What you need to know:
- On this 50 by 100 farm, more than 50 women are independently taking the tree seedling venture as an alternative source of income.
- In the past, the women, the majority hailing from Loikas village, were known for illicit brew trade and consumption.
It is 10am and a number of women are busy watering and weeding the Samburu Women Tree Nursery in Maralal, Samburu County.
Few are carrying babies on their backs as they work. Others occasionally stand upright and stretch as they take deep breaths.
Most parts of Samburu are hot and dry. But on this small farm just a kilometre from Maralal town centre, the environment is green and the air is fresh. A stranger would think it receives adequate rainfall throughout the year, only to learn that Samburu is prone to drought.
On this 50 by 100 farm, more than 50 women are independently taking the tree seedling venture as an alternative source of income. In the past, the women, the majority hailing from Loikas village, were known for illicit brew trade and consumption.
They resolved to rewrite their story by shunning harmful economic practices. They have since formed a group called Songoroi Women's Group. They grow tree seedlings purely for sale.
Alice Alaini, 50, tells Nation.Africa that she started growing tree seedlings in 2014 after illicit brews caused severe suffering to her family.
She says growing tree seedlings "is easier and cheaper" and they earn a living while combating the fallout from climate change.
“I have found peace since I stopped brewing local drinks in 2014," Ms Alaini says.
“This venture is really good because I am earning little money while conserving our environment.”
She is a mother of seven and depends entirely on this "green business" to pay her bills.
Most women here do not buy seeds from agrovets. They go for seeds that have fallen on different paths and rummage for others in nearby Kirisia Forest.
Ms Alaini, for instance, wakes up early at least once a week and wades through wetlands and forests to get fallen seeds. She prepares seedling bags from locally available resources, either waste sacks or milk packets.
“I do not necessarily buy seeds. In fact, we do not buy them. We collect a variety of seeds from forests and wetlands. It is not easy to get them," she says.
She has over 2,000 seedlings of different tree species in her nursery. She sells a single seedling for between Sh20 and Sh500 depending on the species. The government allocated the whole farm to them.
Alimlim Lokipes, 35, regrets spending most of her life brewing illicit drinks in Loikas. She is reformed and now supports her family by growing and selling tree seedlings.
“It is a venture I am enjoying because I cannot compare it with [what i did in] the past. I interact with customers who are sober," she remarks, facetiously. “It is a clean venture.”
A nursery space of three metres is enough to enable her to earn and provide for her family, including paying school fees. She, however, notes that she spends much time on managing the nurseries because some three species are delicate.
“They require water during dry seasons. Drought is a major problem here. The major advantage of practising this project is that they do not require fertilisers and are not prone to attacks of pests.”
They use a borehole to water their seedlings during the dry season. Besides reaping from their new venture, they support the government's ambitious target of planting at least 15 billion trees by 2032, which would translate into 30 per cent of forest cover in the country.
With Samburu being vulnerable to the effects of climate change, most schools, health centres and other public entities are rushing to buy and plant tree seedlings from the Songoroi women as part of mitigation measures.
The government in early April announced a tree planting exercise, which it termed a remedy for the devastating impacts of climate change. Forestry officials said the government will plant at least five billion trees in the next five years, and an additional 10 billion by 2032, to reach the 15 billion mark.
The Songoroi women are aware of the tree planting drive and believe they will reap big if the government implements its plans. “We sometimes struggle to find a market for our seedlings. If they actualise the plan, we hope to make big sales," says Ms Lokipes.