Drylands Natural Resources Centre

Our mission is to combat soil degradation and poverty in Kenya's drylands by enabling farmers to invest in reforestation using drought-resistant indigenous tree species.
Feb 25, 2013

DNRC Feb 2013 Report: Forestry Director Zach Engelking Conducts Field Assessment.

Zach Engelking with the Kyooni Group, Feb 2013
Zach Engelking with the Kyooni Group, Feb 2013

Zach Engelking Conducts Three-Week Field Assessment

The DNRC's Director of Forestry and Community Resource Development, Zach Engelking, has just returned from three weeks on the ground in Mbumbuni, where he evaluated the health of the organization and the community across many parameters. 

His overall findings were encouraging. The DNRC is operating well and our staff are performing heroics with the limited resources available to them. The health and growth of the trees planted over the last five years is very strong, and Zach was able to provide our members with the first trainings they have ever received in how to prune and manage their new tree assets. Members are beginning to see real economic benefits from harvesting their trees.

We face serious financial challenges however. We have now expanded our reach to almost 400 farmers, and are reaching the limit how many people we are able to serve without a main office and more staff. We are working to secure larger grants from the Rotary Club and others to supplement our GlobalGiving campaign, but if any of you are able to contribute further to the organization, it would be much appreciated.

So please, promote this project to your friends and family and encourage them to support us!

Zach's expertise is in forestry and resources management. And perhaps some of you are interested in the more technical side of what we teach our members and how we track their progress. As such, in this report I'd like to highlight in detail some of the excellent work Zach has done over the last few weeks in improving the scientific sophistication and effectiveness of our forestry program. He has has set in place Research, Measurement and Evaluation (RME) procedures to track tree survival and growth, and introduced new training sessions for members on how to properly prune and manage more mature trees. The initial round of trees we planted five years ago are now reaching the size and maturity that members can begin responsibly pruning them for firewood and charcoal, and Zach has been teaching them how.

Research, Measurement, and Evaluation

Research plots give us the ability to track the growth rate of different woodlots while monitoring a variety of important environmental factors. The DNRC will be revisiting and collecting data from each research plot every year or two. This will allow for better insight into how the members are managing their forest resource. In turn, it will give us the information necessary to quantify our achievements and continually improve our management strategy.

We will be introducing research plots referred to as "fixed area plots". Zach developed this model over the 5 years he spent managing similar plots for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest Research Station in Forest Inventory and Analysis with the US Forest Service. A similar approach is used by the world’s largest forest inventory.

We get permission from our members to establish a permanent plot center with a piece of rebar a meter long that is pounded into the ground. We instruct the property owner not to touch and then still mark it with a GPS unit. On a plot card we record the GPS coordinates, elevation, the aspect of the plot in degrees (direction in degrees of where the slope faces ), the % slope, the history of the land uses, the management goals of our member, time of the year the data is collected, the cover type (is it agriculture land cover in corn and beans or a riparian area or a buffer zone, etc), and we draw a map of what the members property/shamba looks like. This is all vital information in looking at how the landscape has changed over time. This, coupled with questionnaire evaluating the social-economic status of our members, will be vitally important in showing where they were and where they stand after developing a resource based woodlot.

Training in Tree Pruning

In Zach's own words:

"Over my three weeks in Kenya I met with the 7 different groups: Maiuni, Ivumbu, Kimandi, Kyooni, Kalimani, Kivani, and Nduuni. I held lectures and hands-on demonstrations on proper pruning techniques. My objective was to be sure the members were performing proper pruning techniques that improve the quality, productive value, and overall health of the tree. I purchased hand pruners, pruning saws, pool pruners, and pool saws for the members to have. They need more saws, but I provided enough saws for each group to have a couple to share amongst each other. The main things I focused on, so as not to overwhelm the members, was dealing with just proper structural pruning, making clean cuts, and fruit tree pruning. With proper structural pruning I discouraged them from topping and coppicing their fuel wood and timber species. I encouraged them to do pollarding instead to manage their fuel wood species.

For small saplings of timber species I focused mainly on the removal of the weaker co-dominant leads until their timber species reach 1 inch or greater in diameter. At all stages of maturity it is good to only have one dominate leader for timber species. I observed that some were pruning too much and too early for timber production. This was in turn reducing the rate of growth, creating poor trunk tapper, and making the trees weak and top heavy. I made it known that when the trees reach 1 inch or greater at breast height they should only be pruning ¼ of the lower branches per year. I found it better to let the trees get established first before you start reducing the crown.This is not to say you shouldn’t prune for form (straightness) and shape (vertical vs horizontal growth) early on because the earlier the better it is for a tree to correct itself. For instance in the case of fruit trees you will want to start training them early for best results. I have observed the problem of over pruning in other organizations who have invested heavily in growing timber. The trees were left with less than 20% crown cover when it should have been more like 50%.

Instead of improving the growth of the trees (which it can if done properly), overpruning stunts tree growth, which ends up taking away from the productive value. Trees need good taper for a structural reasons and branching can help with this. If we remove the lower branches too early or we take out too much we will find our trees will not get good diameter growth and they may start to bow or sweep from being too top heavy. This is not to say we shouldn’t prune for timber because removing the lower branches is necessary. It is needed in order for us to get good veneer quality logs without knots affiliated with heavy branching. When trees reach saw log size the pith in the center takes up most of the area where we would be worried about knots forming. So that is why I said we should wait until the trees are between 1-4 inches in diameter before we start pruning for quality timber.

I emphasized pruning during the dry season and removing sprouts, dead/damaged/diseased branches, crossing branches, and inward growth toward the trunk. I recommended cutting back competing branches from other trees in favor of trees that are timber species. I focused on pruning for light and air penetration, especially on their fruit trees. I instructed them how to establish about 6 inch spacing between branches for better fruit production. I stressed the importance of removing vertical branching on their fruit trees in order to encourage more horizontal growth. While on their timber species they are to prune to encourage straight vertical growth. I showed them the steps involved in the 3 point cutting method needed to remove heavy branches to avoid peeling the bark and damaging the trunk. I instructed them on where the branch collar is and how to not cut into it.

These tree care techniques are extremely important for our members to perform from the beginning. This will reduce the maintenance needed on the trees as they get older while improving the structure, health of the trees, and increasing the productive value of their resource. Mwenda was very much able to grasp onto these concepts in such a way that I feel he will be able to follow up with these trainings.I hope upon my next visit that I will see my trainings have come into practice with all of our members.

Our members  told me that they have never been instructed on how to properly prune their trees. I am sure this has a lot to do with the age of their woodlots, resources available, and their access to saws. If members continue to use pongas or machetes on the more mature trees they are sure to not make proper cuts damaging the trees and making them more susceptible to disease and structural issues. This is why it is vitally important for our members to always have access to good pruning equipment."

Example Tree Growth In Last Four Years: 2009-2013
Example Tree Growth In Last Four Years: 2009-2013
Nursery Growth Since Global Giving Campaign Began
Nursery Growth Since Global Giving Campaign Began
Zach Demonstrating Proper Pruning Techniques
Zach Demonstrating Proper Pruning Techniques
Zach Designing Fixed Plot Area Tracking Method
Zach Designing Fixed Plot Area Tracking Method
Nov 26, 2012

DNRC Nov 2012 Report: 30,000 Saplings Distributed!

Extended tree nursery with over 30,000 seedlings
Extended tree nursery with over 30,000 seedlings

Tree sapling planting and distribution

The much awaited rains started to fall at the beginning of November 2012. DNRC was ready with a total of 32,200 tree seedlings (of 22 species) to plant. Immediately after the rains started, our over 300 farmers started coming for the seedlings at our tree nursery, so they could plant them in time to catch the first rains. Within the first week of the rains, we had issued 30,000 seedlings to our ever energized and engaged farmers. Each of the 300 farmers got an average of 100 seedlings. The seedlings cost Kshs each, on average. The farmers were able to pay Kshs 20,000 (US$ 240) immediately. The remaining Kshs 10,000 will be paid in installments over time.

DNRC also donated 100 tree seedlings to Maiuni primary school and 100 to Muthwani secondary school. The schoolchildren come from the same community as our farmers. After learning how to plant and raise trees in school, they will be more motivated to help their parents tend the trees they’ve planted at home. These donations also raise awareness and interest from families who haven’t worked with us yet. So it’s good for the school, good for the DNRC, and good for the families whose children attend the school.

Training and follow-ups

During the quarter, the farmers were trained in a range of forestry and farming techniques, with a focus on how to dig holes for saplings, add manure/ash and get ready for planting. Before the farmers were issued with the tree saplings, their holes were inspected and counted to match the number of seedlings to be issued. This is to make sure that farmers are committed to cultivating the trees (digging holes takes work and only pays off if the trees grow), that the trees have high survival rates, and that the seedlings are issued according to one’s ability to take care of them.

Water harvesting

Three cisterns were funded during the quarter. The beneficiaries were Maiuni Primary School, which is building a food forest that will feed many children and need steady watering, and Mukita Nyolo and Tabitha kanywoki, in recognition for their outstanding woodlots.

DNRC priorities for the next few months

  • Office for DNRC highly needed as we expand more people want to know where we are and also need a place for our staff and our inventory. This wil be the focus of our Christmas/Holiday Season fundraising campaign which we will launch in December.
  • Increasing the number of melia trees given to each farmer to increase income generation from the sale of timber when we start harvesting and marketing.
  • Renovating the tree nursery.
  • Fund raising for staff salaries.
Farmers pick up their seedlings
Farmers pick up their seedlings
Tree nursery sits empty - all seedlings given out
Tree nursery sits empty - all seedlings given out
Tree holes dug, filled with manure and ready to go
Tree holes dug, filled with manure and ready to go
New member
New member's woodlot, inter-planted with pumpkins
Mukita Nyolo and family with new rainwater cistern
Mukita Nyolo and family with new rainwater cistern
Aug 27, 2012

DNRC August 2012 Report: Visitors From the US!

Meeting Over Chai Tea and Chapatis
Meeting Over Chai Tea and Chapatis

Last month the DNRC hosted 14 students and 2 staff from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's Natural Resource Management program, from which I graduated a few years ago, as well as 20 Kenyan students and practitioners. Their four-day field visit was part of the permaculture course that I teach at Nyumbani Village (http://www.nyumbani.org/), a holistic care and teaching community for orphans who lost their parents to HIV.

Our guests were housed by community members, and participated in a range of activities over the four days they were here. Here's a quick overview of their stay, with accompanying pictures:

Day 1, June 8th: The group arrived at the local Primary School at around 3pm, where they were warmly welcomed by school administrators, teachers, community members, pupils and the DNRC staff before touring community members' woodlots.

Day 2, June 9th: Our guests toured more woodlots, led by the DNRC staff, then helped to install two cisterns for capturing rainwater. They donated one of these cisterns themselves; the other was funded by church-based non-profit based near the University of Wisconsin. Not afraid of getting their hands dirty, the group carried sand, gravel, water and prepared the cistern base, which involves digging and leveling the base for the cisterns. The day was crowned with a party full of dancing and singing that was organized by community members.

Day 3, June 10th: Our guests worked in the DNRC tree nursery to clean up and pot planting bags. (Potting involves filling propagation bags with soil). They were able to pot over 3,500 pots in one day, which was a great achievement and help.

Day 4, June 11th : Our guests finished their trip where they arrived - at the local Maiuni primary school. Here they established a food forest by planting fruit trees (passion fruit, papaya, mangoes and citrus) and complementary tree species (acacias, moringa, leucena, and others). They then returned to Nyumbani Village, but not before enjoying a feast provided by the best cooks from the community.

We're very grateful to our guests for all of the help they provided over these four days. They helped moved our project forward, provided clean water for two families, and made many friends in the process.

Thank you for your continued interest and support in our work. I'll be sharing a more detailed report on our progress over the summer in October.

Warm regards,

Nicholas.

Working Together to Install the Cistern
Working Together to Install the Cistern
A Job Well Done
A Job Well Done
Dinner and a Dance
Dinner and a Dance
Potting Saplings in the DNRC Nursery
Potting Saplings in the DNRC Nursery
A Food Forest for Mauni Primary School
A Food Forest for Mauni Primary School
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