By Daphne de Bruijn, SCAPE magazine

On a drizzly morning in Wageningen, The Netherlands, a happy smile appears on my screen. The sun is shining in the county of Kitui, Kenya and in front of my screen sits Stella Kavindu (51), an expert farmer for the African Wood Grow foundation. A tough woman who shows great enthusiasm and eagerness for her work on her farm, the Stella Farm. In 2016 she started at the project for improving livelihood through forest based economy. She was approached by the first farmer-participants to be one of the group. Nine farmers started, including Kavindu, and now the group has grown to no less than 88 farmers.

Kavindu’s role in the project is multifaceted: not only to plant trees as a farmer, but also to work as a secretary to communicate with the other farmers. For example to organise or to help to recruit new farmers. For these new farmers she is a trainer. ‘I’m always busy, but I’m enjoying most the planting of trees’.

A lot has changed in her environment after they started planting trees. Kavindu: ‘The soil was very weak when we started planting. The surface changed as the leaves of the native trees improved the soil. The soil erosion is less than it was before. And with these trees it is ever green! She indicates that they learned a lot: about planting, about pruning, and also taking about care of the cows. ‘Roeland Lelieveld, together with Daniel Muvali the founder of Africa Wood Grow, visits our farm to look at the progress. He takes pictures and he congrats me. I’ve learned a lot’.

But she would like to learn more and improve things. Kavindu: ‘More techniques for pruning, more training for the farmers. They need to get more information about how to take care of the trees with the lack of water. And most important… we need more funding. There are a lot of people waiting to become a member.’

Kavindu motivates these people to take good care of their trees. ‘Be patient, don’t disappear and stay connected. One day you will be a farmer like me’.

Except fearing the lack money for the project, she is very positive about the future. She saw bare and eroded land becoming very fertile. On her farm she works with five family members –she trains her kids because it is ‘good for the future’. Her surroundings are green and due to the planting of trees the climate conditions are improved. Kavindu: ‘The environment gets very good. And I am an expert in Melia trees and a teacher, so yes, I’m a happy woman!’

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