by Robert Manyara

On the fringes of Aberdare Forest in central Kenya, at least 50 acres of land are planted with a variety of crops, including potatoes and beans.


With a closer look into the farms, one will notice an intercrop with tree seedlings. In some farms the crops are in flowering stage while in others, the owners are busy harvesting ready for the market.
When farmers dig out the mature potatoes, they are cautious not to hurt any of the seedlings. They are growing the produce in the state land within the forest gazetted zones.
The method is actually the Plantation Establishment for Livelihoods Scheme (PELIS) facilitated under the state organ managing forests — Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
Members of the Aberdare Community Forest Association are among those allocated half an acre of the forest land to practice farming. And they grow potatoes.
The 300 members are drawn from households living near Aberdare Forest, one of the major water towers in Kenya whose waters drain into Lake Naivasha.
“Kenya Forest Service allocates members of a Community Forest Association (CFA) a portion of land in an area where trees have been harvested,” Irene Wanyoike, the chairperson of Aberdare Community Forest Association told Xinhua on Wednesday.
However, as part of the conservation efforts to replenish the forest cover, members of the CFA are supplied with certified tree seedlings, which they plant in the allocated portions and tend to them during cropping.
“We play a great role in conserving the environment around this area. And that is why when we plant the seedlings we work so hard to ensure that they survive,” she noted.
It is a joy for farmers to benefit from the PELIS as some people’s small pieces of land whose productivity is low can now generate enough profits to raise even wealthy families.
Wanyoike said that since 2005, they have been farming on portioned acres producing high volumes of potatoes and thus fetching good returns. And this has significantly improved their living standards.
“We have uplifted our living standards and we are so happy about it. Having a piece of land here (Aberdare Forest) to farm has created employment for us and we are making good profits,” she said.
After the expiry of a three-year period, the farmers would evict from the plot as at this time the trees would have created a canopy and growing crops under their umbrella could be unproductive.
Aberdare Community Forest Association is among more than 150 groups constituted of farmers neighboring forests in Kenya directly benefitting from the PELIS.
The PELIS, which was launched in 2007, allows members of communities living adjacent to the forest crop in an area where trees have been harvested for a period of three to four years.
However, the members have to be associated to a community forest association to benefit from the scheme.
The area under the PELIS increased from 2,933 hectares in 2010/ 2011 financial year to 9,939 hectares in 2012/2013, according to the statistics provided by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).
Among the crops grown under the PELIS include potatoes, maize and beans, whose total monetary value is estimated at 146 million U.S. dollars.
“PELIS is offering communities an economic boom. Many CFAs (Community Forest Associations) are making millions from cultivating in the acres allocated to them,” said Simiyu Wasike, deputy director in charge of Plantation and Enterprise at the Kenya Forest Service.
It is a system promoting food security and better livelihood in the country, and more than 185 CFAs exist in the country summing up to members exceeding 10,000, Wasike says.
The official said the scheme is a driving force in replenishing the forest cover while giving communities an opportunity to enjoy the forests economic benefits.
Trees grown under the PELIS have a 75 percent survival rate, which is good in reforestation programs as observed by KEFRI, which is responsible for conducting research in forest related matters.
Gerald Ngatia, executive director for National Alliance for Community Forest Associations, says successful PELIS is a major boost to hundreds of small scale farmers across the country.
“Not only does PELIS creates jobs for many, but it greatly contributes to food security in the country,” said Ngatia.
“There is need to ensure that all members of the communities living adjacent to the forests have a fair share of the benefits,” he added. Enditem



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