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."
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