Kiambere Plantation

Better Globe Forestry started its first fieldwork in Kenya at the end of 2006, at Katithini village on the shores of Lake Kiambere in eastern Kenya, currently in Kitui County. The land is owned by the Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA), a Kenyan parastatal.

Lake Kiambere is artificial, formed after the construction of a dam to generate electricity, an operation managed by the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen). Tana River, Kenya’s biggest river, feeds the lake. There are four other dams on the same river, all in the area called Seven Forks.

Poverty is high in Kitui County, with 63.5% of the population classified as poor, compared to the national average of 47.2%. (Poverty is defined as living on less than US$ 1.9 per day).

Ecological conditions of the area are typical for semi-arid lands, with potential evapotranspiration higher than 2000mm per year, and mean annual rainfall at 700mm, falling irregularly. Soils are red and sandy, and stony on slopes

A nine-year-old melia stand during the rainy season.

In Kiambere, Better Globe Forestry has mainly planted mukau (Melia volkensii) but has also set aside a small area for neem (Azadirachta indica). The melia has recorded excellent growth, enhanced by the thousands of check-dams constructed in gullies to eliminate soil erosion. Better Globe Forestry’s trials have shown that melia can be planted year-round, provided it receives adequate care and water. Being highly drought-resistant, the species is completely adapted to this environment.

The company employs 100 – 250 people, depending on the season. The workers perform various activities, from seedling production to round-the-clock protection of the plantation. The investment needs to be protected against theft of trees and illegal grazing of livestock that would damage the trees. Better Globe Forestry has worked closely with and shared experiences with the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), the International Centre for Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

Better Globe Forestry is the biggest employer in the Kiambere area. The company injects significant amounts of cash into the countryside through payment of salaries and purchase of inputs like melia fruits. The plantation in this dryland, and its size (300ha), the biggest in Kenya, is seen as a milestone in Kenyan forestry, pioneering the transformation of semi-arid bush land into a commercially valuable investment. The site attracts more and more visitors every year..

Nyonogoro Plantation

This plantation is on a 32,000-hectare ranch in Lamu County, on the northern Kenyan coast. The ranch belongs to the Witu Nyongoro Ranch Directed Agricultural Company Ltd, whose shareholding is made up of members the local communities and the Kenya Government through the Ministry of Livestock. Contacts between Better Globe Forestry and the ranch started as early as March 2007, and a lease agreement for 15,000 hectares was signed in May 2012. However, planting had started on a small scale in 2010, after the approval of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) at the beginning of the same year.

Newly planted seedlings, about two months old, in the rainy season

The ranch, which touches the Malindi-Lamu road, is located some 15 kilometres before Witu town, and some 30 kilometres from the coastline. It’s important to note this, as rainfall diminishes quickly from the coastal strip towards the northern hinterland, transitioning into semi-arid conditions.

The tree nursery is located close to the road, next to Lake Moa, which supplies water. Lake Moa is fed by Tana River and is one of the largest lakes at the edge of the Tana River delta. The lake’s water level fluctuates according to the season, and it is home to a large hippo population.

The area has two rainy and two dry seasons. The rains peak in May, with a smaller quantity falling in November. The dry seasons run from July to October and from December to April, although this may vary.

The area is inhabited by both pastoralists and agriculturalists, although livestock rearing is traditionally the economic mainstay of the region. The area is sparsely populated, and the vegetation is a mosaic of grasslands and thickets, with siwas (depressions) in between. Water collects in the siwas during the rainy season, and to increase their water holding capacity, Better Globe Forestry has deepened some siwas. This water is added to that pumped over several kilometres from the lake, and used for watering seedlings planted during the dry seasons. We plant all year, although more during the rainy seasons.

The land, which lies 15 – 20 metres above sea level, is flat, with some micro-relief, and the soils are sandy loam or loamy sands, with no stones or rocks. These conditions are favourable to mechanisation of operations, such as land clearing, pitting, weed control, and watering. Currently, Better Globe Forestry maintains a fleet of three bulldozers, and eight tractors. The latter is equipped with a variety of implements such as augers (for drilling planting holes), water bowsers with a pump and booms for irrigating seedlings (four at a time), brush cutters, boom sprayers, and trailers.

Some operations like planting and pruning, not to mention seedling production and security, are difficult to mechanise. As such, we employ 60 -120 workers, depending on the season. Better Globe Forestry is the biggest employer in the area. We specialise in the production of Melia volkensii (mukau) in a centralised nursery, with a yearly production capacity of 500,000 seedlings, and have planted 750ha so far.

Melia seedlings in the nursery, ready for planting.

Seven forks Farmers programme

In the Seven Forks Farmers Programme, Better Globe Forestry (BGF) collaborates with smallholder farmers to plant melia trees in their fields. The programme’s geographical location, Seven Forks, is the area around a stretch of Tana River where the Kenya Government has created five artificial lakes for electricity generation. From west to east, these lakes are Masinga, Kamburu, Gitaru, Kindaruma, and Kiambere. The last, of course, is where BGF established its first plantation.

Seven Forks is really the home of Melia volkensii or mukau as the tree is called in the local language. It is a big expanse, over a 100 kilometres long and some 30 kilometres wide, with well over 30,000 farmers.

Location of partner-farmers in the eastern part of Seven Forks. See lake Kiambere in the middle

How does it work?

Farmers are approached through various means, like chief’s barazas (public meetings), through farmer-to-farmer contact, or even through posters put up in public places. Then a first assessment takes place, and the farmer and his farm are judged on several criteria. If positive, the farmer signs a contract with BGF.
In the contract, the farmer agrees to a number of conditions such as spacing, area to be planted, quality care for the seedlings and trees, and in return they receive the seedlings for free, technical training, and a guaranteed market once the trees mature.

This might sound simple, but it requires quite some technical and managerial input and thinking to implement. This agroforestry programme is unique. It involves planting trees at minimum seven metres spacing and allowing food crop production for a number of years.

The programme is executed through an experienced and well-trained team of “agroforestry agents” (AAs). All are stationed in their area of work, spread over Seven Forks, and are fully mobile. Currently, they number 20, and are supervised by a site forester, assisted by a logistical officer. The number of agents is constantly scaled up when necessary.

Each AA in turn is in touch with community representatives – men and women who truly belong to the area and who know their fellow farmers intricately. They are not employed by the company but are paid for services rendered, e.g. per contract signed, or per farmer visit. To help deal with the huge number of farmers, they are encouraged to organise themselves into self-help groups. And to make matters even better, in 2018 the contract signing went digital.

A meeting in Kamuwongo town with farmers and community representatives, on the launch of a competition between Self-Help Groups on tree planting & survival.


The main challenges faced in the programme, are (i) mortality of seedlings, and (ii) respect of the contracts.

  • Seedling mortality Still, even during a rainy season, there are dry spells of sometimes a couple of weeks, which might well contribute to drying of newly planted seedlings. Farmers are trained to counter this through good planting techniques, including adding a mix of fertilising agents in the planting hole, and watering, if possible. The little water available has to be transported by donkey over several kilometres, so watering is not always an option.
    Roaming livestock, notably goats, constitutes another danger. Traditionally after crops are harvested at the beginning of the dry season, herds of livestock are left to roam freely over the farmland. Goats love browsing mukau, devouring its leaves and even the bark. Farmers are urged to fence the land on which the seedlings are planted. Fencing can be done using thorn branches cut/pruned from acacia bushes in the neighbourhood. However, the best protection is through community action where the locals come together and decide what to do regarding free-roaming livestock.
    On top of all the training, and to encourage good practices, BGF organises competitions between farmer groups, and awards the best performers in seedling survival.
    Lastly, to improve survival, the farmer receives replacement seedlings at the beginning of the next rainy season, to fill “the gaps.” Lastly, to approach 100% survival, the farmer is helped with “gapping” the seedlings that died, meaning he receives replacement seedlings in the beginning of the next rainy season, to fill “the gaps”.
  • Respect for the contract with BGF: The other challenge involves respect for the contract with BGF, which stipulates that the trees cannot be sold prematurely or to anybody else. The definition of a mature tree is either 20 years or a diameter at breast height (DBH) of 45cm. Twenty years is a long wait for cash-strapped subsistence farmers, and the temptation to sell off a couple of trees will surely come during the growing period of the trees.
    BGF has identified several ways of limiting this danger. The first is to have a watertight contract, checked by a lawyer, and signed not only by the farmer, but also by the local area chief.
    The second is to stay close to the farmer, giving him services to improve his life, so that he appreciates the company, feels part of it, and is less inclined to cheat it. This is achieved through various means such as assistance in establishing soil and water conservation structures on his land, advice on farm management and even help in marketing some of his harvest. All extension agents have received specialised training on these topics. Access to micro-credit (see relevant page) is also part of this.
    Lastly, once the trees are mature, the farmers will be paid well, at 10% above the market rate, as stipulated in their contract.
    The programme started in the second half of 2015 and some 5,600 farmers have signed the contract so far, 49% of them women. The Kenya Government views the programme positively, as it contributes to achieving 10% tree cover on farms and nationwide.
A farmer proudly displaying a certificate of a Self-Help Group registered with Social Services. Self-Help Groups are an essential vehicle in farmer organization, and get training in various aspects related to tree planting and farm improvement.

Northern Uganda Farmers Programme

Dokolo District is currently the epicentre of our intervention in northern Uganda, with additional tree planting in the adjacent districts of Amolatar (west), Kaberamaido (east), and Alebtong (north-east).

This programme is similar to the Seven Forks Farmers Programme in Kenya, in that Better Globe Forestry (BGF) collaborates with smallholder farmers to plant melia trees in their fields. We started working there at the end of 2017, employing staff, starting the nursery and establishing contacts with the local authorities and Yele Ikom Can Atur Farmers Association (YICAFA). “Yele Ikom Can Atur” means “working hard to deal with poverty, by the local people” in the local Lango language.

Map of Dokolo District Administrative Units

Methodology of work and challenges are similar to the Seven Forks Farmers Programme, but there are some stark differences.

First, the tree species is not the same melia as in the drylands of Kenya, but another – albeit closely related – one: Melia azedarach, called giant lira in Uganda (see “Our Tree Species”). It is produced massively in our nursery in Dokolo township, the district capital. The nursery has an annual production capacity of two million seedlings. We are preparing for the entry, in 2020, of another species, notably teak (also see “Our Tree Species”), which is expected to do equally well, judging from existing woodlots.

Secondly, the ecological context is different. It does RAIN in northern Uganda, unlike in the Kenyan drylands. Mean annual rainfall is around 1200mm, with almost continuous rain from April to October, a dip in June to August, and a pronounced dry season in November to March. Just like in Kenya, rainfall is becoming more unpredictable but conditions in northern Uganda are more agreeable than in our operating areas in Kenya.
Dokolo lies 1000 – 1100 metres above sea level (MASL) in general, while Seven Forks is 700 – 1100 MASL.
The land in northern Uganda is flat and gently rolling with few stony areas, and it is easy to move around. This is important for seedling distribution, and will be significant once the harvesting and transportation of logs start. Due to the relatively abundant rains, seedling survival is higher and the species grows faster. We expect Melia azedarach to take a maximum of 15 years to mature – five years shorter than in Kenya.

Thirdly, the district is at the edge of the region that for years was the operating theatre of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and had to contend with the influx of numerous refugees. This war ended in 2007 with the LRA pushed back into neighbouring countries where some fragments are still said to survive. The whole of northern Uganda is still recovering from this brutal and decades-long insurgency, and as a result, the people of our operational area are even poorer than those in Seven Forks, and that says something.

On the positive side, we work with YICAFA, an active grassroots farmers organisation, under the stimulating leadership of Julius Odwe, a retired senior police officer. Thanks to this collaboration with YICAFA, making good use of local radio stations, and building on our experience in Seven Forks, we were able to make a successful start.

BGF currently employs two foresters, a logistical officer, a nursery technician and five agroforestry agents (AAs) apart from 40 – 50 casual workers in the nursery. As by the beginning of June 2019, some 10,000 farmers were enrolled in the programme.

Many visitors from around Uganda are visiting the nursery, the programme was featured in the national press, and it is set to grow fast.

Martin Eguru, a partner-farmer in Amwona Sub-County, Dokolo District. He planted 160 seedlings in August 2018.

Save some of your money in trees and help reduce poverty

We invite you to make a difference in East Africa and contribute to a better world. Your trees will be managed in an ethical, sustainable, and long-term way. Click on the link to our shop and make a socially responsible purchase today. With us, it is profitable to help others.