The PELIS Factor
– Peter Wainaina’s focus is on the fresh Irish potatoes he has just harvested. He assembles them into a 90-kilogramme bag while sorting out the unmarketable ones like sliced and tiny tubes. He lives on a small plot of land in Njabini, 600 metres away from a farm in Aberdares forest, west central Kenya, where he has been growing this fast-maturing crop for the past three months.
Communities living in forest ranges depend mainly on farming to raise household incomes and feed their families. Some locals own less than two acres. Others, who include domestic migrants in search for a better avenue of income, access land through rental or leasehold agreements. “I harvest not less than 60 bags of potatoes per acre in the forest farm. This is four times what I get from a quarter of an acre back home,” says Wainaina who harvests an average of 15 bags from his plot.
A bag sells between Sh 1,200 (USD $11.8) and Sh 2,000 (USD$19.7) depending on the season. Fetching better prices is a major problem since brokers largely dominate the crop market. Nevertheless, these returns constitute the backbone of survival for households. The focus must to be to raise productivity to increase earnings. This is where the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS), a community participation programme to promote forest conservation while enhancing food security, comes into the picture. .
PELIS is a Kenyan government scheme recognised under the Forest Act (2005), managed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Its implementation targets communities with access to the forest for short-term cultivation and ensures achievement of the 10 per cent forest cover target as provided for in the Constitution. The regulations stipulate the creation of CFAs which draws membership from communities living adjacent to forests. Only members one can benefit from PELIS.
Wainaina is one of the 300-member Aberdares CFA which has been operating since 2011. Now, he is a happy father able to comfortably meet the expenses for his two children in high school. “I don’t know how possible it could be for me to raise Sh 60,000 (USD $ 591) a term without this enhanced productivity. Combined harvests from the forest farm and my plot are enough to pay their fees, buy food supplements and save at least Sh 2, 000,” he noted.
The CFAs enter into an agreement with the KFS so that members proactively protect the forest against any destruction, including forest fires, illegal logging and burning logs for charcoal. Members become the watchdogs of the forest reinforcing the vigilance of forest guards. Under PELIS, KFS is bound by law to allocate CFA members acres of land where commercial trees have been harvested by industrial timber traders. The farmers are allowed to intercrop short-term crops such as Irish potatoes, beans, maize and green peas with tree saplings for a period of three to four years.
KFS provides farmers with the certified tree seedlings for replenishment. During the cropping duration, farmers strictly take care of trees as this is an obligation under the CFA-KFS agreement. “I have seen many lives changed through PELIS,” says Anne Wanyoike, chairperson of the Aberdares CFA. “Some of our members are landless. They have rented houses around to do business. I am happy they have progressed. Some have bought motorbikes for business and others expanded their enterprises,” she reveals further. The scheme guarantees households access to a balanced diet since farmers have surplus for sell and purchase of nutritious food, she added.
“We summon a meeting to ballot soon after KFS informs us of the available land. If you choose a Yes ticket you win for the season and No means waiting for the next season. Each member agrees on the portion he or she needs,” Wanyoike.explains. The forest land is exceptionally cheap and highly productive due to fertile soils compared to private rent. An acre in Njabini, where Wainaina and Wanyoike reside, goes for between Sh 8,000 and Sh 10,000 (USD $98.6) Meanwhile a member pays Sh 125 (USD 1.2) for a quarter an acre to KFS through the CFA, doubles the amount to farm on a half of the acre. An acre goes for Sh 500 (USD $4.9).
PELIS, which rolled out in 2007, is pivotal to ending food insecurity in the country according to Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).The scheme generates annual revenues of Sh 14 billion based on its own estimates. Simiyu Wasike, deputy director in charge of Plantation and Enterprise at KFS says the scheme has been instrumental in making farmers millionaires. He said there are more than 150 CFAs in the country with a total membership exceeding 11,000. “We have CFAs which have formed Saccos and cooperatives and they are exporting their produce,” he says.
By 2013, a total of 9,939 hectares were under PELIS, a tremendous increase from 2,933 hectares according to available data from KEFRI. Wasike says PELIS offers a 75 per cent survival rate for the seedlings, thereby effective in increasing forest cover. However, more sensitisation is necessary to recruit more members into the scheme since many living adjacent to the forests are unaware of the benefits and significance of joining the CFA, as the officer indicated.