)

25,000 (Blade only)

Production (m3/8hrs)

0. 531




Production cost (Ksh/m3 of sawn timber)





Timber recovery (%)





Source: Muthike, 2003; Muthike et al, 2008; Marfo, 2010

The current research focus is on inexpensive portable sawing systems that can increase the value of on-farm trees as sawn timber. Such systems should be eco-efficient and protected by law. KEFRI began studies on chainsaw frames with the objective of improving timber recovery rates. Frames guides for the chain saws have been developed. They help the operator in sawing timber to a consistent size with a relatively smooth surface and improve timber recovery; but they require a special ripping chain, which makes


On-farm timber sawing systems On-farm timber processing in Kenya is a lucrative business in areas with trees on farms and near forests. A variety of ownership structures exists: • In most cases, people purchase chainsaws and employ operators. When a sawing job is found, the chainsaw owner buys fuel and lubricants and charges the tree owner, based on either running foot of timber or amount of fuel used. The payment is shared in three equal parts - to the machine owner as profit; to repay the cost of fuel and maintenance of the chainsaw; and split by the operator and the assistant at a ratio of 2:1. • Some operators own chainsaws. In this case, the sawing charges are directly paid to them and they only employ assistants when a job is found. The assistants are paid based on how long they work. • In a few cases, machine owners hire out their machines to operators for a given period. In such cases, payments to the machine owner are worked out per day, irrespective of whether or not the machine is used. The operator has thus to be aggressive in finding work for the machine.

Improved on-farm timber processing Miti January-March 2011

in Kenya and the ban on logging operations in forest plantations drive farm timber processing. Farmers are becoming more knowledgeable on tree growing, log and milling characteristics and market requirements. However, the processing labour capacity is limited and most people are unskilled or semi-skilled. This results in low timber recovery rates. Sawing systems operating crews have limited knowledge on general safety, chainsaw maintenance and timber recovery at various stages of log processing.

the technology difficult to acquire. Figure 1. Chainsaw framed guide

However, KEFRI is in the process of modifying the standard felling chains to make them adoptable to work with the framed system. Interim results based on the performance of the system show that it recovers more timber (Table 2), with improved surface quality than freehand milling. It also greatly improves the operators’ safety. The technology has been demonstrated and training conducted in various parts of the country. The frames have been successfully modified and fabricated locally. It is expected that such efforts will generate strong incentives for farmers to grow more trees on their farms, increasing tree cover and reducing overdependence on the natural and plantation forest stands.

Conclusions Chainsaw milling is illegal and prohibited in government gazetted forests. It is legal on farms as long as one obtains the appropriate permits. The system is more commonly used than the tractorpulled bench saw. The high demand for timber

The following changes would improve the productivity and capacity of the timber value chains from on-farm activities: • Training of farmers in silviculture treatments and management through simple on-farm tree inventory and valuation, timber marketing and utilisation to improve tree prices. • Training of processors to improve onfarm timber processing using appropriate machinery in harvesting and conversion, machinery and equipment maintenance and safety measures and timber quality, marketing and utilisation specifications. • Improving chainsaw techniques by reducing the kerfs, weight and level of vibration to enhance timber quality and increase recovery. • Promoting the use of chainsaw guide frames and encouraging chainsaw operators to invest in technology to enhance timber recovery and surface quality. This could be aided by development of policies incorporated in forestry law. George M. Muthike works for the Kenya Forestry Research Institute; Douglas Shitanda and Christopher Kanali work for the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology; and Fred Muisu works for the Department of Forestry and Wood Science, Moi University.


Different strokes for different cuts The sawing technique used on a log determines the appearance and uses of the timber By Jean-Paul Deprins


he angle at which a board is cut from a log makes a big difference to how the finished product looks and performs. Consequently, the sawing of logs is approached differently according to the species, size and quality of the log as well as the desires of the end user of the lumber. There are two types of lumber produced from every log – plain-sawn and quarter-sawn. In addition, it is worth mentioning rift-sawn as this is commonly mistaken with quarter-sawn. Plain sawing is the common and the most economical way of sawing logs as it produces the greatest amount of lumber with the least waste. With this type of cut, the growth rings as viewed from the end of the board are parallel to the edges of the board. The board contains more variation than the other two cuts because figure patterns resulting from the growth rings are more conspicuous. Plain sawn lumber has its growth rings lying more or less parallel to its face.

There are, however some disadvantages in this method of sawing, particularly if the lumber is to be used for fine cabinetwork. Plain-sawed lumber usually warps very badly. In a living tree, there is always considerable moisture in the form of sap. When the tree is cut down, the sap ceases to circulate and the moisture in the log begins to evaporate. As the log dries, all of the concentric annual growth rings become a little shorter and thus cause the log to crack. When the wood has been sawed into boards, it will dry even more rapidly, causing the portion of the rings in each board to shorten considerably, and thus bend or warp the board.


Quarter sawing requires much more time and labour to saw and produces narrower boards in comparison to the plain sawn technique. It is therefore more expensive. Quarter-sawn lumber is produced by quartering the log, followed by sawing it perpendicular to the annual growth rings at an angle between 75 to 90 degrees. The growth rings in quarter-sawn lumber, as viewed from the end of the board, run roughly perpendicular to the face of the board.

Quarter-sawn wood twists and cups less and wears more evenly than plain-sawn. It offers superior stability as the wood moves in response to changes in humidity. Many species also exhibit a spectacular “ray fleck” figure when quarter sawn as the plane of the cut bisects the medullary rays of the tree. However, other woods produce a more attractive figure when plain

Consequently, the sawing of logs is approached differently according to the species, size and quality of the log as well as the desires of the end user of the lumber.

sawn. Medullary rays are strips of cells extending radially within a tree and varying in height from a few cells in some species to four or more inches. The rays serve primarily to store food and transport it horizontally in the tree. On some tree species, the rays form conspicuous figures, sometimes referred to as flecks. Rift-sawn timber is somewhere between plain-sawn and quarter-sawn. It is in fact very similar to quarter sawing and they are commonly mistaken as they manifest similar limitations and advantages. So if a client asks for one of these types of woods in a project, it is best to make sure that what they are asking for is what they really want. The easiest way to distinguish visually is by asking if they want have the medullary rays or flecks showing.

Quarter-sawn lumber is sawed perpendicular to the annual growth rings at an angle between 45 to 75 degrees to the face of the board. During rift sawing, the quartered log portion is offset slightly from perpendicular before cutting. This reduces the appearance of the medullary rays in an effort to minimise the amount of “flake” on the face of the board. Rift sawing produces a virtually straight grain appearance on the face of the board. The rift sawing technique also produces much log waste and yields narrower boards in relation to plainsawn lumber. However, rift-sawn gives a better yield than quarter-sawn. Jean-Paul Deprins in the Managing Director of Better Globe Forestry

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Survival amid shortages Timber-starved Kenya looks for alternative sources of wood By Linus Wekesa


urrently, Kenya is experiencing what can easily be labelled a boom in its construction industry. Many reasons have been advanced to explain this state. Key among these is the burgeoning population growth and the improved economic performance of the economy. The high population growth being experienced in the country, especially in urban areas, has caused an increase in demand for housing, resulting in the current state of increased activity in the construction industry. This is happening against the background of the government partial ban on harvesting of trees in public forests imposed from 1999. Despite the positive impact of the ban in enhancing the conservation of the dwindled forest resources, the socio-economic impacts on the country have been negative. There is a forced shift of resources into other sectors, exacerbating the timber supply shortfalls and seriously compromising the entrepreneurship development spirit in the forestry sector. As an example, it was reported in the media that since the ban to mid 2006, timber factories worth almost Ksh 4.8 billion (US$ 60 million) had been forced to close shop through lack of raw materials. The dwindling local timber supplies have turned Kenya into a net importer of the product, with substantial loses of foreign revenue. For Kenya, the major source of sawn timber has been the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) followed by Tanzania. Kenyaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sawn timber imports from DRC, for example, increased ten-fold between 2001 and 2010. To attest to this, the media in 2005 reported that the country was importing about Ksh 1 billion (US$ 13 million) worth of timber each year, mostly from Tanzania, the DRC and Uganda, to meet the deficit in supply caused by the logging ban. The COMESA and UNCOMTRADE statistics too show that the countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s timber imports have grown from Ksh 240 million (US$ 3.1 million) in 2001 to a peak of Ksh 900 million (US$ 12.1 million) in 2004. The main imports include sawn timber, MDF, processed timber products and plywood. The largest volumes of timber imported into the country have been of MDF and plywood followed by processed timber products. However, Kenya also exports some timber products especially MDF and plywood to other regional countries, including DRC, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The country imports both softwood and hardwood. Although such statistics are not readily available, a review by Cheboiwo and others (2010)

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A Melia volkensii woodlot for on-farm timber production in the Kenyan drylands. (Photo KEFRI)

Chainsaw operators have increased in number, to split trees on-farm. (Photo KEFRI)

Timber processing on-farm. (Photo KEFRI)

of the timber industry showed that a total of 21,199 tonnes of softwood were imported in the country in 2004, mostly from Tanzania (76 per cent) and Uganda (24 per cent). Similarly, the review observed that in 2005 some 27,484m3 of softwood timber was imported from Tanzania (98 per cent and mostly pine-sawn wood) and Uganda (2 per cent). Softwood imports have also originated from other countries including Malawi and Zambia. On the other hand, studies done show that the origin of the hardwood timber imports into the country include Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, DRC and Sudan. Reviews of the timber industry by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) and other players show that there is potential for trade between Kenya and other countries within the East and Central African region due to different production and consumption patterns. This trade has grown in quantity and distances covered to include COMESA countries Malawi and Zambia, and even West African states.

The market reforms carried out by many of these countries are enhancing efficiency of markets for timber, increasing timber trade flows into Kenya. This emerging trade scenario is good for Kenya in that it eases the pressure on local tree products supplies, although it exerts pressure on the timber resources of neighbouring countries. In addition, the logging ban is increasing the demand for timber from farms, creating avenues for marketing of onfarm timber in the country. The Kenya Forestry Master Plan (KFMP) predicted that farm and private forestry would grow from 690,000 hectares in 1994 to 830,000 hectares by 2020. Indeed, the acreage under trees on private farms is growing, but so is the number of chainsaw operators that split the trees into timber. The writer is a socio-economist at KEFRI Karura Forest Products Research Centre Email:


Home and dry

Correct drying, handling and storage of wood adds to its value By Nellie Oduor


ater, sometimes referred to as “sap”, makes up over half the total weight of wood in a living tree. The water or moisture content (MC) of wood is expressed, in percent, as the weight of water present in the wood, divided by the weight of dry wood-substance. For instance, a 30kg plank of wood, which contains 10kg of water and 20kg of dry wood-substance, would have an MC of 50 per cent. Moisture content may be greater than 100 per cent because the weight of water in the wood can be higher than the weight of dry wood-substance. As green wood dries, most of the water is removed. The moisture remaining in the wood tends to come to equilibrium with the relative humidity of the surrounding air (equilibrium moisture content, EMC). The process of losing moisture varies depending on air temperature and humidity. For instance, in low temperature but high humidity areas, like Limuru and Timboroa) the drying process will be slow. In areas with high temperatures and low humidity (e.g. Voi), the drying process is quicker. Timber drying, also known as timber seasoning, is done by exposing timber to circulating air and controlled heat over a given period to avoid degradation (value loss).

Why dry timber? Timber is dried for the following reasons: • To increase its stability: Wood in service is always undergoing slight changes in moisture content, so it is important to dry timber to a moisture content it will assume in use, to reduce shrinking or swelling. • To reduce inception of decay or stain fungi on timber: Drying timber to less than 20 per cent prevents the onset of decay and stain fungi. • To reduce weight: Drying reduces the weight of wood by 35 per cent or more, thus reducing handling and transportation costs. • To increase strength: As wood dries, its stiffness, hardness and resistance to bending increase. Most species increase their strength characteristics by 50 per cent or more when dried, to 15 per cent moisture content. Drying also increases the electrical and thermal insulating properties of wood. • To prepare the timber for further treatment and use such as: Gluing: This is only effective when timber is dry. Preservation: Some preservatives require


timber to be dry for proper penetration of the preservative. Paints and finishes: If the moisture content of the wood exceeds 20 per cent, there is an increased risk of blistering and peeling of paint. Machining: Properly dried timber can be cut to precise dimensions and machined more easily and efficiently. Fitting and fastening: Parts can be fitted and fastened with nails, screws and bolts more securely if the wood is dry.

thickness and dryness. Stickers are usually 18.75 mm (3/4 inch) thick. Each sticker should be long enough to run across the stack without a joint. This ensures that each layer of timber is uniformly placed and adequately supported to hold the next layer. Always arrange timber of the same thickness in one stack to ensure uniformity in drying (See photo 1) Photo 1: Well-stacked timber.

Main factors that affect drying A number of factors affect the drying process. These include: • Wood species. Generally, hardwoods dry slower than softwoods. • Initial moisture content. The higher the initial moisture content, the slower the drying rate. • Timber thickness. The thicker the timber, the slower the drying rate. • Economics. • End use of the timber. Timber to be used for furniture needs to be dried to less than 10 per cent moisture content while that for construction needs to be dried to between 15 - 20 per cent.

Drying timber To dry timber successfully, temperature, relative humidity and air circulation conditions must be controlled. Uncontrolled drying leads to defects that can adversely affect the serviceability and economics of the product. The usual strategy is to dry as fast as a particular species, thickness, and end-product requirements allow, without damaging the wood. Slower drying can be uneconomical and can introduce the risk of stain.

Drying methods

Photo 2: Poorly stacked timber.

Drying time mainly depends on climatic conditions and the air movement. For successful air-drying, a continuous and uniform flow of air throughout the pile of timber is needed. A path of at least 1 metre should be left between timber stacks (photo 3) to allow movement during observation and easy removal of timber from the stacks.

Generally, timber is dried by air (natural drying) or by artificial drying. The latter can be kiln drying, solar drying or drying using microwave kilns. i) Air drying This is the drying of timber by exposing it to the air. The technique consists mainly of making a stack of sawn timber (with the layers of boards separated by stickers) on raised foundations, in a clean, cool, dry and shady place. It is very important that the stickers are of uniform

Photo 3: Inspection paths between timber stacks.

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The rate of moisture loss can be controlled by coating the planks with any substance that is relatively impermeable to moisture; ordinary mineral oil is usually quite effective. Coating the ends of logs with oil or thick paint improves their quality upon drying. Advantages of air-drying • Air-drying saves energy costs and reduces required dry kiln capacity. • It is cost effective. However, there are still costs associated with storing the wood and with the slower process of getting the wood to the market. • Air-drying often produces a higher quality, more easily workable wood than kiln drying. Disadvantages of air-drying • Depending on the climate, it takes several months to a number of years to air-dry the wood. The drying rate is very slow during the cold months. At other times, hot, dry winds may increase degrade and volume losses from severe surface checking and end splitting. (End coating may alleviate end checking and splitting). • Warm, humid periods with little air movement may encourage the growth of fungal stains. • Another limitation of air-drying is the high cost of carrying a large inventory of high value timber for extended periods. ii) Accelerated air drying and pre-dryers Accelerated air-drying is also known as forced air-drying. This involves the use of fans to force air through timber stacked in a shed. This protects the timber from the elements and improves air circulation compared with air drying, thus improving the timber quality. Heat is sometimes added to reduce the relative humidity and slightly increase the shed temperature to aid drying. Pre-dryers take this acceleration and control a step further by regulating both temperature and relative humidity and providing forced air circulation in a completely enclosed compartment. The typical conditions in a predryer are temperatures of 27° C to 38° C, and 65 to 85 per cent relative humidity. iii) Kiln drying In kiln drying, higher temperatures and faster air circulation are used to increase the drying rate significantly. Specific kiln schedules have been

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developed to control temperature and relative humidity in accordance with the moisture content and stress situation within the wood, thus minimising shrinkage-caused defects. A kiln schedule is a series of temperatures and relative humidities that are applied at various stages of drying. In most schedules, the temperature is gradually increased and the relative humidity decreased, thus lowering the EMC. Drying schedules vary by species, thickness, grade, moisture content and end use of timber. The two general types of kiln schedules are moisture content schedules and time-based schedules. A typical hardwood schedule might begin at 49° C and 80 per cent relative humidity when the timber is green. By the time the timber has reached 15 per cent moisture content, the temperature could be as high as 82° C. Kiln drying reduces drying time to about four to seven days depending on timber species and timber size. The main disadvantage is the high cost of running, especially if it uses electricity.

Photo 5: A solar dryer at Malindi Woodcarvers Cooperative Society.

v) Microwave drying A new microwave technology for drying wood could revolutionise the timber industry and lead to cheaper wood in the future. This technology has been developed at the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Wood Innovations, in Australia. It combines microwave technology with more traditional drying techniques, such as solar or kiln drying, to speed up timber drying. The microwave treatment also makes the wood more permeable. This allows timber to be impregnated with resins or preservative to improve its strength, stability and durability.

What happens to timber that has not been dried?

Photo 4: Stacking a kiln timber dryer at KEFRI Karura.

iv) Solar drying Solar kilns can operate by direct solar collection (greenhouse type) or by indirect solar collection where the collector is isolated in some way from the drying compartment. They can operate with solar energy alone or with supplemental energy The advantage of solar kilns is the free and often abundant energy available, but the disadvantage is that there is a cost to collecting free energy. This free energy is also low-intensity, which often limits the operating temperature of a solar kiln to about 54º C unless expensive, special solar collectors are used. Another advantage of solar kilns is that they can be relatively small, simple and inexpensive, well suited to smallscale operations.

When timber has not been dried, it will continue to lose moisture from the outside inward to come to equilibrium with its environment. It will also begin shrinking, or trying to shrink, from the outside inward. Changes in moisture content result in strain and strain-induced stresses, leading to warp and fracture. Specific types of warp are cup, bow, twist and crook. Figure 1 illustrates various types of warp that develop in boards during drying. Specific types of fracture are checking and splitting. There is also the problem of discoloration. (i) Warp in timber is any deviation of the face or edge of a board from flatness or any edge that is not at right angles to the adjacent face or edge. Warp can be traced to two causes: • Differences between radial, tangential, and longitudinal shrinkage in the piece as it dries or • Growth stresses. Warp is aggravated by irregular or distorted grain.


Surface checks (photo 6) occur early in drying when the shell of a board is stressed in tension, enough to fracture the wood. These checks occur most often on the face of flat sawn boards. End checks appear on the ends of boards and logs. End checks (photo 7) occur because the rapid longitudinal movement of moisture causes the end to dry very quickly and develop high stresses, therefore fracturing.

Figure 1: Various types of warp that develop in boards during drying.

Discolouration There are two general types of discolouration - chemical and fungal. Chemical discolouration is the result of oxidative and enzymatic reactions with chemical compounds in wood. Fungal stains, often referred to as blue or sap stain, are caused by fungi that grow in the sapwood. Blue stain can develop if initial drying is too slow.

Situation in Kenya In Kenya, electric and steam heated kilns as well as air-drying are the most common methods used to dry timber. Heated kilns are expensive to put up and to run. They also require technical expertise to operate. They are therefore found in very few firms, especially where large volumes of seasoned timber are required in a short time. Air-drying is the most applicable method for small-scale timber users, sawmills and the construction industry where timber may be arranged in a yard to dry as it awaits use. The Akamba Woodcarvers Cooperative Society in Mombasa and the Malindi Woodcarvers Cooperative Society in Malindi have a solar dryer each to dry their woodcarvings. In Kenya, not many timber yard owners and saw millers dry their timber. One problem could be that air seasoning takes a long time and kiln drying is expensive. The other problem is that people get away with using green timber for construction, especially in putting up trussed

Source: Wood handbook - Wood as an engineering material. General Technical Report FPL-GTR-190. Madison, WI: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory: 508 p. 2010

rafters. However, this creates a problem (especially when using heavy roofing material) because over time, the roofs leak. The timber dries while in use and thus will warp and cause

roofing problems. It is also very common to see doors that do not close properly because of warping. Correct drying, handling, and storage of wood will minimise moisture content changes when the wood is in service. If moisture content is controlled within reasonable limits, major problems from dimensional changes can usually be avoided. All photos: KEFRI The writer is a Senior Research Officer, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Karura Regional Research Centre. Email:

Photo 6: Surface checks


Photo 7: End Checks

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Big-horned cattle walk through the plantation in Mubende. Soon more thinning will be required for the cattle to pass… (Photo BGF)

Looking ahead

Ugandan army leader sees a future in plantation forestry By Jan Vandenabeele


ne does not need to be a forester to understand tree plantation. The case of Lt Gen Katumba Wamala proves this. Back in 2000, Lt Gen Wamala became convinced that Uganda was heading towards a timber supply crisis. That was even before the European Union had rolled out its successful grant scheme for plantation establishment under the Sawlog Plantation Grant Scheme (SPGS). At the time, Lt Gen Wamala was head of the Uganda Police Force. A fellow military man, Col Jack Mashambi - the late husband of Sheil Mishambi, the current secretary of the Ugandan Timber Growers Association - convinced Lt Gen Wamala to go into tree plantation. They analysed the situation and found that soon Uganda would be running out of timber, opening commercial opportunities for those in a position to grow trees and produce timber. Through the National Forestry Authority (NFA), Lt Gen Wamala found land in Bugonzi Parish (Nshengwe Cel), Kitenga sub county, Mubende District, where he leased 500 hectares. Planting began in 2003, with a block of Pinus patula that did not do too well. The rainfall is in the range of 1000 - 1250mm per year, which, according to Tree planting guidelines for Uganda by SPGS, is silvicultural zone C. The altitude, at about 1300 masl, makes for a mean annual temperature of 18 - 22o C. The area proved too dry for that species. The following year, Lt Gen Wamala planted

Miti January-March 2011

another species, Pinus oocarpa, that was better adapted to the ecological context, but produces a bit of a crooked stem. In 2004, Lt Gen Wamala planted Pinus caribaea var hondurensis, and this has continued to date, giving a total of planted area of 181 ha, a fine achievement. This has not been easy, as no income is forthcoming for the first eight to ten years, and the financial burden is heavy. Maintenance costs – that is, weeding, pruning and thinning - are particularly high. In particular, thinning has proved to be a contentious issue. To investors hard pressed to meet establishment and maintenance costs, it seems a waste that trees are being cut and simply left to rot. It adds to the long years of investing without income. Probably the only possibility is to make charcoal out of these small size poles, then mix it with clay and water and press it into briquettes, a technique that the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has refined. However, the commercial viability of the

They analysed the situation and found that soon Uganda would be running out of timber, opening commercial opportunities for those in a position to grow trees and produce timber.

exercise needs to be established, taking into consideration the cost of making briquettes, as compared to the cost of charcoal in Kampala, and the degree of acceptability of the briquettes. The project has known problems, and to suppress the weeds, intercropping with beans and maize was allowed, but the negative aspects outnumbered the positive ones. By then, the SPGS had been launched in Uganda and technical backup for good quality plantation establishment became available. Intercropping in a Taungya system was ruled out, and more improvements like obtaining good seedlings out of quality seeds became a reality. Indeed, a small proportion of Lt Gen Wamala’s plantation was established with the assistance of SPGS. The plantation provides jobs for some 130 people year round, mostly people from the traditional tree growing areas more to the west, as the local people see the plantation more in terms of grazing and agricultural land having been taken away. Most of the clearing, slashing, pitting, and other jobs are done at task rates, not by paying a daily wage. From a silvicultural point of view, points that could be improved upon are: • Pruning was fine, but in the older blocks, it should be higher. • Thinning should be heavier • Mortality at 20-25 per cent in the last few years is too high. Acceptable levels are 10-15 per cent. • Slashing in some areas was overdue and this has an effect on growth and even survival. Rabbits and goats are a problem. Lt Gen Wamala is upbeat about investing in forestry. He sees it as one way of encouraging civil servants to retire as it provides a guaranteed income after retirement. “One of the reasons why civil servants fear to retire is the fear of life after employment,” he says. The same area in Mubende is home to seven other important tree growers, including Sheila Mishambi and Ponsiano Besesa. Lt Gen sees the possibility of coming together with other tree growers to establish a sawmill and eventually more wood processing units. They could even establish more than one sawmill, as transport costs of logs are considerable. Overall, plantation tree growing is a positive undertaking, and Lt Gen Wamala will have quite a job to do once he retires from employment. However, an agreeable job at least, as he will be looking into a cash flow that finally will become positive. The writer is the Executive Director, Better Globe Forestry Email:


Driving commercial forestry Who are the main players in the sector? By Philip W Wamahiu


orestry development in Kenya is changing fast. Large-scale plantations in gazetted forestland that used to meet the wood industryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s demand 40 years ago have declined. The supply of raw material to the wood industry has further been affected by the ban on logging imposed over 10 years ago. The ban has also affected Kenya Forest Serviceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s revenue generation, constraining other developments that contribute to sustainable forest management. Although farm forestry has increased substantially in recent times, it cannot meet the demand for raw materials. Moreover, raw materials supplied from farms are more expensive than those from government forests, and this has lead to the current high prices of timber and related products. The new Forests Act 2005, which is yet to be implemented in full, offers different models on how benefits can be shared among stakeholders when they manage a forest. New opportunities in the development of forests in both government land and on-farm are coming up. There is an opportunity to develop proper managed forests in local authority and communal land. Unfortunately, land in high potential areas is becoming scarce due to increased population. The only alternative is establishing forest plantations in arid and semi arid lands (ASAL). In Kenya, 75 per cent of land is categorised as either arid or semi arid but it supports 50 per cent of the livestock and over 35 per cent of the human population.

A KFS nursery with seedlings of cypress (Cupressus lusitanica) in the foreground and pine (Pinus patula) in the background. (Photo KFS)

In the past, such land was not considered suitable for the development of commercial forestry, but in fact, it has enormous potential. This can be done by carefully selecting high value tree species that are suitable for arid and semi arid areas. Since rainfall in these areas is low, erratic (high variability in time and space with 20 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 50 per cent annual rainfall variations)

and averages 700 mm annually, there is need for proper timing in planting to take advantage of scarce rainfall. The seedlings also need to be protected from damage by animals, as the majority of the population in ASAL are dependent on pastoralism. The establishment of commercial forest plantations requires mobilising substantial

Table 1

Name of the company

Contact person




Kamfor Limited

Dr David M Kamweti

P.O. Box 61297-00200 Nairobi, Kenya

020-225227, 0722 607099

Jangwe Enterprises

Joseph O Angwenyi

P.O. Box 7290 -20110 Nakuru, Kenya

0722 719973

Integrated Forest Management and Consultancy Services

Simon K Kage

P.O. Box 1067 -00502 Nairobi, Kenya

020 213615, 0721 258432

Farm and Forestry Consultants Ltd.

Ben Wamugunda

P.O. Box 4470 -00200 Nairobi, Kenya

020 600234, O722 892692

Bioearth Services Ltd

Dr. Peter A. Oduol

P.O. Box 5155 - 0506 Nairobi, Kenya

020 4185547, 0722 634820

Aberdare Technologies

Paul Muchemi

P.O. Box 521-00621 Nairobi- Kenya

0721 294194

Sustainability (Kenya) Ltd.

Justin K. Miano

P.O. Box 66596 -00800 Nairobi, Kenya

020 3743995, 0721 676767

AGFOR Technical Services

Robinson Ngethe

P.O. Box 55340 -00200 Nairobi, Kenya

0733 878305, 0717 262301

Woodec Limited

Dr. Wilson Mathu

P. O. Box 14316-00100 Nairobi, Kenya

0733 638540

Kakuzi Limited

Paul Epsom

P.O. Box 24, Thika, Kenya

067 24185

Better Globe Forestry

Jan Vandenabeele

P.0. Box 823 - 00606 Nairobi



Miti January-March 2011

capital and human resources, which can only be achieved through partnerships. The Forests Act 2005 promotes the concept of incentives for private sector management of state plantation forests, with potential for involvement by community forest association (CFAs). Some of the tree species that can be considered for establishment of commercial forest plantations in high potential areas in Kenya include: • Pine (Pinus patula, P. tecunumanii, P. caribaea, P. kesiya) • Cypress (Cupressus lusitanica) • Eucalyptus spp • Grevillea robusta • Meru oak (Vitex keniensis) • Mutere (Maesopsis eminii) • Muiri (Prunus africana) • Mvule (Milicia excelsa) • Muringa (Cordia africana) • Bamboo The following species are recommended for arid and semi-arid areas: • Mukau (Melia volkensii) • Acacia polyacantha • Acacia senegal • Acacia seyal • Acacia xanthophloea

• Eucalyptus camaldulensis • Terminalia brownii • Markhamia lutea To establish high quality plantations, the investors require the services of professional forestry consultants. Table 1 lists a few that have actively participated in commercial forestry development in Kenya and in the region in the recent past. As the challenges of climatic change become real for our country, there is need to maintain a diverse choice of technologies for commercial forestry development in Kenya. We can use science and technology in commercial forestry development in producing more goods and services, while preserving our biodiversity. The Kenya government must work to ensure that those who are willing to invest in the development of commercial forests have a broader choice of technologies if the fight against poverty and inadequate wood is to be won. Forestry professionals should lead from the front by making bold decisions that will help in the development of commercial forestry. This can easily be achieved by involving the local communities in identifying problems and developing solutions since they understand issues better and at the same time own the

A young stand of Pinus patula in Rift Valley Province. A vibrant forest sector needs professionals that understand not only planting and establishment of tree plantations, but who are also well versed in management, in this case pruning. (Photo KFS)

process. There is also need to maximise every opportunity to bring together scientists and policy makers so that research is relevant to policy, and policy decisions are informed by science. The writer is the Chairman, Forestry Society of Kenya Email:

GENETICS TECHNOLOGIES INTERNATIONAL LTD GENETICS TECHNOLOGIES INTERNATIONAL LTD (GTIL) is a leading tissue culture (TC) laboratory in the East and Central African region. The company started its operations in 1995 and specialises in micro-propagation of disease and pest-free planting materials through tissue culture and aeroponics technologies (started in 2008).

Others (Bamboo, ornamental shrubs, palms).

GTIL produces planting materials for local, regional and overseas markets, and has a network of marketing agents all over the country, including a base in Tanzania. The company’s production capacity is over 20 million plantlets per year.

Aeroponics produces quality disease-free seed potatoes at a multiplication rate from 5:1 to 50:1. Aeroponics also helps to control diseases especially viruses and bacterial wilt.

TYPES OF CROPS Industrial (pyrethrum, sugarcane, sisal, coffee, vanilla and macadamia). Horticultural: Fruits (mangoes, avocadoes, citrus, passion, pawpaw, strawberries, temperate fruits). Flowers (roses, orchids lilies, Eustoma, Zantendeschia, Gladiolus, Statice). Food (Bananas - dessert, cooking, plantains - Irish potatoes, pineapples, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava) Tree species for fuel wood, timber, poles, pulp, bio-fuel (eucalyptus, acacia, grevillea, pinus, markhamia, croton, teak, cypress, jatropha). Medicinal plants & herbs (Prunus africana, neem, Moringa oleifera, Warburgia ugandensis, Artemisia annua, Aloe vera, Mondia whytei, turmeric, geraniums, stevia).

GENETICS TECHNOLOGIES INTERNATIONAL LTD. Lower Kabete Road, opp. Telkom Bldg. P. O. Box 47430, 00100 – NAIROBI, Kenya. Tel: 4183279, 4180607 Fax: 4180594, 3748969 Email: or Company Reg. No. C112986; PIN No. P051164780C

Miti January-March 2011

Tissue Culture rapidly multiples healthy planting materials within a short period. TC materials normally achieve high establishment rate followed by vigorous uniform growth that leads to early maturity and higher yields.

GTIL collaborates with various organisations like Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), International Service For Acquisition of Agricultural Biotech Applications (ISAAA), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Biotechnology Trust Africa (BTA), African Biotechnology Stakeholder Forum (ABSF), Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI), Horticultural Crop Development Authority (HCDA), Kenya Plant Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Mondi International, National Potato Council, International Potato Centre (CIP), GTZ, USAID, JOIL (Singapore), among others.

Hardened bananas and other crops in a shade / screen house

Misting / feeding the potato root system

Aeroponics technology on Irish potatoes


Working with other tree growers

An excellent plantation of seven-year-old pure improved E. grandis on Kuza Farm in Trans Nzoia County. (Photo: Tree Biotechnology Programme Trust)

Join the Kenya Forest Growers Association (KEFGA) and harvest the benefits


he Kenya Forest Growers Association (KEFGA) is a member-based association that brings together private commercial tree growers representing and promoting commercial forestry and farm tree growing in Kenya. KEFGA was formed and registered in 2008 as a national association and is recognised by the Kenya government through its mandate of representing and promoting private forestry and commercial tree growing interests in Kenya. KEFGA is a non-political, non-partisan association that is committed to the welfare of private commercial forest growers and which aims to represent and promote private and commercial forestry. KEFGA’s membership is drawn from small private and large-scale commercial tree farmers as well as from special membership groups. There are approximately 12,000 private forest farms and commercial tree growers in Kenya and KEFGA was formed to bring them together. The organisation advances the need for forest plantations with an ecologically sustainable management system to be accepted as legitimate agricultural land use with the aim of providing multiple socio-economic and environmental benefits. KEFGA promotes a profitable, efficient and high profile Kenyan commercial forestry industry and represents member interests through a collective voice. KEFGA has 15 local units (associations of forest owners) and it offers its members a fully developed administration with a staff of professional foresters supported by administrative personnel. The local units are owned by their members and headed by a board of direc­tors chosen by the members. They have an independent economics and person­nel policy under the guidance of the governing council as stipulated in the association’s constitution. The board of directors employs a forest


supervisor and additional staff to take charge of the daily administration, marketing and technical services, while the board of directors is responsible for the overall policies, budgets and fees of the local unit. In 2008, small-holder farmers initiated the commodity associations to assist in eliminating the barriers to a complete value chain in the forest sector, namely: • poor marketing of wood products, • poor governing polices, • inadequate research programmes, • lack of funds to meet growth and development of commercial forestry, • lack of support in the enhancement of legislation that is favourable to the interests of tree growers, • lack of spirit of co-operation and mutual goodwill of tree growers, • lack of quality control and • lack of regulation in commercial forestry. Since KEFGA was formed and operationalised, it has recorded an impact in plantation management, price control of forest products, diversification of tree species, market survey and sourcing for farm inputs and forest products.

Objectives In ensuring that out-grower schemes effectively utilise value chains, KEFGA laid down its objectives, namely: • Raise awareness and promote the development and proper management of commercial forests as an alternative land use for the benefits of the people of Kenya. • Promote sustainable management of forests for the environmental, economic and social benefits. • Seek to enter into an arrangement with the government and obtain certain rights, privileges and concessions.

• Promote, support and encourage capacity building research and innovation in the forest sector. • Seek financial and non-financial support for members for growth in policy support and development of forestry. • Establish branches to serve members in various provinces in the country. The main goal of KEFGA is to provide technical services to its entire membership.

Benefits of joining KEFGA Upon joining KEFGA, a member benefits through a national inventory of all trees being grown for poles and can negotiate for better prices with buyers such as the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC). KEFGA seeks the best market prices for cut timber for its members and advises them accordingly, “bundles” commercial tree farms and co-ordinates the qualification and negotiation process, leading to trading in carbon credits. Other long-term benefits include representation of its members and their interests in appropriate forums including government, donors, marketing and scientific meetings. The association also negotiates and organises insurance for commercial forests at competitive premiums with reputable brokers and insurance companies. KEFGA helps its members obtain accreditation by ensuring that they meet the international standards for timber required by the markets. Through policy advocacy, KEFGA seeks to lobby for government to treat forestry just like other agricultural land uses, with the aim of seeking concessions necessary for the growth of commercial forestry. Registered KEFGA members will be kept abreast of important events in the commercial forest sector, both national and internationally.

Miti January-March 2011

Some examples of members Member of Parliament for Lugari, Cyrus Jirongo, registered as a KEFGA member in 2008, under Kunza Farms. He established his plantation of Eucalyptus grandis in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and harvested the first lot of power transmission poles in 2010. The total area planted with E. grandis in Kunza Farms is 650 acres. The farm is located in Kwanza division in Trans Nzoia. It is bordered by small-scale maize farmers. It has five main blocks, namely Lower Strip, Upper Makhonge, Middle Makhonge, Main Makhonge and Bwayu. Previously, the area used to be grazing land for white settlers but was subdivided when it was acquired by indigenous Kenyans. The land was mainly used for maize farming until 2002 when

There are approximately

12,000 private forest

farms and commercial tree growers in Kenya and KEFGA was formed to bring them together.

the forest plantations were established. The land is endowed with deep red soil and adequate rainfall above 1000mm and therefore suitable for tree farming. All the four blocks were planted - within a span of three months in 2003 - with Eucalyptus grandis species seedlings from the Tree Biotechnology Programme Trust (TBPT) whose pedigree history is documented. The germplasm is fast growing and produces high quality poles that have good taper and achieve height suitable for local markets. The initial establishment was at 2.5 m x 2.5 m, giving approximately 640 stems per acre (or 1,600 stems per hectare). The growth presents a phenotypic characterisation of the expected behaviour and corresponds to the expected rotation of seven years for general transmission power poles category. All the blocks have some mature trees ready for the poles market. The general management of the plantation is above average and protection and stand condition is of high standard. The management has been in the process of logging out large-sized poles. Billy Onyullo registered as a KEFGA member in 2008 and established a Eucalyptus grandis x camaldulensis (GC) hybrid plantation in 2006, 2007 and 2008 in Migori. John Kimanthi registered as a KEFGA member

Felling of sevenyear-old E. grandis for electricity poles. The felling plan is to continue in years 8 and 9. It is interesting to note that nearly ALL the stems are of pole quality. It pays to pay for quality seedlings. (Photo: Tree Biotechnology Programme Trust)

in 2008. His first purchase of Eucalyptus grandis x camaldulensis hybrids and Grevillea robusta was in 2004 and he established them in Kamulu. Later, in 2007, he established plantations with the same species in Timau and Meru. Bilal Chaodhiri registered as a KEFGA member in 2008 and has established a Eucalyptus grandis x camaldulensis plantation in Malindi and the main target market is power transmission poles. (Information provided by the Tree Biotechnology Programme Trust)


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Miti January-March 2011 副


Hagar being loaded into a truck in Wajir. (Photo KEFRI)

Tapping into trees

Gums and resins offer an alternative livelihood for dryland communities By Wanjiru Ciira


agar, malmal, opoponax and gum arabic are all familiar products to people in the drylands of northern Kenya. These gums and resins offer an alternative livelihood to livestock for communities in northern Kenya’s drylands. If developed and nurtured, these non-wood forest products provide a viable income-generating activity. These products are collected from drought resistant Commiphora and Acacia species, like C. holtziana, C. pseudopaolii, A. senegal and A. seyal. Mandera-born Ahmed Quresh, who today exports the products, has seen the potential for these products. Mr Quresh’s export business goes back to 1996 when he used to host relatives bringing the products to Nairobi to sell to exporters. “The exporters would delay paying these traders for as long as three months, during which time I would have to provide upkeep for my relatives,” says Mr Quresh. He sought to find out who these exporters were and see what he could do to help his relatives. However, the exporters rebuffed him and refused to deal with him. All he knew was that they exported the gums to China. Fortunately, for Mr Quresh, he had a classmate in China who connected him to the Chinese customers. “They agreed to try me with one container of hagar,” says Mr Quresh.


It took Mr Quresh nearly six months to fulfil this first order of a 20-ft container carrying 16.8 tonnes of hagar. However, after this, Mr Quresh gained the confidence of his Chinese importers and since then it has been plain sailing. He is particular about the quality of gums he exports because he understands that a trader is just as good as his last consignment. “This is a consumer industry and unless you mismanage the business or export a low quality product, you cannot go wrong,” he says. Mr Quresh exports the gums virtually in raw form. The collectors only separate the gum from the tree bark and clean it. In future, he would like to add value to the gums locally before exporting. This would not only fetch a better price, but also create more employment. Collection of gums is a labour-intensive, secondary activity that people engage in even as they herd their animals. Fortunately for Mr Quresh and other exporters, expert tappers from Ethiopia and Sudan, and from Kenyan NGOs and the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), have trained the people of the areas where these gums are found. Another advantage is that the people do not use the gum-producing trees for firewood. “Since people make a livelihood from these trees, they do not cut them down for firewood,” says Mr Quresh.

Miti January-March 2011

“This is a consumer industry and unless you mismanage the business or export a low quality product, you cannot go wrong,” he says.

Daily collection typically amounts to 1kg, sometimes 2kg, and once a week, the product is brought to a collection point. While the real riches of the collector lies in his livestock, the gum and resin collection is the principal source of ready cash. Harvesting can take place year-round, but supplies diminish during the rainy as rain washes away the gum. Mr Quresh is not involved in every aspect of the business. He does not organise the collection from the field but instead buys the gums from some six wholesale traders in Wajir and Mandera. Since some 15,000 people are involved in the collection of these gums and resins, it means the economic benefits are reaching many households. However, quality is a key concern. Apart from China, Mr Quresh exports the gums to Europe, the Americas, Arab countries, Singapore and other Asian countries. Gum arabic, which some people chew, mainly comes from Marsabit and Isiolo. It is chiefly used as a binder for tablets in the pharmaceutical industry. About 80 per cent of hagar comes from Wajir, with the rest being collected in Mandera and Garissa. In China, it is used to treat a number of illnesses, including rheumatism. It is also used in bandages for wounds. Some ten or so Kenyan companies, mainly in Nairobi, with a few in Mombasa, are involved in the export of gums. Most Kenyan traders are members of the Gums and Resin Association (GARA), which is like a talk shop where they exchange information. The challenges the industry faces include poor collection practices. “Collectors need to be dedicated, trained and exposed to expert collectors from countries like Sudan and Senegal,” says Mr Quresh. Another challenge is the current unpredictable climate. It is already hard enough in drylands to predict when rain will fall, and this has now become worse with the global climate change. Though the communities do not cut down the prized gum and resin trees, the increasing number of livestock on the same ancestral grazing grounds leads to overgrazing, and in fact, endangers natural regeneration of the required bushes and tree species. Another key issue is the establishment of buffer stocks, to stabilise the market. In the absence of buffer stocks, buyers take advantage of traders, as the latter are not able to supply the market consistently. A “stabilisation fund” would create higher export prices. Another critical point that traders mention is the need of a “certification process”, to guarantee good quality production. If this happens, then Kenya could join Sudan, Ethiopia and the Sahelian countries of Chad, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal as a leading exporter of gums and resins in Africa.

Hagar in a shop in Garbatula (Photo KEFRI)

Lumps of fresh hagar. (Photo KEFRI)

The writer is the Managing Editor, Miti magazine Email:

Miti January-March 2011


Joining hands to nurture trees

Local communities should be seen as co-managers in forest management By Rudolf Makhanu


he economic and social importance of forests cannot be denied, particularly in a developing country like Kenya. Many countries around the world are transforming the way in which they plan, implement and monitor activities in the forest sector. This comes as a response to the failures of centralised and top-down approaches to managing and sustaining forest resources. The realisation of the need for wider stakeholder involvement has seen Kenya embrace Participatory Forest Management (PFM), a multi stakeholder approach where the private sector, institutions and communities are involved in management of forests and sharing of benefits that accrue from such management. This is done through a process of inclusion, equity and democratisation of governance of the forest resources. The main objective of PFM is to preserve biodiversity while at the same time enhancing people’s livelihoods for present and future generations. The Forests Act 2005 recognises local communities as key stakeholders in achieving sustainable forest management. It regards communities as co-managers and encourages their participation through formation of community forest associations (CFAs). According to the Forests Act (2005), section 46 (1), a member of a forest community may, together with other members or persons resident in the same area, register a community forest association under the Societies Act. According to section 46 (2), an association registered under section (1) may apply to the Director of Forest Service for permission to participate in the conservation and management of a state forest or a local authority forest in accordance with the provisions of the act. The Forests Act 2005 devotes an entire chapter (Part 1V) to spell out the requirements, roles and rights, for community engagement with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) or county councils (now counties) in co-management of forests. Two primary engagement tools are a forest management plan and an agreement. Section 35(1) of the Forest Act requires that every state forest, local authority forest and provisional forest shall be managed in accordance with a management plan, while section 36 (1) stipulates


Tangible benefits for CFAs in various forests


Existing income-generating activities

South Nandi

Tree seedlings, bee keeping, fuel wood, grass, water


Tree seedlings, Prunus africana bark herbal products, bee keeping, PELIS


Tree seedlings, Mondia whytei and Ocimum spp. herbal products, bee keeping, butterfly farming, eco-tourism, artefacts

Coastal forests

Aloe farming, tree seedlings, Azadirachta indica (neem) wood for carvings, butterfly farming, artefacts, farm forestry, ecotourism

Mt Kenya

Tree seedlings, bee keeping, fuel wood, grass, water, PELIS

that with the approval of the Board, the director may enter into an agreement with any person for the joint management of any forest. As communities do not have tenure rights to the land, they are only accorded user rights. In the last few years, 347 CFAs have duly been registered under the Societies Act. Registration entails a vetting process that examines the CFA’s objectives, composition of its management committee, election procedures and the purpose for which its funds may be used. Whereas the law requires existence of one CFA per forest station, inadequate coordination between the Attorney General’s office and KFS, coupled with individual interests among community members, has seen a proliferation of CFAs within a single forest station. A case at hand is Irangi Forest Station (eastern part of the larger Mt Kenya ecosystem) that at one point had 12 CFAs. Extensive sensitisation by KFS and civil society organisations (CSOs) has seen the merging of the CFAs into one entity. CFAs are faced with diverse challenges. The key challenges identified by a recent study undertaken by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) are sharing of benefits, lack of transparency among officials, failure of some members to contribute funds and a dictatorial tendency among some of the leaders. The Forests Act 2005 confers to CFAs diverse user rights (Article 47 (2)). However, the prevailing policy environment, characterised by the logging ban and more recently the grazing ban in all gazetted forests, dilutes these rights, and minimises benefits that accrue to communities. The table illustrates the limited range of user rights available to communities.

Article 47 (2) of the Forests Act 2005 states that: “the management agreement between the Director and the association shall confer on the association all or any of the following forest user rights— (a) Collection of medicinal herbs; (b) Harvesting of honey; (c) Harvesting of timber or fuel wood; (d) Grass harvesting and grazing; (e) Collection of forest produce for community based industries; (f) Ecotourism and recreational activities; (g) Scientific and education activities; (h) Plantation establishment through nonresident cultivation; (i) Contracts to assist in carrying out specified silvicultural operations; (j) Development of community wood and nonwood forest based industries; and (k) Other benefits which may from time to time be agreed upon between an association and the Service.” Lack of a supportive policy environment, as mentioned above, has seen communities confined to peripheral user rights that only support basic survival. CFAs with enterprise development objectives looking forward to substantial undertakings such as timber or fuel wood harvesting, contracts to assist in carrying out specified silvicultural operations and ecotourism or recreational activities had to put their plans on hold, and channel their efforts towards the review of the forest legislation. Licensing for private sector engagement in these activities is guided by the Public Procurement and Disposal Act that encourages competitive bidding. Article 13 (3) (b) of The

Miti January-March 2011

Ngong Forest, Nairobi Conservancy. Like all gazetted plantations, this is also a candidate for joint management between the surrounding community and KFS. (Photo KFS).

Forests (Participation in Sustainable Forest Management) Rules, 2009 requires that an application to the Service for a timber licence should include a statement of the applicant’s technical and financial capacity to harvest timber. This challenge will have to be overcome by enhancing the competitiveness of CFAs through capacity building. A number of CFAs have started registering as companies, as registration under the Societies Act limits them from engaging in business. Inadequate capacity among CFAs to develop management plans as well as negotiate their agreements with KFS has bogged down their operations. This has been compounded by delayed endorsement of the plans and agreements by KFS, the latter attributed to delayed gazetting of subsidiary legislations, especially the one on Participation in Sustainable Forest Management that was eventually gazetted in November 2009. A total of 50 management plans have been signed by KFS, all funded by the donor community in anticipation that engagement of other stakeholders (in management and benefit flow) can be realised. So far, this has not happened, with both the local community and donors having to channel their funds to other activities outside the forest, leaving a frustrated CFA behind. In virtually all the donor funded management plans, several activities were tied to the management plan, which means that they cannot be realised in the absence of Forest Management Agreements (FMA). How can this be fast-tracked? The Act is very clear that all forests must be

Miti January-March 2011

managed through a forest management plan, so why allow so many management plans to continue to lie unimplemented as donors channel their funds outside the forest? Ideally, the current KFS forest management could be more closely tied to these already approved management plans. Out of the 50 management plans signed by KFS, only one has a signed management agreement (Upper North Imenti). Delay in signing management agreements has significantly dented the community’s enthusiasm in co-management of forests. Examples are the Rumuruti and Eburu CFAs, which have lost investment opportunities. Potential donors willing to collaborate with these CFAs in ecotourism abandoned the idea due to lack of agreements. Five years after the management plans for these forests were approved by KFS, agreements are yet to be signed. Besides contributing to increased forest destruction, delayed implementation of PFM is also destabilising CFAs by weakening their cohesion. The anticipation of accessing benefits was the main ingredient for formation and cohesion among CFAs. Implementation of PFM requires a community with a reasonable level of economic development. This is because in their initial involvement in forest management, the communities will have to give more than they can get from the forest resource. There is thus an urgent need for sustained “soft” investment to prepare the ground aimed at attracting “hard” investment for accelerated benefit generation. Soft investments entail

facilitating the forest legislation review; building the capacity of forest governance structures like the KFS Board, forest conservation committees, community forest associations; assisting communities to prepare forest management plans and to negotiate forest agreements with KFS. Avenues of enhancing benefit flows to communities should be promoted. Tried and working arrangements such as the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS) can be further replicated across the country. This however requires strengthening of the enforcement capacity of KFS and CFAs. CFA strengthening should be matched with the on-going strengthening of KFS, for in a partnership, one is as strong as the weakest partner. Government- private sector partnership should be encouraged, as investing in community enterprises incurs high transaction costs in relation to the amount of investment, and may be possible only if public institutions and donors co-invest with a value investor in order to reduce risks. In conclusion, communities should not be seen as a source of cheap labour, to be engaged only on need basis but co-managers with inherent rights to participate gainfully in forest conservation. The writer is the National Coordinator – Kenya Forest Working Group Email:


Drylands are not wastelands The potential of arid and semiarid lands to contribute to national development is largely unrecognised By Clement Ng’oriareng

Pictures of dryland resources... charcoal


except after harvesting or manure applications; and highly variable responses to fertiliser.

Drylands significance Size

What are drylands? At times known as arid and semi-arid or subhumid zones, these areas are best defined by low erratic rainfall of up to 700mm per annum, periodic droughts and different associations of vegetative cover and soils. Inter annual rainfall varies from 50-100 per cent in the arid zones of the world with averages of up to 350 mm. In the semi-arid zones, inter annual rainfall varies from 20-50 per cent with averages of up to 700 mm. The arid and semiarid lands (ASAL) zones exhibit ecological constraints that set limits to nomadic pastoralism and settled agriculture. These constraints include rainfall patterns that are inherently erratic; rains which fall mostly as heavy showers and are lost to run-off; a high rate of potential evapotranspiration further reducing yields; vigorous weed growth thus competing for moisture with cultivated crops; low organic matter levels

In terms of their extent globally, drylands cover about 40 per cent of the earth’s surface. If mountain pastures, which possess similar ecological characteristics without necessarily being dry, are included, this statistical figure can be even higher. In Kenya alone, based on moisture availability for plant growth, 88 per cent of land is classified as arid to semi-arid. Such a large portion of land cannot be seen as merely wasteland.

Socio-economics The dryland regions have a potential value of about Ksh 180 billion annually. They are home to more than 30 per cent of the country’s population. According to the 1999 census, 39 per cent of the then 31.1 million Kenyans inhabited the drylands. Livestock data also speaks volumes

about the drylands. Over 70 per cent of the national livestock herds, including all the camels, accounting for an estimated value of Ksh 70 billion, are hosted by the drylands. Over 90 per cent of the world-famous wild game that support the tourism industry, whose annual estimates stand at Ksh 50 billion, are found in the drylands. Most of the country’s 59 national parks and game reserves are located in ASAL. Special factors that make Kenya’s ASAL a major tourist attraction are the symbiotic interactions between wildlife and pastoralism, rich cultural heritage of the pastoral communities and the low environmental impact of traditionally practiced agro-pastoral lifestyles. The indigenous peoples of these dryland areas are very resilient. They have existed on the productivity provided locally and have used their knowledge to devise coping and adaptive strategies.

The vegetation Woodlands are amongst the important natural resources found in drylands. Forests with a

Value of pastoral herds in the ASAL


National herd -

Value in million Ksh

Value in US$ (1US$ = Ksh 70) in millions

% off-take

Average off-take (numbers)

Average value of off-take Ksh (billions)

Average value of off-take US$ (millions)



numbers ‘000’s Cattle




















Total values

















Source: Adapted from Nyariki 2004. Based on livestock prices of Ksh 10,000 (US$ 143), for indigenous cattle Ksh 10,000 (US$ 143), for camels, Ksh 1,500 (US$ 21), for indigenous goats and Ksh 1,500 (US$ 21), for indigenous sheep.

Estimated value of dryland gums and resins to the economy of Kenya


Tonnes of gums and resins exported

Approximate value of gums and resins to collectors

Approximate value of gums and resins to marketers

1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Total 1994-1999

959.7 710.3 762.2 837.2 1,128.9 473 4,871.3

US$ 479,850 US$ 355,150 US$ 381,100 US$ 418,600 US$ 564,450 US$ 236,500 US$ 2,435,450

US$ 719,775 US$ 532,725 US$ 571,650 US$ 627,900 US$ 846,675 US$ 354,750 US$ 3,653,475

Average per year


US$ 405,942

US$ 608,913

Source: Chikamai & Odera 2002


Miti January-March 2011


canopy cover of over 12 per cent are limited to the mountain ranges, and along the main rivers, which have significant areas of riverine forest. These resources support a number of household activities such as livestock production, honey production, traditional medicines, shelter, charcoal production and foods – and in some areas are becoming an important source of household income particularly through the sale of charcoal, gums and resins (see table for some figures). The woodlands in the drylands are the main source of charcoal that constitutes over 50 per cent of urban energy requirements and 80 per cent of rural wood fuel. Woodlands also provide other numerous products including honey, gums, resins and woodcarving materials. Dryland vegetation also supplies key service functions, including soil stabilisation, particularly along riverbanks and flood plains, climate amelioration and acts as windbreakers.

Agriculture Dryland agriculture is characterised by settled communities and “titled” individual land holdings, with livestock as an important component of land use. About 9 million ha (19 per cent) can support rain-fed agriculture, 15 million ha (31 per cent) is devoted to more sedentary forms of livestock production (private and commercial ranches), and the remaining 24 million ha (50 per cent) is drier and suitable for pastoralism (Kenya Republic of 2001a). Over 60 per cent of the national livestock herd is concentrated in the 31 districts of the drylands, and provide over 67 per cent of the red meat consumed in the country (Kenya Republic of 2001a). However, the returns are low as livestock is often sold at low prices and fattened on commercial ranches before sale. Despite the huge livestock potential, the drylands account for only 3 and 7 per cent of the agricultural and commercial outputs respectively (Kenya Republic of 2000). The national livestock herd – over half of which resides in the drylands – produces 10 per cent of the GDP, and 50 per cent of the agricultural GDP (Kenya Republic of 2000).

Miti January-March 2011

dryland vegetation


(Photos Clement Ng’oriareng)

Some examples of on-farm micro investments Investments on the farm

Investments in livestock

• Clearance and enclosures • Tree planting and protection • Regular soil amendments • Storage structure • Wet or dry compost pits • Crop drying floors • Threshing floors • Field drains • Erosion checks – terraces and vegetation strips • Wells • Locally made tools • Seed selection, storage and purchase

• Animal pens and hen houses • Tethering equipment • Riding gears and yokes • Watering vessels and well lifting gear • Milk containers • Ceremonial artefacts • Salt cures • Bull service fees • Immunisation • Purchase of young animals

Source: Knowler et al. 1998

What can we say then!

timber tree products and benefits from tourism. The drylands of Kenya, despite representing over The few examples of magnitude of the potentials 80 per cent of the country and 25 per cent of of ASAL listed above cannot put the drylands in the population, remain under-invested in, both the docket of being wastelands. in terms of financing and policy incentives, and under-recognised for their potential value in The writer is the Head of Drylands Forestry, Kenya Forest Services, Karura national development and poverty reduction. Email: Past technical fixes ignored the harsh realities of climate-imposed limitations on the productivity of the drylands. On average, the people of the drylands are poorer, with proportionally UNDER ONE ROOF fewer social services and BUILDING MATERIALS less infrastructure than CEMENT BARBED WIRE their counterparts in high MABATI FRAMES TIMBER WINDOWS potential areas. BLOCKBOARDS WELDMESH Many pastoralist PLYWOODS WHEEL BARROWS HARDBOARDS LOCKS have had their critical SOFTBOARDS HINGES dry season grazing areas TOOLS FORMICA WALL PANELS STEEL RODS expropriated for other land VENNERS CHANNELS uses (e.g. irrigation, rainPAINTS ANGLE IRON WATER PIPES ROUND BARS fed cultivation, as reserved FLAT BARS WATER TANKS areas for wildlife or forests), DOORS FURNITURE PIPES NAILS FURNITURE FITTINGS thereby undermining one of the few integrated land Available at:use systems capable of supporting life in such harsh lands. Yet the potential is now increasingly being P O BOX 42651-00100, JIRORE ROAD, NAIROBI recognised, especially in the TEL: 556156, 557725 INDUSTRIAL AREA, NEXT TO TIMSALES livestock sector. There are EMAIL: also many other economic opportunities, for instance the importance of non-



Black wattle for fuel wood Acacia mearnsii offers potential for profits while meeting the deficit for charcoal and firewood By Joshua Cheboiwo and Fridah Mugo


cacia mearnsii is a native of Australia that has been introduced to many countries in the world. It is commonly known as black wattle. It is a fast growing, nitrogen-fixing tree adapted to a wide range of sites from the temperate and tropical lowlands to tropical highlands. In tropical areas, A. mearnsii is best grown in the highlands at 1500-2500 metres above sea level with mean annual rainfall of 900 - 1600 mm and mean annual temperature of 12 - 180 C. In Kenya, A. mearnsii thrives in a fairly humid climate with rainfall of 1000 -1500 mm. The best soils for A. mearnsii are moist, relatively deep, light textured and well drained. A. mearnsii also grows on moderately heavy soils and occasionally on shallow soils. It was one of the first species introduced for firewood and later for tannins and recently became an important charcoal producing species. The species reaches its maximum growth rate between 3 - 5 years after planting and has a life span of 15 - 20 years. It yields high quality tannin, paper pulp, charcoal and firewood.

Kenyan experience A. mearnsii was introduced into Kenya in the 1880s by missionaries and the first trees were grown in Machakos. Later, it was introduced as a commercial species for production of bark in central Kenya and afterwards spread to the Rift Valley. By the 1940s, it was the only cash crop that Africans were allowed to grow, mostly in central Kenya. With falling prices of tannins in the global markets, the major products from A. mearnsii have shifted from bark to charcoal. The East African Tanning and Extraction Company (EATEC) was one of the largest commercial growers of A. mearnsii in Kenya. The company produced bark for tannin extraction and poles for charcoal production in brick-made kilns until 2000 when


A black wattle showing its black bark, rich in tannins.

it sold its farms. Since then, farmers with small woodlots have become the main production centres, mostly in Keiyo, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Lugari and Trans Nzoia areas. Pockets of trees are found in Kiambu, Nyeri and Machakos in Central and Eastern provinces. Currently, small-scale farmers are the main suppliers of bark in the country and the stripped poles are converted into charcoal using the traditional method of earth kilns.

Planting trends and management Since the closing of EATEC in 2000, most of the 24,000 hectares of A. mearnsii estates have been subdivided into smallholder farms with only a few of the new owners retaining the tree on small proportions of their land. Some farmers in Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Keiyo and Trans Nzoia have continued to grow A. mearnsii on a commercial scale for bark and charcoal production.

The main attraction of A. mearnsii growing is its minimal costs after initial planting because it regenerates profusely itself from seed banks in the soil after soil disturbances such as burning or cultivation. It produces between 70,000 to 60,000 viable seeds/kg that form a seed bank that can be relied upon for natural regeneration after the first rotation. For first regeneration, the seed must be broken before sowing in prepared soil to ensure rapid and complete germination. The seed dormancy is broken routinely by immersing the seeds in boiling water (1000 C) for 30 - 60 seconds and allowing it to cool immediately in water overnight (10 - 12 hrs). The seed is sown when wet or can be dried and stored for years if necessary and will germinate readily when sown without further treatment. Acacia mearnsii is very sensitive to grass competition and the seed should be sown on

Miti January-March 2011

A lone black wattle, with typical crown form.

prepared sites through ploughing and harrowing to get good regeneration and plantation density. In Kenya, the trees are cut after six years if the main product is charcoal but are retained for between 8 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 10 years if tannin is the main product as this is when the highest tannin content is achieved. Acacia mearnsii produces a moderately dense wood that ignites easily and burns well, making excellent firewood and charcoal. Its firewood has a calorific value of 3500-4000 K cal per kg. The wood can be used for a variety of activities such as house poles, fencing posts, mine timber tool handles, cabinetwork, joinery and flooring construction timber. A. mearnsii regenerations can number over 10,000 seedlings per hectare and have to be thinned progressively by removing weak plants every year from the first to the fourth year to create growing space for the remaining stock. In each thinning operation, the most vigorous trees should be left at the required spacing. In large commercial plantations, it is recommended that thick stands of seedlings be removed, leaving a single continuous line along the stump line mostly in plantations established through natural regeneration. By the second year, the pacing between tree plants should be 1m x 1m with a final spacing of 3m x 2m at the end of the fourth year, leaving approximately 1,600 stems per hectare.

Yields and financial returns The first two thinnings are intended to create growing space and promote stand hygiene. The third and fourth thinnings have market value as droppers and railings are sometimes converted

Miti January-March 2011

Acacia mearnsii or Black Wattle: a typical woodlot at dense spacing for biomass and tannin production. (Photo KEFRI)

into low-quality charcoal. A well-managed A. mearnsii stand growing in a good site has a potential of producing 80 tonnes of firewood per hectare at the age of 9 - 10 years. However, trees growing on poor sites can yield as low as 50 tonnes. When firewood is air dried to a moisture content of about 15 per cent, it is considered ready and can be used for firing boilers in industries that use firewood as a source of energy. It is preferred for domestic use as it ignites easily, burns with little smoke and has persistent embers. At the current factory gate price of Ksh 1,800 per tonne, a hectare of A. mearnsii that produces 60 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 80 tonnes of industrial firewood can generate between Ksh 108,000 to 144,000. On conversion to charcoal, it can produce 16.8 to 24 tonnes. At the current price of Ksh 420 per 40kg bag, this translates to between Ksh 176,400 and 252,000.

Market opportunities The market for firewood is enormous, accounting for 70 per cent of the energy consumption in the country. Currently, the estimated deficit stands at over 7 million tonnes, mainly for domestic use but a substantial quantity is used in food and textile processing enterprises and institutions. The deficit value at the current price of Ksh 1,600 per metric tonne is estimated at Ksh 11 billion. Charcoal is a big business in both rural and urban areas with an estimated consumption of 67 million bags annually, equivalent to 2.4 million tonnes. The estimated annual trade arising from charcoal at the current price of Ksh 420 per bag

is Ksh 28 billion. Falling supplies mean large section of the market demand is unmet. The farm level prices for charcoal rose from Ksh 130 in 1998 to Ksh 420 by 2010, an increase of 223 per cent.

Production technologies There are various improved charcoal kilns available in the country such as the dome-shaped kiln and the half orange-shaped kiln. The recovery of charcoal burnt by these methods can be above 25 per cent. Production by kilns is recommended to reduce wastage.

Recommendations There is a huge market for both firewood and charcoal in Kenya, thus investors in the sector are assured of markets and good prices. Competition from settlements, subsistence and commercial agricultural enterprises in the Rift Valley, the main growing region, is likely to reduce the size of the few A. mearnsii woodlots continuously. Therefore, there is need for promotion of sustainable biomass energy sources through concessions of public land for growing tree crops like A. mearnsii to address the growing fuel wood deficit for the rural and urban poor. Joshua Cheboiwo is the Principal Research Officer, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Londiani Regional Research Centre. Email: Fridah Mugo is a lecturer, Environmental Planning and Management, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Nairobi. Email:


Sweet music from Kenya Coura African Guitars are strumming up a universal sound from Nairobi By Wanjiru Ciira


hould you happen to walk into a guitar shop in Frankfurt, Germany, and come across a bass guitar named Buru Buru or another named Masai Mara Jazz, you will be forgiven for thinking these names have links to your neighbourhood in Nairobi’s Buru Buru estate or the expansive Masai Mara. You will not be wrong. In fact, the guitars have a connection to Nairobi’s “Buuru”, as it is fondly called, and the Masai Mara. These guitars are built in Nairobi. It all goes back to 2005 when guitar-maker Peter Coura was sitting at a friend’s house in Frankfurt after a party. “There was this big, mvule and mahogany table and beautiful chairs that I learnt had been made in a workshop in Nairobi,” says Mr Coura. And that is when the idea to build guitars in Africa came to him. Why Africa? “Almost all the music that is played today on electric guitar or electric bass would be unimaginable without the influence of African culture,” says Mr Coura in his African guitars catalogue. “ … during the last sixty years the tastes of the western, industrialized nations have been thoroughly permeated by African influences, i.e. blues, reggae, samba, salsa, soul, gospel, spiritual, jazz, rock, R&B, hip hop, rap, ska, calypso, etc.” In addition, Africa has a greater proportion of manual artistry than other continents. Besides, according to Mr Coura, in Europe, people neither have the time nor interest to develop a new generation of instruments. Instead, they turn to such concepts as “replica” or “historic collection”. To achieve this, an industrially produced guitar, designed to look like a model from the 1950s for example, is treated with a Bunsen burner, cold spray, salt water and a heavy application of grime and sandpaper, to avoid the impression of mass production, and give it an apparently unique “personality”. Collectors refer to this as “mojo” (soul). However, with the high proportion of skilled artisanship available in Africa, Mr Coura would be able to guarantee “mojo” for every guitar, without artificial ageing. And this is what he is doing in Buru Buru, Nairobi. “Every guitar we make is unique,” he says. “I do not want them all to be the same.” But how did Mr Coura end up making guitars in Buru Buru? As it happened, the workshop that


Pascal Mwanza, David Okello and Peter Coura in Frankfurt when Pascal and David attended a 10-week training session. (Photo Peter Coura)

The “Aberdare blue” has a body of white ash and a mukanga maser top. (Photo Peter Coura)

made the friend’s table and chairs was no longer in production. However, Mr Coura was sure that a country that produced such good artisanship would be able to come up with talent that could construct his guitars.

So, Mr Coura landed in Nairobi in August 2006. After a number of stops in the industrial area, he was directed to the SOS Children’s Village Vocational Training and Production Centre in Buru Buru. A furniture maker in industrial area, who was familiar with the quality of workmanship at the SOS Woodwork Production Centre, was confident Mr Coura would find the talent he was seeking to produce his guitars. Mr Coura, who has been running the Guitar Centre in Frankfurt since 1975, has during this period amassed much valuable experience and built a reputation among professional guitarists for his craftsmanship. At the shop, Peter Coura and his team have built new instruments and/or restored vintage guitars for some “guitar greats” like American jazz guitarist John Abercrombie and German bassist Eberhard Weber. Always known for going off the beaten track when it comes to building basses, Mr Coura in 1976 built upright electrics for Eberhard Weber, US jazz bassist Harvie Swartz and Danish bass player, composer and producer Bo Stief, to name a few. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Mr

Miti January-March 2011

What they say about the guitars ‘These instruments are to be played by professionals, who hear this very special timbre of the continent. Every guitar seems to own this “vibe”, a sound as widespread as the Kenyan horizon.’ Udo Pipper in the March 2008 issue of a German magazine, Gitarre & Bass.

…great pieces of art! ... Together with your splendid tone-controls, I get those cellolike sounds that come right from my heart... Your guitars immediately built up an emotional bond, I would dare to say: Love at first tone. - Customer Peter Zöphel in an e-mail

Pascal and David working together to complete a quality instrument. (Photo BGF)

Coura went to far-off Nairobi to build guitars for his mainly European and American clients. In Frankfurt, Mr Coura built guitars from different species of ebony like Dalbergia melanoxylon or Diospyros spp, mvule (Milicia excelsa) and African cypress (Cupressus lusitanica), which he was finding increasingly difficult to get. In Nairobi, Mr Coura uses mukanga (Aningeria altissima), mvule and mahogany (various species from the Congo, like Khaya spp and Entandrophragma spp) for the guitar body. The wood is air-dried slowly for years in the moderate Nairobi climate. “Nothing beats the sound of air-dried wood,” says Mr Coura. He uses maple wood (Acer pseudoplatanus) for the guitar neck and ebony for the fingerboard. At Buru Buru, Mr Coura taught two artisans – Pascal Mwanza and David Odhiambo Okello all the secrets of making exceptional sounding instruments. “They are a dream team,” says Mr Coura of the two friends who spent ten weeks working in the Frankfurt workshop, perfecting their craft. “They work very well together,” says Mr Coura. “Pascal is a very good craftsman while David is a good planner.” Three people – Pascal, David and Peter, produce every guitar out of the Buru Buru workshop. One does the woodwork and signs the body; the second does the finish and the third does the assembly and the final set-up, putting his sign of approval on the cover of the electronic compartment. Coura African Guitars are not cheap. The lowest priced of the Malindi series goes for

Miti January-March 2011

‘i think the guitar is really great. i played a lot with it when i got it home. it really has a thing and is a beautiful instrument. very powerful with its own sound. you do great work, peter. best from pat metheny’

1,990 euros (Ksh 196,015). The Buru Buru Bass, as played by Liberian / German bassist Kai Eckhard, is a limited edition made by Peter Coura himself in Germany and sells for 5,200 euros (Ksh 512,200). The Masai Mara Jazz goes for 4,400 euros (Ksh 433,400) while the Aberdare series is priced from 2,900 euros (Ksh 285,650). However, a guitar for the African market – the kidege (small bird) - is in production, at one-third the European prices. At present, Pascal, David and Peter produce some 40 to 60 guitars a year, and Mr Coura really has no plans of producing many more guitars. “My size is small,” he says, adding that if it were to be bigger, it might lose the individual touch and the quality. Peter Coura has certainly put the SOS Vocational Training and Production Centre on the world map. His idea is to have a workshop in Nairobi that not only produces the guitars, but that also does maintenance and repair work. This would employ four to five people, but would be a sustainable business. In future, he would like to extend this to a repair workshop for other stringed instruments like violins and cellos in Kenya, to meet the demand for such a service. And this demand exists, with the majority of stringed instruments in use – even internationally - requiring expert maintenance. Two years from now, this business should be complete and ready to stand on its own. And that is sweet music to the ear. The writer is the Managing Editor, Miti magazine.

New-York jazz-guitarist John Abercrombie trying his new Masai Mara guitar. (Photo Peter Coura)


Keeping tabias in working condition Maintenance and repairs are needed to ensure continued water harvesting

Olive trees (Olea europaea) planted in a tabia, fed by water from a road catchment. The trees in the second and third rows show stunted growth due to insufficient supply of water. (Photo: Herman Verlodt)

By Herman Verlodt

This is the fourth in a series of articles on soil constructions for capturing water in ASAL (Miti 6: “A solution for semi-arid regions”, Miti 7: “Tabias for harvesting water in ASAL” and Miti 8: Constructing tabias”.)


abias are ancient structures for capturing water that are used in some regions of Tunisia. Their construction and use is based on acquired knowledge and experience. Modern equipment such as bulldozers have made it easier to construct tabias, and the technology has been adapted and expanded outside the area where tabias traditionally were found. However, despite the use of modern equipment, Figure 1

Layout of a typical tabia. It shows the retention basin - where the water accumulates and crops can be grown - the principal dike with an over-flow, the lateral dikes and diversion dikes. The straight lines indicate the area where any soil disruption should be avoided, and the rhombus lines show the areas where vegetation needs to be conserved.


many tabias are badly constructed and sometimes easily damaged. The reasons for these failures need analysing. Improvement of an already constructed tabia is often more complicated than constructing a new one. Moreover, if the tabia has been planted with trees, it is much more difficult to realise the improvements than when planted with annual crops. Figure 1 gives a layout of a typical tabia.

Improvement When working on improvements of existing tabia structures, the different calculations explained already in Miti issue 7 and 8 have to be repeated and before starting the works, the topography has to be controlled again and marks have to be installed. There are different reasons why tabias fail, and these need to be considered when making improvements. The different reasons for failure are: Oversized or undersized catchment areas in relation to the amount of water required In the first case, the excessive amount of water coming to the tabia endangers the dikes and over-flows. This problem can be solved by constructing other tabias upstream. When this is impossible, a deviation dam has to be constructed to reduce the inflow and divert the excess water. In the case of the undersized catchment area, the water quantity is insufficient to obtain good development and growth and the situation will result in trees dying during dry years. In this case, a deviation dam can be constructed to increase the inflowing water or to increase the catchment area. Bad alignment of the principal dike, which does not follow the contour lines In this case, only a part of the retention zone will receive sufficient water.

Miti January-March 2011

Deficient levelling of a tabia structure, resulting in uneven growth of olive trees. (Photo: Herman Verlodt)

When a tabia is already planted, this bad alignment is made evident by the weaker development of the trees in the zones with less water. The trees will always stay smaller there. The improvement will have to start with topographic levelling such as was explained in Miti issue 8. For the re-alignment of the principal dike, one should try to conserve a part of the existing dike, followed by the correct levelling of the retention basin. The necessary excavation and level works are difficult to realise when the tabia is already planted with trees. Incomplete or incorrect levelling of the retention basin Evidence of incomplete levelling is shown by stunted growth of the trees planted in the tabia. Normally, the trees are planted in rows, at relatively wide spacing (5 - 6m apart). The trees on the second row will be smaller than the trees on the first row, closer to the principal dike, and those on the third row will still be smaller (see picture). Incorrect levelling results in growth differences on the second row and in this case, even the trees on the first row are stunted (see pictures). Correction of this shortcoming will need partial excavation and an increase of the dike height. Inadequate water level in the retention zone This can be caused by insufficient terracing and low-lying principal dikes, or by a breaking down of one of the dikes. Heavy sedimentation in the retention zone or a low level of over-flow can also cause a low water level. In practice, excavation of the retention basin will be needed to obtain better levelling. Prolongation of the lateral dikes and an increase of the height of principal and lateral dikes will also be needed to correct this shortcoming. When trees already exist, excavation is difficult to realise and prolongation of the lateral dikes and increase of the height of all the dikes with soil from outside is the only solution. Insufficient capacity of the over-flows in relation to the required outlet volume The over-flows always need to be calculated for possible flooding. Over-

Miti January-March 2011

Holes in a dike made by a desert fox (Photo: Herman Verlodt).

flows that are too small (width and/or height) will normally cause a breakdown of the dike. The easiest intervention is to enhance evacuation at soil level by correct terracing at the end of one of the lateral dikes, and if necessary, to create a second evacuation at the end of the other lateral dike. If evacuation at the end of the lateral dikes is still insufficient, an over-flow in the principal dike has to be constructed or the existing one has to be enlarged. Conception and construction errors: Absence of deviation dikes Lateral dikes that are too short Longitudinal slope of the evacuation channel that is too big. (This is the area below the over-flow). The first two errors result in quick erosion on lateral dikes and neighbouring fields. It is also important that the water is released in such a way that it flows away from the lateral dikes. The third error erodes the evacuation channel especially when this is occupied by crops. The bottom of the evacuation channel should be free of obstacles. To protect lateral dikes from erosion, the ends should be covered with stones, while greening the dikes can also enhance their stability. Faults on over-flows build with stones: The following faults can occur: Insufficient depth of the foundation (minimum 50 cm is necessary) Insufficient length of the wings (a length of 2m is necessary and about 50 per cent of the wing has to be anchored in the dike) Insufficient compacting especially around the wings Bad joints between stones (wooden branches and especially cement are much better than soil) Use of stones that are too small especially in the upper level absence of an apron, and if built with stones the apron should be a stone mattress.


Maintenance Regular maintenance works are necessary to obtain good production results and keep the tabia in good working condition. If one dike breaks down, it has a domino effect on the tabias downstream. The following maintenance works need to be undertaken: Regular soil works: After each flooding, it is necessary to do superficial soil working to interrupt the soil capillarity, in order to prevent evaporation. Animal traction is preferred to heavy machinery, which will compact the wet soil, for this regular intervention. Once a year, preferably before the start of the rainy season, soil needs to be worked deeper (25-30 cm is ideal) in order to facilitate the infiltration of the water. During this intervention, one should avoid damaging the tree rooting systems. To prevent this, the spacing between two rows of trees is wide, like 5 - 6 m, depending on the species. Levelling after sedimentation Each flooding brings sediments into the retention basin and through this, the depth of the retention basin and the height of the dikes will gradually reduce. The dikes also reduce in height through erosion and compaction by rainfall. In order to maintain the necessary 30 cm level for the water retention, the sediments accumulated after each flooding should be collected and put on the dikes. Prevention of heavy sedimentation is necessary, and this should be done by executing anti-erosion works in the catchment zone. Immediate repair of damages Damages to dikes, over-flows, channels and deviation structures have to be repaired immediately after flooding. The material used for repair of cracks should be taken downstream of the damage to avoid creating holes. After applying the material, good compacting is necessary. Damages in the alimentation channels, on the upper level of the retention basin and downstream of the over-flow, should be repaired with stones, up to a minimum depth of 20 cm.

A new tabia under construction with a well-designed over-flow. (Photo: Herman Verlodt)


Repair of gullies of rodents/animals Gullies created by rodents are often the starting point of breakdown and should be made watertight by filling up with soil regularly. Development and conservation of vegetation in the aquifer zones of the system In the zones of water flow (base of the dikes, alimentation channels, base of the over-flow, evacuation zones of the diversion dikes, zone just upstream of the retention zone) it is best to develop or protect natural vegetation such as grasses (Cynodon dactylon â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Bermuda grass - is an excellent protection) and small shrubs. Prevent soil works in the flooding zone Soil works need to be excluded in the flow channels in the catchment area and in a 20-metre zone just upstream of the retention basin as well as in the evacuation channel just downstream of the over-flows. Prevent access to dikes and over-flows to people as well as to livestock It is very important to observe the system during flooding to detect the weak points and preserve the dike by improvement and maintenance works at these points.

Exploitation for wood production In Tunisia, tabias are mostly used for fruit trees (olive, fig, almond, apricot and others) and for vegetables and pasture, but tabias can also be used for wood production. The best examples are found in the Negev desert in southern Israel where on similar structures, wood production is realised. Table 1 and 2 show results of experiments with trees. Table 1: Results in a tabia, 42 months after planting


Stem diameter (cm)

Height (m)

Eucalyptus occidentalis



Eucalyptus camaldulensis



Acacia salicina



Casuarina glauca



Detail of an over-flow with a ploughed retention basin in the background. (Photo: Herman Verlodt)

Miti January-March 2011

The principal dike of this tabia is being eroded by people and livestock as they pass. At a certain moment, the dike will be so low as to allow passage of water during a flood, and it will be washed away. (Photo: Herman Verlodt)

Table 2: Biomass production in tonnes of dry matter / ha, 35 months after planting





Acacia salicina

10 t

12 t

22 t

Eucalyptus occidentalis

15 t

15 t

30 t

Table 3: Tree species tried out successfully for silvi-pastoral exploitation of tabias in Tunisia


Non leguminous

Acacia ciliata

Atriplex halimus

Acacia cyanophylla

Atriplex nummularia

Acacia horrida

Eucalyptus sticklandii

Acacia salicina

Eucalyptus torquata

Acacia victoria

Eucalyptus occidentalis

Cassia sturtii

Eucalyptus camaldulensis

Casuarina glauca

Myoporum serratum

Ceratonia siliqua Prosopis chilensis Leucaena leucocephala

It has also been noticed that to obtain good results without too many shortcomings, tabias should be constructed before the rainy season and observed during the first flooding. If no major faults are observed, plantation and exploitation can be done directly after this.

Two neighbouring tabias with a view on overflow (reinforced with stones) and lateral dike.

Miti January-March 2011

All the pictures shown in this article were taken in Tunisia in areas with annual rainfall of approximately 100mm. The writer is a former professor of the University of Tunis, Tunisia and a researcher specialising in horticulture and irrigation techniques Email: or


Tapping into seasonal water flows

Weirs are an inexpensive way of providing water all year round in drylands By Erik Nissen-Petersen and Jan Vandenabeele

This is another article in our series on small and cost-effective ways of obtaining water in drylands. In Miti issue 5, we established that there is water in drylands. After that, we have written on: - Digging for water in dry riverbeds - Shallow wells - Sub-surface dams


eirs are watertight structures built across flowing streams, dry sandy riverbeds and gullies. Weirs create underground sand reservoirs with water that are recharged with floodwater created by run-off rainwater. Weirs may become perennial water sources provided their storage capacity is sufficiently large and without leaks. A weir can be constructed using various designs and materials. At its simplest, it can be a wall of soil supported on both sides with plastic sacks or gunny bags filled with soil and a spillway at one end or in the middle of the dam wall. It can equally be a wall of rubble stones across a dry riverbed, eventually mortared together with a spillway in the middle of the wall. When it rains, the underground water reservoir is replenished by floodwater. A hand-dug well for extraction of water can be sunk upstream of the weir, preferably in the riverbank where the sand and water is deepest. Sometimes weirs are built across gullies for sand harvesting; sand is carried to a weir by floodwater and settles at the bottom of the gully due to its weight and reduced water velocity while surplus water overflows the weir. When the level of sand reaches the height of the weir, it is ready to be extracted and sold for construction works. This turns an erosion problem into a cash income opportunity. More benefits can be gained from deep gullies where the deposits of sand can turn a weir into a low sand dam that might hold some water which can be extracted from a waterhole or a hand-dug well.


Many simple and low-cost weirs have been constructed by farmers, sometimes on a temporary basis, as the structure is liable to be swept away in the rainy season, if inadequately designed and constructed. Farmers use the

A view of the weir walls under construction.

harvested water for domestic purposes as well as for small-scale irrigation of vegetables and fruit trees. They harvest the water using buckets or small petrol-powered pumps. Larger weirs can be used to divert floodwaters for large-scale seasonal irrigation of farmland situated at a lower elevation. An example of this is a concrete weir constructed in the 1950s by Mau Mau prisoners across Voi riverbed. Water supply was regulated by opening a gate covering a hole in the weir, after which the water passed to a canal in the fields. The diagram above shows a longitudinal profile combined with a three-dimensional view of a weir built on an underground dyke and stretching across the riverbed. A hand-dug well is situated at the deepest part of the riverbed and upstream of the weir. Hand-dug wells can be constructed with a streamlined wellhead in the riverbed itself but are safer from floods when sunk in riverbanks. The dam reservoir is nothing more than the accumulated layers of sand brought in and saturated with water by floods. The floor under the sand must be watertight, like murram, clay or solid rock (free of fractures, fissures and boulders).

Miti January-March 2011

The diagram also shows the raised water level in the accumulated layers of sand, perhaps after just one heavy rain shower due to the inevitable siltation prevalent in the Kenyan drylands. Siltation consists of soil particles carried downstream by rainwater flowing across farmland without adequate soil conservation structures. Siltation on a big scale is a worrying phenomenon, even shortening the life span of major infrastructure works like the hydroelectric dams on the Tana River. Year after year, sand and silt accumulate at the bottom of the dams存 thereby diminishing the volume of water that can be stored for producing electricity. When the dams do not contain enough water to turn turbines, expensive diesel-powered emergency generators take over, resulting in substantial increases in the cost of electricity and goods produced by electricity. This illustrates the direct link between improper land care and the monthly bill customers pay to the Kenya Power & Lighting Co Ltd. The diagram shows another important detail; downstream of the weir, boulders and large rocks are placed against the wall of the weir. Why? Because the force of floodwater passing over a weir tries to remove the sand from the downstream side of the weir, thereby undermining the weir and making it collapse. The boulders should be held together with concrete to keep them in place in the event of violent flooding. Otherwise, the weir can be washed away together with all the sand and water, leaving the hand-dug well dry until a new weir is built. Never underestimate the force of water.

Case study ASAL Consultants Ltd built a weir across the Talek River in Maasai Mara in 2005. The twowing wall weir has a total length of 18 metres. Materials used were crushed stones (15 tonnes), hard core (40 tonnes), river sand (15 tonnes), cement (105 bags), barbed wire (12.5g, two rolls of 25kg each) and water (50 drums). This was transported by a trailer hauled by a tractor (17 loads). Human resources included the services of a surveyor/designer (six days), a supervisor (12 days), a contractor with his team (three artisans, four trainees and 10 workers for 24 days).The total cost in 2005 was Ksh 224,400, of which 23 per cent was community contribution. A 60cm wide trench was dug into the firm soil of the dyke, across the riverbed and into the riverbanks. A small stream of water in the riverbed was diverted over the trench in PVC pipes, while a petrol pump sucked water out of the trench as it was being excavated to a final depth of 60cm into solid and impermeable soil.

Miti January-March 2011

Plan and profile of the Talek weir (in mm)

Reinforcing the weir with strands of barbed wire.

The trench was then reinforced with two double lines of barbed wire 30 cm apart after which the trench was filled with concrete packed with rubble stones. Above the riverbed, large flat stones were mortared onto the concrete to form the outside shuttering of the dam walls to a height of 60cm. The space between shuttering of stones was filled with concrete, rubble stones and strands of barbed wire. When the wall was completed, the PVC pipes were removed and their holes sealed. (As one can see, building a weir is a simple operation to which communities can contribute labour and local materials and build the structure in less than a month. The choice of structure (well, subsurface dams, weir or sand dam) and the exact location of the structure require probing of the riverbeds to locate the deepest point for a well, and, the shallowest point for a dam wall downstream of the well. If this is not done properly, then

A view of the completed weir.

the investment will be wasted. But if executed correctly, inexpensive water for drinking, livestock and irrigation can be available all year round, even in the difficult environment of ASAL. All photos and diagrams by Erick Nissen- Peterson

More detailed information is available at Erik Nissen-Petersen is a consultant on water in ASAL Email: and Jan Vandenabeele is the Executive Director of Better Globe Forestry Email:


A glue for drylands

Hagar and other non-wood forest products could increase productivity of ASAL By Francis Gachathi


he tree Commiphora holtziana (synonym C. erythraea) is the source of the gum resin known as hagar. This article of commerce has been in use for centuries as an ingredient in incense, perfumes and for embalming and fumigations. The tree grows to a height of about six metres and has smooth, whitish to yellowish or bluish grey, peeling bark. It forms a dominant and conspicuous element of the vegetation over large areas in northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia and also occurs in Arabia. Its local names include haggersu (Borana), agarsu (Gabra) and haggar (Somali). Hagar is the oily resin exudate from the stems and branches of Commiphora holtziana. It oozes out and hardens to form lumps of various sizes and shapes with variable colour from yellow to dark brown or black. It is more often confused with myrrh, which is similar and closely related and sometimes referred to as â&#x20AC;&#x153;sweet myrrhâ&#x20AC;?. However, unlike myrrh, which is restricted to only a few sites in Wajir and Mandera, hagar has a much wider distribution and has the highest volume of commercial gum resins traded in northern Kenya drylands. It occurs in Wajir, Mandera, Moyale, Marsabit, Isiolo and Garissa, forming very extensive almost pure stands in some areas like Garba Tula, Tarbaj, El-Wak and Benane. It does best on well-drained red sandy soils, between 20 - 1100 metres above sea level with 220 - 630 mm annual rainfall. Traditionally, hagar is used by the Borana and Somali communities as an acaricide against cattle ticks, mites and fleas. It is used to treat mange, scabies, foot rot, wounds and other livestock ailments as well as snake and scorpion bites. The wood is used to make various containers, camel bells and boards for Quranic writings. The bark is used to prepare a preservative and dye while leaves provide useful fodder for livestock. Commercially, hagar is a well-established herbal medicine, a source of essential oils and is used in cosmetics. It is mainly exported to China, Hong Kong, Germany and France. A number of companies process hagar for export and for local consumption. Hagar is tapped using specially designed axes, just like myrrh. Experienced tappers collect up to 8 kg per day in the peak season (June to October) and the total volume collected in a month


Collecting hagar from Commiphora holtziana near Griftu, Wajir.

could go up to 160 kg per person. It is collected in a tin or plastic container and stored in gunny bags with polythene lining to minimise loss of the volatile oil. It is then sold to shopkeepers in local trading centres at prices ranging from Ksh 30 60 per kg. The local traders sell the same at a profit to gum traders who could be agents of yet other gums traders who re-pack the gum in fresh bags ready for export or for some industries in Nairobi. Over 2,000 tonnes of raw hagar from northern Kenya drylands are estimated to be exported annually. Hagar, like other gum resins, falls into the category of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) renewable resources that could be exploited sustainably for household income and still conserve biological diversity and ecosystem functions while increasing overall productivity of the land. Sustainable forest utilisation guarantees that goods and services will continue to be provided from the

forest ecosystem under environmental, social and economic parameters. These goods and services can serve as raw materials for enterprises based on them, thus providing employment opportunities that in turn uplift the socio-economic status of the local pastoralist communities. This is especially important for Kenyaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s drylands where alternative resources for supporting livelihood are few, given the difficult environment of scant and erratic rainfall. One advantage about these resources is their ability to produce marketable products in the dry season when forage is scarce, thereby allowing the communities to be occupied in a meaningful economic activity. All photos by KEFRI

The writer is a plant taxonomist at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute

Miti January-March 2011

Uganda timber market report for 3rd quarter 2010 By Peter Bahizi

Table 1 shows average timber prices as stated by timber dealers in Jinja and Kampala in the third quarter of 2010. Generally, prices for locally produced timber species steadily went up while the price of timber sourced from Congo slightly went down in relation to the second quarter.

Fig 1: Price trend for pine

Table 1: Current retail prices for selected timber species and sizes



Average Price

(inch x inch x foot )



Poles 4-6 inches


(Ksh 68)


12 x 1 x 14


(Ksh 198)


4 x 3 x 14


(Ksh 500)


12 x 1 x 14


(Ksh 482)


12 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 620)

6 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 224)


6 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 590)


4 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 462)

12 x 1x 14


(Ksh 1,000)

12 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 1,550)


12 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 1,724)


8 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 1,379)

6 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 682)


12 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 2,050)


12 x 2 x 18


(Ksh 2,517)

12 x 1 x 14


(Ksh 1,379)


12 x 2 x 14


(Ksh 1,550)

12 x 1 x 14


(Ksh 682)

Figure 2: Price trend for kirundu

Kampala retail prices, 3rd quarter 2010 (Source: SPGS)

Figures 1-3 show the price trends of major species traded in Uganda in recent years, based on dealers’ retail prices in Kampala. In the case of pine and Eucalyptus, the prices went up. The increase was attributed to low supply that did not meet the existing demand .The dealers anticipate a possible increase in prices as these species are sourced from National Forestry Authority (NFA) central forest reserves, which are soon being exhausted. In the case of kirundu (Antiaris toxicaria), the price had gone down drastically. This was attributed to illegal logging in the natural belts, resulting into excessive supply, as well as a slow down in the construction industry where this timber is mostly used for shuttering. The prices for mvule (Milicia excelsa), mahogany (Khaya and Entandrophragma spp.) and nkalati (Chrysophyllum albidum) went slightly down. This is attributed to the low demand for these species. It is worth noting that in the third quarter of the year, activity in the construction industry is normally low, hence a decreased demand for most timber species. Most traders anticipate a sharp increase in the prices of these species due to the growing competition for DRC timber from the timberstarved Kenyan market.

Miti January-March 2011

Figure 3: Price trend for mahogany


The market for Eucalyptus poles With government plans for rural electification and the increasing demand from neighbouring countries, new and great opportunities are emerging for Eucalyptus farmers. To support this, five pole treatment plants are operational, spread across the country. This presents an opportunity, not only at present but also in the future. So why not join the business by planting trees! The current pole treatment plants are: Busoga Forest Company in Jinja Nile Ply in Nakasongola New Forest Company in Mityana Ferdsult Ltd in Mukono Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (UEDCL) in Kampala The plants are very keen on the quality of the poles they buy, hence farmers need to adhere to appropriate silvicultural practices. The quality issues concern the following: Height - the pole should be at least 11 metres. Diameter - 180 mm for 11-metre poles and 190 mm for 12-metre poles. Straightness - the poles should have less than 5 cm deviation from a straight line. The poles should have few dead knots. The poles should have less than 1 cm deep mechanical injury. Table 2 shows the current buying prices of seasoned poles and the resale prices for treated poles as reported by the different pole treatment plants operators.It shows that the price of a pole more than doubles after treatment. Figure 4 shows the price trends of Eucalyptus poles in Uganda over the past three years. The prices were slightly constant but have steadly risen in the past two years.

Table 2: Current retail prices for treated and untreated Eucalyptus poles for different sizes


Price (Seasoned )

Price (Treated )











175 200




(Source: SPGS) Figure 4: Price trend for Eucalyptus poles (Source: SPGS)

(Source: SPGS)

This has been as a result of competition as new players venture into the pole treatment business. It is anticipated that the prices will go higher due to the introduction of UNRA’s weigh-bridges which have seen the maximum tonnage reduced, as well as growing demand from the new players that have joined the pole treatment sector.

Consultants when they carried out a study of Timber Markets for SPGS earlier in 2010 and is now carrying out the regional survey updates for SPGS. Any readers with market information or market-related questions should contact Peter at SPGS: email This article was first printed in the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) newsletter No 30 of Dec 2010 – Feb 2011. It was been reprinted by the kind permission of SPGS. Website: www.

The writer is a Plantation Officer Trainee with SPGS. He worked closely with Unique Forestry

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Mukau: A Kenyan drylands tree with a bright future

George Mayanja

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Miti January-March 2011

Better Globe Forestry Ltd

Making Africa greener

Making Africa greener Better Globe Forestry (BGF) is part of The Better Globe Group from Norway, which focuses on the need to fight poverty through promoting massive tree planting and sustainable agricultural programmes. BGF’s vision is to create secure commercial projects with vital humanitarian and environmental activities and as a result become the biggest tree planting company in the world within 20 years.

Land in Kiambere before planting. Note the omnipresent soil erosion

The mission of BGF is to make Africa a greener, healthier place in which to live and eradicate poverty by focusing on the development of profitable, commercial tree plantations that will deliver environmental as well as humanitarian benefits. Miti magazine is a publication of Better Globe. It is the policy of BGF to, among other things:  Create attractive financial opportunities for present and future investors, Continuously identify and address the needs of employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, the community at large and any other stakeholders,  Focus on the need to help fight poverty, through promoting massive tree planting  Create and sustain motivation throughout the organisation for meeting its business objectives,  Continuously maintain and review an effective and efficient Quality System which as a minimum satisfies the requirements of the appropriate Quality System standard(s),  Continuously improve the performance of all aspects of the organisation.

Workers clearing a thicket in Nyangoro in preparation for tree planting

Our nursery at Kiambere

A two-year-old plantation of Melia volkensii in Kiambere

Workers in BGF’s plantation in Kiambere, after receiving a food donation

A Melia volkensii plus -tree part of our genetic improved programme

Preparing for planting in Kiambere

The committee of Witu Nyongoro ranch with Rino Solberg and Jean-Paul Deprins

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Let’s plant trees Information on profitable tree growing and maintenance in Kenya They can contribute more to national development Coura Afr...

MITI 9  

Let’s plant trees Information on profitable tree growing and maintenance in Kenya They can contribute more to national development Coura Afr...