Publications: ISAAA Briefs

No. 25 - 2002

Biotechnology in Tree Production: Creating a Self-sustaining Production and Dissemination System in Kenya

Samuel Wakhusama
Director, ISAAA AfriCenter

Benson Kanyi
Project Manager, Tree Biotechnology Project, Forest Dept. of Kenya


Published by: The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Ithaca, New York 
Copyright: (2002) International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 
  Reproduction of this publication for educational or other noncommercial purposes is authorized without prior permission from the copyright holder, provided the source is properly acknowledged.
  Reproduction for resale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without the prior written permission from the copyright holder.
Correct Citation: Wakhusama, S. and Kanyi, B. 2002. Biotechnology in Tree Production:Creating a Self-sustaining Production and Dissemination system in Kenya. ISAAA Briefs No. 25. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.
ISBN: 1-892456-29-x
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The Tree Biotechnology Project was started in 1997 in an attempt to increase the area of forest and the supply of forestry products and services in Kenya, where land clearance for agriculture and increasing demand for wood, particularly fuelwood, is causing widespread deforestation and forest degradation. Current tree planting efforts are severely constrained by a lack of good quality seed and slow, inefficient traditional propagation methods. Unless urgent steps are taken, Kenya will soon be facing a fuelwood crisis, which is likely to have severe implications in terms of human health and welfare as well as contributing to further environmental damage.

The project brings together the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), the Forest Department of Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and Mondi Forests, a division of Mondi Ltd of South Africa. The latter is a large private company, which has around 20 years of experience in tissue culture and clonal techniques of tree propagation. Using biotechnology makes propagation faster and more efficient, producing disease-free trees that grow faster than conventionally produced tree seedlings. Building on Mondi's experience, the project aims to speed up the process of tree production by introducing the techniques of tissue culture and clonal hedge propagation and integrating these with traditional forestry practices in Kenya.

A vigorous and drought-tolerant hybrid eucalyptus (E. grandis x E. camaldulensis) has been introduced from Mondi and is performing well in seven field trial sites in different areas of Kenya. Clones provided by Mondi have been multiplied through tissue culture and used to establish a central clonal nursery at Karura, near Nairobi. The nursery is currently producing 500,000 seedlings annually, with plans to expand production to 3 million a year by the end of 2005. Hedge propagation ensures these tissue culture eucalyptus seedlings are fast growing, resistant to pests and diseases, and provide a uniform product, while maintaining clonal desirable characteristics. Vegetatively propagated plants are fast growing and due to the selection techniques utilised in the breeding and clonal programmes these clones are less susceptible to pests and diseases, whilst producing a very uniform crop.

The project aims to create a self-sustaining production and dissemination system, driven by private enterprise, in which donor support is necessary only for the first phase. Initial sales will therefore be targeted at commercial enterprises involved in forestry or using wood. As production increases and economies of scale are achieved, small-scale farmers and the urban poor will become the project's major beneficiaries. The capacity of KEFRI and the Forest Department will also be greatly enhanced and the infrastructure and skills they acquire will help them manage further technology transfer and extend the project's impact to other countries in East Africa. A similar project is already in its initial stages in Uganda, where a partnership between the Forestry Resources Research Institute (FORRI) and Mondi Forests has been established with additional backstopping from KEFRI.

While clonal propagation provides disease-free planting material, large-scale tree planting of single clones could narrow the genetic base and increase pest and disease problems, so parallel efforts will be made to step up the production and dissemination of local tree species through the propagation technology, thereby maintaining biodiversity. The project team are currently developing the methodology for improving the production of local germplasm by tissue culture and from seeds.

Access to a convenient and sustainable source of fuelwood will help to alleviate poverty in both rural and urban areas. Fuelwood and timber 'cash crops' will provide a reliable source of income for small-scale farmers, feeding wider economic growth. Commercial forestry and the timber trade will also benefit, with increased opportunities for employment in tree production and timber processing.

Providing a reliable supply of improved tree seedlings will have important benefits for the environment. By increasing and sustaining the supply of timber, the project will reduce the pressure on natural forests, helping to preserve valuable natural biodiversity and rare habitats. Tissue culture technology also has the potential to increase biodiversity by replacing the stocks of rare and endangered tree species. The wider environmental benefits of increasing tree cover include improving soil stability, reducing erosion, preventing desertification and stabilising global climate.

List of Tables

Table 1
Criteria for the choice of species for the project
Table 2
Field trial sites in Kenya
Table 3
Field trial design
Table 4
Height (m) of GC clones and native eucalyptus species at Machakos, Timboroa and Hombe trial sites
Table 5
Eucalyptus species and their optimum growing conditions
Table 6
Composition of the lconal nursery
Table 7
Location of on-farm trials and varieties being evaluated
Table 8
Training courses
Table 9
Projected cash flow
Table 10
Trials established in 2002

List of Figures

Figure 1 Conventional and clonal tree production
Figure 2 Changes in the target market over time
Figure 3 Porjected break-even point
Figure 4 Economies of scale
Figure 5 Major forest growning regions of Kneya where clonal trials, demonstration plots and distribution nurseries will be located