Tips for commercial tree farming

Commercial tree farming
Kenya has about 46,000 acres of land under private tree farming. PHOTO/FILE
For some farmers in Kenya, the statement that money does not grow on trees could not be more untrue as they rake in millions from commercial tree farming.

The beauty of growing trees is that it is not as labour intensive as is with other cash crops in addition to the huge profit margins.

Currently Kenya has approximately 46,000 acres of land under private tree farming for commercial purposes which does not come close to satisfying the huge demand for timber in the construction industry and paper making industry. The government is also in dire need of poles for the rural electrification programme.

The eucalyptus species are the most preferred by most tree farmers since they mature fast and their products have a ready market. They can be sold as timber or poles, while the branches make a good source of fire wood. They also produce high quality charcoal.

The trees are first planted in nurseries then transferred to the farm where they are planted three metres apart. When they are still young, they need the correct fertiliser application and regular weeding to avert development of weak and stunted trees. The best species to invest in are those that do not branch early.

The Kenya Power company remains the largest buyer of eucalyptus trees for use as utility poles. It takes 8 to 10 years for the trees to acquire the height and circumference required for the KPC poles. The company usually buys each pole at Sh15,000. Farmers should however be wary of middle men out to exploit them.

Eucalyptus seedlings cost approximately Sh15 each. An acre can accommodate between 1500 to 2000 trees. After two years, the trees are about 12 feet long and can be sold to local timber yards at Sh2000 each. At three years the trees fetch between Sh3000 and Sh5000 while those aged five sell at between Sh6000 and Sh8000. Those above seven years sell at Sh10,000 and above.

To start eucalyptus farming, one must obtain approval from NEMA offices in order to get the right species for the zone they are in. This is because the trees have a very high rate of water consumption and cannot be planted near wetlands and water sources as they might dry them up in a few years.

The best areas to plant the eucalyptus in Kenya are the highlands which receive an average of 900mm of rainfall per year. Such areas include central Kenya, Kisii, western region, all of Rift Valley and parts of eastern Kenya.

The high rainfall in these areas aids in fast growth of the trees.