Potential for on-farm approach in conservation of indigenous tree species among smallholder farmers of Murang'a district, Kenya.
Thuo, Aggrey Daniel Maina
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Today the world suffers from several environmental problems such as resource degradation, which has prominently affected biological diversity. One of such biological resources is indigenous tree species. Currently, their status in many parts of the world especially in developing countries is scarcely known. These trees occured naturally in the world's indigenous forests that are almost gone with only one percent being managed and sustainably utilized. The underlying pressure is caused by increasing population that is characterized by clearance for agriculture, fuel logging, road construction and settlement. This is moreso in high agricultural potential areas such as Murang 'a district. where most indigenous trees and shrubs have disappeared.. The threats to indigenous trees r-c; species in this area, thus necessitated the study to establish the place of indigenous trees in smallholders' social and economic decisions. The study pursued a concept of on-farm conservation of indigenous trees species with a particular .reference to smallholder farmers. It identified the status of on-farm indigenous trees and factors that influence their conservation within farmland. Further, It examined the existing local potential among farmers and within their environment that could be harnessed to promote on-farm conservation. (- In carrying out the study, a questionnaire, an interview schedule and a guide, and an observation record sheet were used to collect data. Data collected were collated, coded and analyzed using SPSS 6.1 Version. Data were analyzed descriptively using multi-response cross tabulations and contingency tables that generated frequencies and percentages. Additional descriptive analytical tools, such as Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT), Content and Structural-functional analyses were used. Statistical significance testing was also employed using the Chi-square at 0.05 alpha levels to test relationships and association between variables. The study established that about 43.5 % of surveyed farmers incorporated indigenous trees in their farms. Farmers raise trees largely from seedlings or wildlings. These trees have been planted and/ or retained in home gardens, woodlots, compounds, crop fields, roadsides and riversides. The small number of farmers incorporating indigenous trees species in their farms was attributed to scarcity of land, farmers' attitudes, dying traditional beliefs and taboos, slow growth rates of these trees and lack of seeds and seedlings. Factors such as economic, socio-cultural, ecological and farmers' preferences were found to influence the choice of on-farm tree species. Economic factors undermined on-farm conservation of indigenous trees. For instance, majority of the farmers preferred exotic species due to the fact that exotic trees possess multiple uses value and have capability to generate income faster than indigenous trees due to their fast growth. Additionally, farmers had different preferences for tree species this was hinged on the tree uses or special their functions. For example, Indigenous species are preferred because of their special functions that include provision of medicines for livestock and humans, their effects on soil nutrients enhancement and cultural value. The agricultural activities determined the spatial pattern of the distribution of indigenous trees among the farmers. The agro-ecological three, for instance, had more indigenous trees than the other two agro-ecological zones. This is because in this agro-ecological zone, there are few cash crops such as coffee and tea that requires clearance of indigenous vegetation during their establishment. In intensively cultivated areas such as in agro-ecological zone two, indigenous tree species existed only in places such as riversides, bushes, grazingjields andfarm boundaries. The study revealed a wealthy of knowledge in on-farm trees management among the farmers. This knowledge includes the ones regarding placement, compatibility with agricultural crops, and palatability to livestock, rituals and other uses. The respondent had less knowledge about disease and insect pests affecting indigenous trees. The study further found out that the existing local potential among farmers has been less utilized in promotion of on-farm conservation of indigenous trees, among them the local groups / institutions. The study found out that there is potential for on-farm conservation of indigenous tree species since the local community member expresses their need for medicinal, ecological , socio-cultural and economic values. For this potential to be realised, the study recommends the following: 1) Awareness creation programmes that focus on the economic and ecological value of indigenous trees; 2) Improvement of agricultural andforestry extension services so that farmers are taught appropriate farming methods; 3) Promotion and utilization of the strategy of contacting farmers through local groups/institutions; 4) The need to research on how to incorporate indigenous trees species in farming systems given the decreasing land holdings; 5) The needfor clear cut policies on the on-farm conservation of indigenous tree species to assist agricultural and forest extension officers in promoting these tree species within the farm lands and also to dejine incentives necessary to encourage farmers to conserve indigenous species within their farmlands.