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Better Globe

Customer Trip to Kenya, 2013

Travelogue by: Jon Holden, July 2013

 

Introduction

Better Globe customers visiting Kenya
17 Better Globe customers on
visit in Kenya

We were a group of 17 participants: 13 Norwegian, and four Swedes who had the pleasure of attending this year's Better Globe trip to Kenya. Our experienced tour guide got us safely through a pretty fatiguing voyage, with many challenges. Upon arrival, we were greeted at the airport in Nairobi by Better Globe Forestry's two managers in Kenya, Jean-Paul Deprins and Jan Vandenabeele, who guided us safely to the hotel.

This was my first trip to Africa. My only previous knowledge was through acquaintances, movies, and media. Emotions were strong and numerous. Let me say at once that I am a different person after I got home, than before I left.

My purpose with this trip was to get acquainted with Better Globe's operations in Kenya and see with my own eyes how an idea turns into action; to see how thesmall seeds of Mukau, Mango and Acacia Senegal, using skillful leadership, good organization and busy hands, grow into small plants and large trees. This occurs in areas where reckless charcoal production and lack of rainfall satisfy desertification. For every tree planted in Africa, 28 trees are chopped.

It may seem incomprehensible for us Northerners that the use of solar energy is virtually non-existent. Everything that needs to be heated up is done with locally produced charcoal or wood. When forests and shrubs disappear, crops such as grasses and small plants also disappear. The livelihood for the local farmers, who live off their livestock of goats or cows, also disappears. Desertification is an indisputable fact. It is precisely in these vulnerable areas where Better Globe has found its area of operations and developed their ideas about stopping the spread of desert, that creeps slowly forward with approx. 600 meters a year.

Better Globe Trees

Mukau

The Mukau tree is chosen because of several features. It is indigenous and tolerates dry climates, it grows quickly, providing a hard wood with nice color and good characteristics for the production of fine furniture and the like. From planting to final felling takes a maximum of about 20 years. The tree trunk will then have a projected diameter of 45-50 cm, and a height of approx. six meters (18 feet), all depending on local growing conditions. The trunk is pruned by hand and thereby becomes knot-free for six meters.

Mango

Better Globe Mango fruits
Maria Gustavsson hiding behind Mango fruits

Mango is one of the most consumed fruits in Kenya. The Mango tree begins to bear fruits after 2-3 years and have full production after five years. Then it can provide more than 200 kiloes fruit per tree, all grafted mango. The most popular variety is called Apple. Grafting is a painstaking and meticulous handicraft done by local professionals on the plantations.

Acacia Senegal

Acacia Senegal is a relative of the sprawling Acacia that one sees everywhere in Kenya. Acacia Senegal is highly desirable because it produces a sap that becomes the product Gum arabic. The tree begins to produce after three years and reach full production after 6-7 years. This product is coveted on the world market and is used in pharmaceutical and food industries. Gum arabicum therefore gives important export contributions to Kenya.

Kiambere Plantation

The journey's first goal was to visit the Kiambere Lake plantation. The bus trip was a story in itself. The last part until we reached the plantation can hardly be called a road by our standards. Creek beds are more descriptive for the road. But with the help of an excellent driver, a well turned Japanese bus, not to mention the group's excellent mood, we arrived safely but thirsty to our destination.

Jan Vandenabeele
Jan Vandenabeele briefing on the operations

Here we got report on the operation by the forest boss himself, Jan Vandenabeele. He showed us all year classes of Mukau, an indigenous mahogany kind that thrive in dry areas. It provides an excellent material for fine furniture and the like. We heard about all the challenges, where water is the biggest, but goats and buffaloes can also do much mischief in a reforestation. To acquire land for appropriate planting areas is also a challenge. Many owners have no papers on their properties and need help to obtain these. This work is laborious and time-consuming.

We got to see the whole process of splitting the seed capsule of the Mukau tree and experience the whole process from seed to young plants in the nursery, and powerful fine plants in the field. We also got a real challenge in that we all should plant each of our Mukau tree, that ended with five liters of water to each plant.

Here we also got our first delicious lunch outdoors, at the foot of a huge Baobab tree.

Two Plant Seasons

It doesn't rain much in Kenya. In this area, the annual rainfall is about 5-600 millimeters. Evaporation due to sun exceeds 2,000 millimeters, which leads to an increasingly drier soil. The rain comes in two periods: October/November and April/May. To exploit water resources to maximum, the planting is added to these seasons. The capacity is currently 150,000 trees a year, overall for the different tree species, divided into the three planting fields. The capacity can be increased somewhat with the traditional technique used.

Cloning

In collaboration with the University of Gent in Belgium, we are developing a protocol for cloning Mukau. A protocol will increase the capacity tremendously. Cloning is familiar with us from Scandinavia, and is used to create both forest plants and new potato varieties.

Better Globe microfinance bank
Microfinance bank funded by
Better Globe

Microfinance

The next day we visited Nguni Village Bank, which since May this year has been giving microfinance loans to women and men in the local area. The initiative has become very popular. There are already almost 600 members. The members are organized in credit groups who all have joint responsibility. There are 20-25 in each group, with particular focus on women. 17 groups were already in action when we visited the bank.

The bank is organized as a cooperative, where members are owners and can influence decissions. Most people use the start-up loan to to buy a livestock of cows or goats. The loans are in the amount of about 200 Euros. This initiative has led to progress and new optimism in the area.

Mboti Primary School

Football suits
The football suit gifts were popular to wear

Mboti Primary School is a school located on the outskirts of Sosoma plant area and supported by Better Globe. The school visit was one of the highlights of the trip. When we arrived there was still a teacher strike in Kenya, but in spite of this, we were greeted by the principal and two teachers, parents council, a whole roomful of siblings and many parents. We distributed gifts to the students including football uniforms and equipment. The youngest got toys and balloons. The school received pens, reflexes and exercise books. Our empty suitcases were given away to the delight of many happy parents.

Water is gathered from the roof into huge water tanks and provide the school with the only water they have access to. Note that many children in Kenya are unable to attend school, since they have to spend all day walking several kilometers daily to fetch water. The collected rain water is just enough for hand wash, cooking and drinking through the dry season. They have no power and lacks much of what we associate with operation of a school. Yet we were told that this school was one of the better ones. The students got one hot meal a day. We got the impression that the school was well organized and the teachers, parents, and students seemed engaged and satisfied.

Several of us were inspired to continue and intensify the efforts Better Globe does for this school and we have already started some planning for how we can contribute more for the school. The Government grants for the school is annually about 75 Euros per student. This shall cover school supplies, teacher salaries, food, maintenance etc. We realize that in areas like this, a small contribution makes a big difference.

Better Globe Forestry's Headquarter in Nairobi

Next stop was Better Globe Forestry's headquarter in Nairobi. Here we met the rest of the employees engaged in the activities in Kenya. Efficiency and prudence prevails in Better Globe. It's reassuring to know that the money managed in this company are used how they are supposed to: by planting trees and supporting the education of children. The office publishes four issues of MITI magazine per year, which is a professional journal for tree planting in Africa. They also publish a children's magazine called Bingwa, which is distributed to schools in Africa at no cost.

The next day we headed south towards Mombasa to Kibwezi, and the trip was indescribable. The tour is not suitable for people with loose dentures. I have never shaken so much in my whole life. Traffic was horrid, but our skilled driver made ​​sure that the trip went well. After a well deserved stop, the tour ended on Mukuju Farm.

Mukuju Farm

This farm serves as an experimental farm for the Better Globe system in Kenya and owned by Jan Vandenabeele. Jan gave us a thorough briefing on how they had found the best wood species and growth methods. The Mango farm here was in full operation. Mango relies on drip irrigation and we got to see a single, proprietary budget system that works perfectly with minimal maintenance. Also here we got delicious lunch outdoors. From here we went on to Kilaguni Park.

Kilaguni Park

We arrived Kilaguni Park just before the gates closed. We were really experience Africa's wildlife. We observed and photographed elephants, giraffes, antelopes, and gazelles along the way. The hotel lacked nothing. We could sit on the patio and watch Kenya's wild animals come in flocks to water hole a few steps below.

We experienced gourmet lunch out at Lion Rock, where even a water closet was installed. We experienced guided safari at night and cultural lectures from Kenya. Overall, it was a relaxing day filled with interesting content.

Nyongoro Plantation

Better Globe Mukau plantation
Mukau plantation in wind

On a tour of this plantation, we got to see the need to make shelter belt due to heavy winds from the coast. In this place there were also plenty of mango plants and several workers working with grafting.

These plantations that they are well run and well functioning. All parts of the process from seed to wood is handled in a professional manner and deserves respect.

Better Globe has managed to secure large areas of space to millions of trees. When cloning is started, the plant capacity will be multiplied. Because of the high expertise and good organization, there is every reason to believe that this is going to be a growing success.

Again, our trusty bus driver took us to our next stop: Katsaka Kairu Primary School.

Katsaka Kairu Primary School

The teacher strike had finally completed and we were given a tour by the school's principal. This is a school run by the government, but supported by Better Globe. They apparently had no more resources, but by listening to how they thought their classes, we saw it was done in a very old-fashioned way. Water is scarce here too. This is a large school with hundreds of students. Also here the pupils have a long school way, up to eight kilometers one way, and there are many steps a day for small feet.

This was the last item on the program. The management of Better Globe made sure to give us ​​good accommodation and food during our stay in Kenya. Dagfinn Rognerud never gave up on us as our tour guide, and we owe him great thanks.

We also thank our wonderful hosts during the Kenya trip, Jean-Paul Deprins and Jan Vandenabeele, who contributed to make our trip an experience we will remember the rest of our life!

You can hover over and scroll left/right on the images below, and click on the them to see larger images.

 
 
   
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