UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Small-holder farmers in Kenya have the capacity and desire to play a major role in the scale-up of biofuel production from agroforestry, according to a Penn State forest economist, who led a study in the East African country.
Croton trees — which seem to grow everywhere in Kenya — and the oilseeds they produce have the potential to improve rural livelihoods, said Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources, College of Agricultural Sciences. Through the production of oil for energy and co-products, such as animal feed and organic fertilizer, croton represents an opportunity many poor farmers are eager to take.
That is the conclusion Jacobson reached after surveying hundreds of Kenyan farmers and meeting with them in villages across four counties in the central region of the country. The objective was to assess household preferences for planting and cultivating croton trees for collection and selling of nuts to a growing market. Researchers gathered and analyzed demographic data on income, household size, age, other occupations and village from farmers to determine if those factors influence their preferences.
Farmers were presented with production scenarios and asked to make choices depending on seedling cost, oilseed yield, tree-maturation period, labor needed for seed collection and seed selling price. Results show that almost all households have croton trees on their land and are willing to produce croton nuts. More importantly, Jacobson noted, most would be willing to plant more croton trees.
"Many small farmers, although land constrained, have access to land to plant groves of croton trees if they become sold on the idea," he said. "If they knew that there was going to be a dedicated market for croton, they would certainly add trees to their farm household lands."
Seed price is the most dominant concern cutting across all socio-demographic characteristics, Jacobson pointed out. "Time and labor constraints were significant for some households," he said. "Farmers are more averse to longer tree-maturation periods than non-farmers, while those already collecting seeds for the nascent croton industry are less concerned about the opportunity costs of time and labor than non-collectors."
The research stemmed from the World Agroforestry Centre's examination of the sustainability of the infant croton-tree value chain in Kenya with the intent to support its up-scaling. Initial studies indicated the business holds significant potential for generating additional income and improving local livelihoods, without jeopardizing the environment.
The international organization invited Jacobson to assess whether small farmers could play a significant role in the scale-up of the business.