The rains are torrential and the crumbling structure of Gladys Wamuhu’s kitchen is no match for the deluge. Inevitably, the water floods in and a rush of mud and debris sweeps through her home. It’s a strange place for one to find hope, and yet, amidst the downpour and floodwater, there it is. Not just in Gladys’ eyes, but in those of her three children and the two orphans she selflessly cares for.
Gladys has just become a partner farmer with Trees for the Future. Over the next two years, her life will change dramatically.
Like most of the 7,000 other people in her community, Gladys gets the majority of her income from her one dairy cow. By milking it each morning and afternoon, she has the potential to earn nearly ten dollars a day. However, each month she spends around 65% of her profits buying seven 200-pound bags of cattle feed. At the end of the day, there’s not much left for her family or her degrading farm.
But that’s all about to change.
As a partner farmer in the Trees for the Future’s Forest Garden program, Gladys will join millions of other livestock owners across Sub-Saharan Africa in growing a simple and scalable Forest Garden system.
By growing thousands of trees, not only will Gladys be able to replace expensive cattle feed with nutritious fodder grown on her own farm, but her animal will be healthier and produce more milk.
With the generous support of the Addax and Oryx Foundation, Trees for the Future is training 325 families in the Ikinu area how to grow and maintain a Forest Garden. These gardens will produce a diverse set of plant species, including “fodder trees,” whose leaves and branches can be harvested again and again for decades.
The multifaceted approach of the Forest Garden system enables farmers to address many of their needs simultaneously. Through the use of contouring techniques, Gladys has learned to plant her fodder trees strategically to limit erosion on her sloping farm. Meanwhile, other farmers are lining the borders of their properties with these trees. In addition to the benefits they provide in terms of livestock feed and erosion protection, fodder trees create living fences that protect farms from storms and pests.
The popular fodder-producing agroforestry trees in the uplands of Kenya include Calliandra calothyrsus, a tree that is naturalized in the region and contains 22% protein in its leaves, as well as the Sesbania species, whose leaves are preferred food for livestock. Other popularly grown plants include the local species “muthatha” and a bush referred to as “mulberry,” both of which are highly nutritious for cattle.
For Gladys, success will come through using these trees to minimize her cattle feed costs. In doing this, she frees up income to further diversify her farm. While she currently grows a field of coffee, it isn’t profitable. Gladys may not know exactly how she’s part of a global supply chain, and that her inability to profitably sell coffee is linked to what happens to the markets in Brazil, but she certainly knows that 40 shillings per kilogram of raw beans is insultingly low. Through diversifying her farm, she’ll be able to profit on other crops while she awaits the price of coffee to rise once more.
The Forest Garden program, as with anything worth doing, is not complete overnight. But Gladys patience will pay great dividends for her family and her farm.
After participating in the program for a year she will be able to completely replace the cost of animal feed and more than double her net revenue. By the second year she’ll have a stable enough source of fodder to support a second cow, enabling her to double production of her key source of income.
And for the long term? Gladys plans to add thousands of fodder trees to her farm, along with vegetables and macadamia nut trees, which have seen a growing demand in the region. A graduate of the Trees for the Future vegetable growing workshop, Gladys is now growing cabbage, kale, spinach, and sweet pepper on her farm. Though most of it will go towards feeding her family, she plans to sell the surplus.
The ever-increasing demand for milk, cheese, and yogurt in Kenya, paired with the diverse sales of vegetables and macadamia nuts, allows Gladys to meet her family’s subsistence needs and profit from additional market opportunities.
Through the Trees for the Future Forest Garden program, Gladys has been empowered to take control of her family’s future. Considering that, it’s no wonder it’s going to take more than a little rain to extinguish the hope in her heart.