Social and economic incentives for smallholder tree growing

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Social and economic incentives for smallholder tree growing a case study from Murang'a District, Kenya
Series Title:
Community forestry case study series
Dewees, Peter A
Forests, Trees and People (Program)
Place of Publication:
Rome Italy
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
v, 74 p. : ill., maps ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Forests and forestry -- Social aspects -- Kenya -- Murang'a District ( lcsh )
Forests and forestry -- Economic aspects -- Kenya -- Murang'a District ( lcsh )
Agroforestry -- Social aspects -- Kenya -- Murang'a District ( lcsh )
Agroforestry -- Economic aspects -- Kenya -- Murang'a District ( lcsh )
Tree crops -- Kenya -- Murang'a District ( lcsh )
Plantations ligneuses -- Aspect social -- Kenya -- Murang'a (District) ( rvm )
Plantations ligneuses -- Aspect économique -- Kenya -- Murang'a (District) ( rvm )
Agroforesterie -- Aspect social -- Kenya -- Murang'a (District) ( rvm )
Agroforesterie -- Aspect économique -- Kenya -- Murang'a (District) ( rvm )
Trees ( jstor )
Agricultural land ( jstor )
Wattles ( jstor )
bibliography ( marcgt )
international intergovernmental publication ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage:


Includes bibliographical references (p. 69-74).
General Note:
"Forests, Trees and People"--Cover.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Peter A. Dewees.

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Social and Economic
Incentives for
Tree Growing
A Case Study from Murang'a District. Kenya /
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Case Study

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Case Study

Social and Economic
Incentives for
Tree Growing
A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

by Peter A. Dewees


The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do
not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any
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the purpose and extent of the reproduction, should be addressed to the Director, Publications
Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100
Rome, Italy.

Layout by MAXTUDIO Rome Cover illustration Studio Dickerson

Community Forestry Case Study 5


Even as millions of hectares of tropical forest are lost each year and large numbers of reforesta-
tion efforts have failed, there are smallholder farmers in the world who, for years, have grown
and managed their own trees on a sustainable basis. For those involved in community forestry,
why farmers plant trees is every bit as important as why they do not.

This study by natural resource economist Peter A. Dewees of the Food Studies Group of Queen
Elizabeth House, Oxford University, is the result of research which was undertaken to explore
the rationale for smallholder tree growing in its historical and socio-cultural context in Kenya.
Although much of the study focuses on tree-growing activities in Murang'a District in the Cen-
tral Province in that country, many of the observations and conclusions are relevant to other
parts of Kenya, and there are certainly parallels to other parts of Africa as well.

Both casual observation and land use inventories provide strong evidence that trees continue to
have an important role as one smallholder land use option in many high potential agricultural
zones in Kenya. In some cases, farmers grow trees to meet the demand for construction poles,
charcoal and fuelwood, and in response to other market forces. Trees are also cultivated to
demarcate boundaries or to shade crops such as tea or coffee. Tree cultivation, it would seem,
which requires less labour and less capital investment than other types of crops, has emerged as
an important income-producing land use option for the smallholder.

Still, there remains the question of why farmers maintain trees on land that could be used for the
cultivation of other crops which could potentially generate a substantially higher income. Cen-
tral to this discussion of tree planting in Kenya is the interlinkage of issues such as land tenure,
capital accumulation and labour use. Several of the most common tree cultivation and manage-
ment practices are the long-term outcome of these three closely related issues. Other practices
have been adopted either as a result of relatively recent interventions, such as the introduction of
black wattle during the first half of this century, or are due to the evolution of traditional tree
management practices.

Dr. Dewees concludes his study by examining some of the issues of relevance to planners and
developers in their efforts to encourage farmers to grow more trees. First, he suggests that tree
planting innovations must be placed in a context which takes into account local farmer ability
and traditional knowledge. Second, it is important to recognize that tree growing is a viable
option especially when labour and capital constraints limit agricultural development. And third,
existing controls on tree cultivation and management must involve the local population and be
more consistent. If farm production of trees is to be encouraged, farmers must be assured that
they rather than the Government or local administration will reap the benefits.

The research for this study was supported with funds provided primarily by the Rockefeller
Foundation through the Oxford Forestry Institute's Smallholder Incentives for Tree Growing
Research Project. Additional funding was provided by the Research Committee of the World
Bank, the Overseas Development Administration and by Oxford University. The publication of
this Case Study was funded by the multi-donor Forests, Trees and People Trust Fund, which is
devoted to increasing the sustainability of women and men's livelihoods through self-help man-
agement of tree and forest resources. Within the FAO Forestry Department, the activities and
publications of the Programme are coordinated by Marilyn W. Hoskins, Senior Community
Forestry Officer, in the Forestry Policy and Planning Division.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Table of Contents





CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1.1 Trees on farms in Kenya
1.2 Scope of this study

CHAPTER 2: The Changing Rural Capital and Labour Markets
2.1 Labour-use in smallholder agriculture
2.2 Capital transactions in smallholder agriculture
2.3 Smallholder responses to constrained labour
and capital supplies
2.4 Conclusion: Tree growing and factor markets

CHAPTER 3: The Evolution of Kikuyu Land Tenure
3.1 Trees and land tenure
3.2 The sub-clan holding as the basic land unit
3.3 Changing tenure and land use systems
3.4 Changes in land tenure and their impact on
tree tenure
3.5 Summary: Changes in land tenure and the
impact of consolidation

CHAPTER 4: Tree Cultivation and Management Practices
4.1 Tree tenure
4.2 Trees as boundary markers
4.3 Protected forests and woodlands
4.4 Other tree management practices
4.5 Summary: Trees as part of traditional
land use practices

CHAPTER 5: The Case of Black Wattle
5.1 The introduction of black wattle
5.2 The political economy of early wattle production
5.3 Soil conservation and wattle in the 1940s
5.4 Consolidation and the post-independence
wattle economy
5.5 Current wattle planting practices

CHAPTER 6: Conclusion: Tree Growing and the Rural Economy in Kenya




A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Executive Summary

This report seeks to provide a better understanding of the economic framework of smallholder
agriculture in Kenya, particularly in relation to tree growing management and practices.
Although much of the report focuses on tree-growing activities in the Murang'a District, a high
potential agricultural zone in the Central Province of Kenya, many of the observations and con-
clusions are relevant to other parts of the country.

Both casual observation and land use inventories provide strong evidence that trees have an
important role as one of many smallholder land use options in many high potential agricultural
zones in Kenya. In some cases, farmers grow trees to meet the demand for construction poles,
charcoal and fuelwood and in response to other market forces. Trees are also cultivated to
demarcate boundaries or to shade other crops such as tea or coffee.

Still, there remains the question of why farmers maintain trees on land that could be used for the
cultivation of other crops which could potentially generate a substantially higher income. Cen-
tral to this discussion of tree planting in Kenya is the interlinkage of issues such as land tenure,
capital accumulation and labour use. Several of the most common tree cultivation and manage-
ment practices are the long-term outcome of these closely related issues. Others have been
adopted either as a result of relatively recent interventions or are due to the evolution of tradi-
tional tree management practices.

Chapter 1 explores the current state of knowledge about the extent of tree growing in high
potential areas of Kenya. Chapter 2 examines how rural capital and labour constraints may
account for the widespread adoption of different tree growing practices.

In the pre-colonial economy, farm labour was a controlled by kinship ties and was a responsi-
bility of the sub-clan. Many labour tasks and cropping patterns were also gender related. Major
changes in farm labour use were brought about during the colonial area as the Colonial
Administration fixed forest boundaries and as European settlement limited the land available
for expansion.

During the same period, many Africans mostly male were forced to seek wage employment
on large agricultural plantations or in urban areas in order to pay their taxes. With the emer-
gence of this migrant and wage labour force, less labour was available to work on small rural
holdings. Trees, such as black wattle, filled the niche created by rural labour shortages and pro-
vided an income during times of need.

Constraints on capital also provided an impetus for tree growing. Formal credit mechanisms
for smallholders are a recent phenomenon dating from the 1960s. Even today, commercial
lending to farmers remains at an all time low and there are few credit sources to support
labour activities. Thus tree cultivation, which requires less labour and less capital investment
than other types of crops, has emerged as an important income-producing land use option for
the smallholder.

Chapters 3 and 4 explore the evolution of the traditional land tenure system in the Murang'a
District and the resulting changes in the relationship between land tenure and tree tenure.

There are strong traditions of tree cultivation and management in Kikuyu tribal areas of
Kenya (such as Murang'a District). Trees were used to demarcate boundaries, were cultivated
in protected forests for use as fuelwood and were preserved as sacred groves for the site of
ritual ceremonies

Traditional law in many parts of Kenya, distinguished between rights of control of land and
rights of use and access. As a result in pre-colonial times, rights of tree ownership and exploita-
tion could be held separately.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

In the earliest Kikuyu settlements, land acquisition was based on the rights of first use, by the
exercise of hunting and trapping rights. These rights were strengthened by forest clearance
and cultivation and belonged to families with lineage rights. However land could be lent to
people outside the sub-clan for cultivation or tenancy. Land lending and tenancy arrange-
ments were also inherited.

European settlement brought increasing pressures on the traditional land tenure system. Under
the villagization programme mounted during the 1952 State of Emergency, over 100,000 people
who had lived on small homesteads were forcibly moved to large villages. This removal from
smallholdings on which they held traditional rights, permitted the Colonial Administration to
consolidate holdings which over generations had been fragmented into separate plots.

Consolidation provided the basis for major land reform legislation that became the foundation
for the 1963 Registered Land Act. Under its terms, customary land rights were no longer valid.
With respect to tree tenure, trees as well as all things growing on the land, became the property
of the registered landowner. The effects of the legislation were most profoundly felt by the
landless who lost many of the rights of access to land they once had under traditional law.

Chapter 5 describes the importance of black wattle production during the first half of this centu-
ry. Africans were excluded from producing cash crops and the returns from food crops were
low. Wattle, valued for the high tannin content of its bark, became a major export crop for
Kenya and an important source of income and political power in many Kikuyu areas. Although
wattle continues to be grown in parts of Murang'a District, its role in the smallholder economy
declined during the State of Emergency. With the removal of controls on smallholder coffee and
tea production, wattle lost its value as a cash crop.

The concluding chapter examines some of the challenges facing planners and developers in
their efforts to encourage farmers to grow more trees. First of all, tree planting innovations must
be placed in a context which takes into account local farmer ability and knowledge. It is also
evident that tree growing is one result of labour and capital constraints limiting agricultural
development. If these constraints are effectively addressed, there will be less of an incentive for
farmers to grow trees. Finally, existing controls on tree cultivation and management must be
more consistent. If farm production of trees is to be encouraged, farmers must be assured that
they not the Government nor the local administration will reap the benefits.

Community Forestry Case Study 5


Simple observation in many high potential agricultural areas of Kenya would inform
the casual observer that trees protected, cultivated and managed have assumed an
important place as one of many smallholder land use options. The observation poses
some interesting problems for our conventional view of peasant agriculture. It is not
as if farmers have nothing else to do with their land. Population pressures in many
areas of Kenya have become extreme. It is in precisely these areas where pressures
on agricultural land are greatest that the proportionate area of land used for growing
trees increases so substantially. In the face of these types of pressures, and because
cash returns for trees are relatively low, there must be strong reasons why farmers
grow trees rather than other potentially more profitable crops.

The rural afforestation efforts of the government, aid agencies and local organiza-
tions in Kenya have seldom taken account of the extent of existing tree growing
activities. Even when they have, project design and implementation have been
hampered by a lack of information about why farmers have undertaken these types
of activities on their own. In particular, the relationships between land use, capital,
labour, and land ownership with respect to tree growing are not well-understood.

Important gains in improving our understanding about the role of trees on farms in
Kenya have been made with the recent collection of inventory information about
trees in smallholder agriculture. These land use studies, typically of areas with
high population densities and heavy intensities of agricultural land use, have sug-
gested that planted and managed trees and shrubs usually cover between 5 and 10
percent of the area of agricultural land. While arid and semi-arid lands are increas-
ingly important as areas of new settlement, they pose special problems for tree
growing which are beyond the scope of this case study. On average, over 20 per-
cent of the total high potential agricultural land area has been used for growing
trees, or has otherwise been left under natural woody cover.

1.1 Trees on farms in

The Extent of Tree
Growing Activities

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 3

Chapter 1


Although planted tree species are predominantly introduced varieties, such as Gre-
villea robusta, Eucalyptus s. or Acacia mearnsii, a number of indigenous species
such as Markhamia s., Croton p., and Sesbania sesban also feature in farmers'
range of choices. The dominant species vary from district to district in Kenya. For
example, in Kakamega District, in Western Kenya bordering Lake Victoria (see
Fig 1), woodlots are almost always dominated by Eucalyptus saligna while in
Murang'a District in Central Kenya, they are dominated by Acacia mearnsii. These
contiguous, non-linear, and usually monospecific tree management units may be
extremely small, with 10 trees or so, but are more commonly around 200 m2 in
area. Hedges contiguous, linear, and also usually monospecific tree management
units are frequently composed of Cupressus lusitanica. They are usually planted

Ms Figure 1.1AMURU

Administrative divisions and

C MOMBASA Figure 1.1

the location of the study area
in Kenya

in the first instance, but as they grow to maturity, may come to include other
species established as a result of natural regeneration. In some areas, although
there is little completely untouched woodland remaining, there are large areas of
natural vegetation which have been highly modified, for instance in bush/fallow
systems (Bradley and Kuyper 1985).

The importance of tree cultivation and management as part of the farming system
becomes somewhat clearer when other agricultural land uses are considered. Table 1.1
and Figure 1.2 summarize the results of a land use inventory for Murang'a District
which shows the extent of tree protection, cultivation, and management compared

4 Community Forestry Case Study 5


Forest/ Lower Lower Middle New
Upper Tea/Upper Coffee/ Maize/ Lower Settle- District
Tea Coffee Maize Estate Maize ment Averages
Zone Zone Zone Zone Zone Zone & Totals

Average population density per
grouping (persons per km2)
Average elevation (metres)

Maize and maize intercrops
Smallholder coffee
Smallholder tea
Subtotal, Smallholder Agriculture

Estate coffee
Subtotal Plantation Agriculture
Total Smallholder/
Plantation Agriculture

Natural tree hedges
Clipped hedges
Other hedges
Planted windows
Subtotal, Hedges & Windrows

Fruit trees
Trees in crops
Trees around buildings
Trees in bush
Trees in open grassland
Trees in hedgerows
Subtotal, Scattered &
Isolated Trees

Subtotal, Orchards & Woodlots
Total, Planted or Cultivated Trees

31 346 399 85 131 104 245
2371 1859 1502 1395 1314 1180 1685


15.1 28.5 11.2
11.4 13.0 0.8
12.6 0.0 0.0
39.1 41.5 12.0

2.3 5.2 2.8
0.1 1.4 5.2
0.3 4.9 4.7
0.4 8.6 15.1

6.5 39.5 50.1 27.1




25.0 24.3 33.8

0.2 0.2 0.0
0.3 0.6 0.1
0.6 0.5 0.3
0.5 0.4 0.1
1.6 1.7 0.5

0.0 0.6 0.2
1.9 2.6 1.0
0.5 0.9 0.1
0.4 1.0 1.7
0.9 1.1 3.1
0.1 0.3 0.0

1.8 3.8 6.4 6.2

8.7 6.8 5.1

0.1 0.1 0.1
5.9 0.9 0.1
6.0 1.1 0.2
11.4 9.2 6.8

Indigenous forest
Bush or woodland
Riparian strips
Subtotal, Forest, Bush or

Total, All Tree Cover

30.9 2.7 0.2 1.4
2.5 3.7 4.7 7.6
2.0 1.3 2.8 3.4

35.4 7.7 7.7 12.4

38.3 19.1 16.9 19.2

18.9 11.4 13.7

28.9 20.2 22.2

lA t & Tre Cove 44. 58. 6 67. 46. 53. 44. a.6.0

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

with other land uses. Although the predominance of particular crops in this district is
mostly limited by the agroclimate, the predominance of trees does not seem to be so
constrained. While smallholder coffee, for instance, accounts for anywhere between
0.1 and 13 percent of the land area depending on the agro-ecological zone, woody
cover (planted trees, woodlands, bushland and so on) accounts for at least 15 percent
and as much as 35 percent of the total agricultural land area across all zones.

Some features of land use described in Table 1.1 challenge accepted ideas. While it
is often argued that population growth and agricultural intensification are incom-
patible with the conservation and management of tree cover, the Kenya experience
suggests that this is not always the case. Even in the most heavily populated areas,
trees continue to be an important feature of land use. Also interesting is the gradual
transition in the type of woody biomass which predominates as population pres-
sures increase. Natural forest and bushland is cleared as agricultural development
is intensified, but replanting follows, apparently using trees that are much more
productive than the forests and bush they replaced.

Figure 1.2
Land use in Murang'a
SSmallholder Agriculture District in 1988
[ Plantation Agriculture
SHedges and Windrows
[ Scattered/isolated trees
0 Orchards and Woodlots
0 Forest/Bush/Woodland
I Other

There have been a few efforts which have attempted to assess the impact of tree
growing on the smallholder economy or why trees have assumed such an important
role. A number of these attempts have focused on cultural attitudes toward trees,
such as gender restrictions on tree planting in Kakamaga (Chavangi 1987). In
Murang'a, district, household characteristics (farm size, household composition,
cropping patterns and so on) have been closely related to patterns of tree cultiva-
tion and management (Bradley and Ngugi 1986). Cowen's fascinating history of
wattle production in Central Province (Cowen 1978) provides important perspec-
tives on the growth and spread of this tree planting practice, but does not address
the question of why wattle continues to be maintained as a land use practice in the
face of more lucrative land use alternatives in the Post-Independence economy.

A few studies have sought to explore the economic rationale for farmer tree grow-
ing in Kenya. Ongugo's study in South Nyanza, (Western Kenya) for example,
focused on economic resource allocation in the cultivation of tobacco, maize, and
fuelwood (Ongugo 1985). Lubega's study of agroforestry systems in dryland areas

Community Forestry Case Study 5

of Machakos District (Central Kenya) explored the potential economic impacts of
alley cropping on maize production (Lubega 1987).

A number of relatively straightforward conclusions can be drawn about different
tree growing strategies. It can be assumed, for instance, that farmers have planted
eucalyptus woodlots in response to growing demands for construction poles. Black
wattle woodlots in turn, probably indicate that there are markets for wattle bark,
and that there may be charcoal and fuelwood markets in addition to household,
subsistence demand.

Other tree cultivation practices have little to do with these types of market oppor-
tunities. The predominance of hedges and windows, for instance, is largely
accounted for by considerations other than economics (although quite often trees
are planted that can eventually be harvested and sold). Tree planting practices such
as the intercropping of Sesbania sesban with maize are undertaken as part of soil
improvement and management strategies. Shade trees are also highly valued.

If the extent of income-generating tree planting practices is considered, however,
the argument that they evolved as a result of "market forces" tells us little. There
remains the question of why resource-constrained farmers use their land for the
cultivation and management of trees instead of other crops. Although an intensive-
ly managed 1 ha woodlot of eucalyptus or black wattle can provide a net income of
around KSh 1,000 to 2,000 per year, a hectare of maize can generate an income of
KSh 4,000 to 5,000 per year. Coffee can generate around twice this, and tea, twice
as much again (World Bank 1986). Maintaining land under tree cover in the face
of these alternative ways of generating income seems something of a contra-

Preliminary interviews with farmers in Western Kenya suggest that some of our
perceptions of the smallholder economy were entirely wrong. It is generally
believed that there are serious problems of unemployment in Kenya, (Republic of
Kenya 1986) and that with a population growing at an astonishing rate of nearly 4
percent in some areas, (one of the highest in the world) these problems will
become much worse. Farmers in Western Kenya however indicated that labour
supplies were severely limited and that tree growing was seen as a labour-exten-
sive means of alleviating these constraints. It can be argued that trees may be
emerging as the cash crop of the rural poor.

This study, as well as other studies that were undertaken to provide household-
level information about the relationship between tree growing and the rural econo-
my, is intended to address two sets of questions. First, how does tree growing, as a
labour-extensive cash cropping activity, complement urban wage employment as a
strategy for overcoming problems with capital, land and labour markets? Do trees

The rationale for tree

1.2 Scope of this study
Objectives and Methods

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 7

ease or intensify land use constraints imposed by labour migration? Secondly, does
tree growing, an activity that requires low levels of capital input, have any particu-
lar advantage as a use for land in situations where limited credit sources have made
it difficult for farmers to plant other more capital-intensive cash crops?

Several approaches have been used to address these questions. This study summa-
rizes some of the descriptive information, as well as information from the histori-
cal record, in an attempt to describe the evolution of labour markets and land
tenure systems and their impact on tree growing. It reviews, as well, traditional
tree cultivation and management practices and the pricing and policies which
brought about changes in land use that affected particular types of tree growing

Most of this work has been carried out in the high potential agricultural zone of
Murang'a District in Central Province of Kenya. Figure 1.1 above shows the loca-
tion of Murang'a District. The district is in the middle of Kikuyu country and
much of the discussion in this study is specific to the economic setting, land use
practices, and historical and cultural processes that dominate in these areas, and
that are in some ways unique to the Kikuyu. Many of the observations are however
also of relevance to other parts of the country.

8 Community Forestry Case Study 5

Chapter 2

The Changing Rural

Capital and

Labour Markets

A number of features of the rural economy are of particular relevance to farmer
tree growing. They are mainly concerned with the ways in which land and labour
are used within the Kikuyu agricultural economy. Some of the more common tree
planting practices particularly boundary planting and woodlots are outcomes of
historical processes.

Labour in the pre-colonial Kikuyu economy was largely controlled by kinship ties and
responsibilities within the mbari (sub-clan), the most important unit of social organization.

One of the chief obligations of a man to his wife (or wives) was to provide her
with fields for cultivation, which meant he had the task of clearing the bush and of
hoeing it with the digging stick to make it ready for the harrow (Leakey 1977).
Subsequent cultivation and harvesting responsibilities rested with the man's wife,
but if it was needed, particularly during times of illness or incapacitation, addition-
al labour could be drawn from the man's other wives. Communal labour (ngwatio)
was organized if a household had insufficient labour to carry out an agricultural
task. Groups of three to ten women, not necessarily related, would work from day
to day on each others plots. (Cowen and Murage undated). Contemporary deriva-
tives of this type of communal labour continue to exist today.

2.1 Labour use in
Labour transactions in
the traditional economy

The only system which bore any resemblance to wage labour per se was the work party
(wira). When labour was needed to complete a large task, such as digging or weeding, as
many as 80 people would be enlisted for assistance by the individual concerned. He or
she was obligated to provide beer, at least, and often provided food as well.

Significant changes in labour use were brought about in Kikuyu areas between
1900 and 1910 as the boundaries of the forest were fixed by the Colonial Adminis-
tration and as the pace of the take-over of lands for European settlement accelerat-

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 9

The emergence of the
migrant and wage
labour economy

Labour migration and

ed. It wasn't so much that the Kikuyu lost land (although they clearly had), but that
the process of European settlement limited further expansion. In many areas, the
man's labour tasks of land clearance and hoeing were no longer as vital because
expansion had stopped. The limits clearly disrupted traditional agricultural prac-
tices. The chief forest offences registered by the Forest Department in 1909 were
for "making new gardens and enlarging old ones" in the newly reserved forests
(FD 1909).

Subsequent to these events the migrant labour economy developed. The first "hut
taxes" (East Africa Hut Tax Ordinance 1903) and the later Poll Tax (Native Hut and
Poll Tax Ordinance 1910) were partly intended to coerce Africans, who would not oth-
erwise have sought wage employment, into finding jobs in plantation agriculture or in
urban areas in order to be able to pay their taxes (Kitching 1980, van Zawanenberg
1975, Stichter 1982). Opportunities for wage employment in smallholder agriculture
were nearly non-existent whereas the rapidly-expanding white settler economy was
dependent on these labour supplies for agricultural expansion and development.

The development of wage labour markets in smallholder agriculture dates from
around 1915 (in Nyeri District). Existing forms of labour organization household
labour, communal labour, and work parties were not sufficient given the emerg-
ing class of traders, teachers, and artisans. This class of peasant elite introduced
crops such as English potatoes and wheat which were far more labour-intensive
than traditional maize, millet, and bean crops. Men were employed for heavy dig-
ging and women were employed for planting, weeding and harvesting. Labour
supplies expanded greatly in the early 1930s; but plantation agriculture still com-
peted with smallholder agriculture for labour and both became more or less depen-
dent on migrant labour (Cowen and Murage undated).

By the mid-1930s, nearly 30,000 ha of high potential agricultural land in Kikuyu
areas had been taken for European cultivation. Advocates for European settlement
argued that this land did not actually belong to the Kikuyu in the first place; that they
had replaced the Ndorobo, and that the rights of individual Kikuyu had never amount-
ed to ownership. Over a relatively short period of time, a large number of Africans
found themselves without land use or tenancy rights. A system of "squatting" (report-
ed as early as 1904) allowed Africans to farm plots on European farms in exchange
for a fixed amount of labour (Government of the United Kingdom 1955).

Squatting was not dissimilar from the traditional practice amongst the Kikuyu of
land borrowing the ahoi system which allowed individuals to cultivate underuti-
lized land in return for gifts to the person with hereditary cultivation rights. Under
the ahoi system, tenancy was not assured, as land could be redeemed by the origi-
nal rightholder if it was needed. The process of European seizure, closure of the
forests to agricultural expansion and consequent increasing land scarcity, led to

Community Forestry Case Study 5

cancellation of many of these land lending agreements and created a new landless
class amongst the Kikuyu. Many former ahoi tenants settled on European farms as

In 1918, the Administration legislated that squatters had to be contracted as labour-
ers for 180 days per year for a small wage and the right to live and cultivate plots
on European farms. Later changes prohibited squatters from keeping stock, limited
cultivation to two acres per family, and increased the labour requirement to 270
days per year (Kanogo 1987). In the mid-1940s, as their numbers burgeoned, a
move to evict squatters from European farms and force them to the Reserves, gath-
ered momentum. By then, most squatters had lost any cultivation rights they may
have had as ahoi tenants or as rightholders in the Reserves. Their eviction from
settler farms created a huge class of landless unemployed, and their absorption into
the Reserves created enormous problems.

In 1952, African protest against the Colonial Administration came to a head with
widespread destruction of settlers property and murder, especially of Africans per-
ceived to be loyal to the government. The government response to this was to
declare a state of emergency. Leading Kenyan nationalists were arrested and a 'vil-
lagization programme' begun in which the widespread rural communities were
forced to live in fortified compounds with a strict night curfew.

During this villagization programme and subsequently during the land consolida-
tion process in the early 1960s it was assumed that the landless, or near landless,
could provide wage employment for smallholder agriculture. The relationship
between agricultural employee and employer had little traditional precedent in
Kikuyu areas, although reciprocal labour arrangements were (and remain) relative-
ly common. The very small formal labour markets in smallholder areas were clear-
ly not able to absorb the increasing mass of unemployed and consequently the
migrant labour economy grew.

At the present time, rural agriculture can support only a small wage labour market.
Fewer than 10 percent of smallholder labour inputs are provided by hired labour.
Of these hired labourers, between 50 and 75 percent are landless or near-landless
(Collier and Lal 1986). In a survey of labour requirements for the tea industry in
Embu District, over 90 percent of tea pluckers did not have land of their own, but
plucked tea primarily on holdings of relatives (Technoserve 1987).

Labour use and cropping patterns were closely linked to cultural norms of social Labour, crops and
responsibility. As mentioned above, land clearing and the first digging of the soil gender
were the responsibility of a man to his wife. Most other labour tasks were the
responsibility of women. Women's crops were generally labour intensive seasonal
ones "sprouting foods" such as cereals and legumes, while men's crops were gen-

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 11

erally labour extensive perennial crops or "digging foods" such as yams, taro, cas-
sava, and bananas. Men's crops were also more commonly famine foods (Fisher
1954). The gender links had important implications for contemporary patterns of
labour use and may account in part for the predominance of subsistence crops in
areas where male labour migration has skewed the labour supply.

Most of the Colonial Government's labour ordinances, and the system of taxation
resulted primarily in male labour migration. Much of the legislation was drafted
under the assumption that there was idle male labour in the reserves. Some con-
ceded that the encouragement of African men to seek wage employment would
pose serious problems for the women and children by increasing their labour load.

With the emergence and development of the market economy, and the relatively
higher wages that could be earned in cities and on plantations, gender related pat-
terns of labour use and distribution became entrenched. In Murang'a District, the
transition in gender-specific patterns of rural labour availability seems to have
taken place between 1924 and 1948. The 1924 census for the district reported a
ratio of women to men in the "working age range" of 0.89 to 1 (KNA undated:
DC/FH/6/1). The 1948 census, however reported the ratio had increased to around
1.4 tol (KNA 1950:DC/FH5/1).

Fig. 2.1
Women and children collect-
ing fuelwood from the Nyan-
darua Forests, around 1905
Photo: Consolata Fathers, Turin

Trees, with their perennial nature (particularly black wattle which later became an
extremely important cash crop), played a similar role as earlier traditional peren-
nial crops. While wattle was not a man's crop (Fisher undated:231, 241), both
perennial crop planting and participation in the migrant labour economy were
somewhat gender-specific making wattle the ideal crop for filling a particular
niche: wattle could be planted on holdings when men sought wage employment
elsewhere providing a source of income during times of environmental or eco-
nomic stress.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Labour migration continues to be a dominant feature of the rural economy, placing
heavy constraints on smallholder agriculture. The Integrated Rural Surveys (partic-
ularly IRS 1) found that nationally, 20 percent of landowners of smallholdings lived
away from the holding and were not in charge of day-to-day decisions about its
operation (Republic of Kenya 1977). Men remain the main participants in the
migrant labour economy.

Even if men have chosen not to seek employment out of their area, they may not
be willing to work on their smallholding, preferring wage employment in local
businesses or engagement in their consultative roles as elders in the community. In
some areas children, formerly an -abundant source of labour, are not widely avail-
able to work on farms because they are in school. One outcome of all this move-
ment has been labour shortages in smallholder agriculture.

Where land endowments per household are large or where the family operates sev-
eral parcels that are widely dispersed as a result of inheritance or purchase, the
supervision of hired labour to farm the entire holding efficiently can present prob-
lems. In these cases, the real cost of hired labour (because of its relative inefficien-
cy due to a lack of supervision) may be so high as to encourage the development
of labour-extensive types of cultivation.

In the face of these constraints, traditional labour use has changed in order to deal
with seasonal shortages and more effectively use the available resources. The par-
ticipation of women in rural associations in Murang'a District has provided a num-
ber of important alternatives to the conventional approach toward labour use
(Thomas 1988). Women's collective participation in labour activities, similar to
that of the men, is undertaken for income generation, to provide labour during
periods of peak demand, or to otherwise ease labour constraints. In Weithaga loca-
tion, women's associations often work as groups in seasonal wage employment for
one morning a week weeding, mulching, picking coffee, or carrying out other
tasks. Income from collective employment is used to support the group's activities,
or can be tapped through a revolving credit fund (Thomas 1988). During illness,
women's group members can be called on to work on the ill member's farm and
expect such support in return in the future if needed.

In pre-colonial Kenya, capital accumulation primarily involved the accumulation
of livestock. Cattle, sheep and goats were clearly important for milk, meat and
skins, but also had exchange value. Livestock could be exchanged for food crops,
land, utilitarian objects such as spears, hoes, baskets and shields, and formed the
basis for bridewealth (Kitching 1980).

Labour migration in
contemporary Kenya

Alternative labour

2.2 Capital transac-
tions in smallholder
Traditional capital

Information about traditional credit arrangements amongst the Kikuyu is extremely
sparse. Probably the most widespread arrangement involved the redeemable sale of

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 13

land for the generation of capital. Redeemable land sales were initiated by the sell-
er, and were generally undertaken to obtain livestock to pay bridewealth or com-
pensation for death or injury. The purchaser (miguri) of the land had full cultiva-
tion and building rights, in exchange for the agreed upon livestock. The seller's
land would be returned upon repayment of an equivalent number of livestock to
the purchaser at either party's request.

Informal credit Until the mid-1950s, there were few formal mechanisms for channeling capital
arrangements into the smallholder agricultural sector. Even if they had existed, controls and reg-
ulations discouraged individuals who might have wanted to do so. No debt, for
instance, could be incurred by an African from a non-African in excess of 10
unless permission to become indebted had been granted by a Provincial or District
Commissioner (Government of the United Kingdom 1955).

These restrictions channelled demand for credit into informal systems which flour-
ished long after Independence. These include: kinship credit, merchant credit,
money lending, mutual savings societies, and the redeemable sale of crops or capi-
tal assets.

Kinship credit may take the form of small loans for farm purchases or for school
fees or other expenses. There may be no implicit understanding that these loans
must be paid back at some rate of interest or over a particular time period or at all
but there is the understanding that the creditor may freely ask for a similar loan in
return sometime in the future. Merchant credit is relatively common as well (Von
Pischke 1977). The amount of credit outstanding amongst surveyed shopkeepers in
Nyeri and Machakos Districts was reported to be around 15 percent of average
monthly sales. Money lending by merchants and others appears to be relatively
uncommon and is largely limited to the Asian community.

Mutual savings and credit are generally a feature of rural women's associations
(although they may involve men as well) and may complement other group ven-
tures such as communal labour activities. Monthly contributions to the society are
pooled, and given to a different member every month. In two locations of
Murang'a District, around 50 such associations each raise and distribute around
the equivalent of US$ 500 per year (Thomas 1988). In aggregate, the sums become
quite substantial.

Another type of informal credit is the redeemable sale of crops or other assets.
Amongst the traditional antecedents was the redeemable land sale. Sales are
redeemable when the seller may reverse the transaction (Von Pischke 1977).
Though these types of transactions appear to be relatively uncommon where mar-
keting arrangements are well-established or where crops sales occur regularly, they
appear with greater frequency for commodities that are irregularly sold.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Wattle and eucalyptus trees are sometimes redeemably sold in Murang'a District.
Under this type of arrangement, payment at current market prices would be
advanced against standing trees when they were young, giving the buyer the right
to harvest them whenever he wished usually 7 or 8 years later. The seller could
buy back the standing trees at any time, at current market prices for an agreed upon
product mix (in the case of wattle, for charcoal, bark, building poles or fence

Several entrepreneurs in Kiambu District have attempted to further refine
redeemable sale. A number of agreements have been made with wattle producers
that they will continue to maintain their woodlots in exchange for annual pay-
ments. In most cases, annual payments have eliminated the redeemable feature of
the sale. The entrepreneurs had hoped that higher charcoal prices would make their
investment worthwhile but the outcome of their initiative is unclear.

When options for the development of formal credit mechanisms were being con-
sidered in the early 1950s, trees were recognized as a possible form of security
against loans. Wattle bark prices reached historic highs between 1948 and 1952,
prompting a local committee in Fort Hall (Murang'a) District to note that "in high
wattle areas a man's potential profit from the sale of his wattle bark could be con-
sidered to guarantee his loan"(Colony and Protectorate of Kenya 1929a).

Formal mechanisms for channelling credit to smallholders are a recent phe-
nomenon in Kenya mostly dating from the mid- to late 1960s. The primary sources
of smallholder credit are through agricultural marketing and processing coopera-
tives. Farmers are allowed to buy inputs against future sales of their crops to the
cooperative. There are few mechanisms for channelling credit specifically to sup-
port labour activities.

Commercial lending for smallholder agriculture is at an historic low. The gap
between the ceiling rates which commercial banks are allowed to charge for loans,
and the rate at which they are .able to obtain capital from the Central Bank has
steadily decreased. This has caused a shift in most commercial banks' lending
portfolios away from agriculture and towards urban and industrial investment.
Lending portfolios in agriculture have shifted away from smallholder agriculture
in favour of larger-scale agro-industrial investments.

Historical and cultural processes have greatly contributed to the evolution and
functioning of labour and capital markets in Kenya. Current patterns of labour
migration owe much to the institutionalization of labour and wage processes.

Formal credit

2.3 Smallholder
responses to
constrained labour
and capital supplies

In Kenya, when population pressures are low and labour is consequently relatively
scarce, larger holdings are used primarily for growing labour-intensive cash crops,

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 15

and smaller holdings are used for land-intensive food crops which yield low
returns to both land and labour (Republic of Kenya 1977).

These types of patterns of labour use are in part a risk management strategy. One
way of reducing risk is to ensure the household grows at least some food crops,
eliminating exposure to the possibility that cash crops will fail to generate enough
income to purchase food. The combination of uncertain prices and uncertain avail-
ability make subsistence cultivation a rational choice for those with little land,
even though it reduces returns to household labour. Additionally, labour-intensive
cash crops generally have long gestation periods. Coffee usually takes four years
to yield, while tea is not fully mature for 11 years. Labour-intensive crops pose
serious problems for smallholder cash-flow because they defer consumption and
because they require heavy investment and recurrent costs.

These constraints could be partly overcome if there were financial resources avail-
able for smallhok rs to expand their area under cultivation either through pur-
chase or tenancy, if capital were available to hire additional labour, and if small-
holder labour markets operated in a way that could allow households to specialize
in labour-intensive crops. At present however, only around a tenth of smallholder
labour inputs are supplied by the market, and the efficiency of hired labour com-
pared with household labour is quite low. Tenancy and land sales are almost entire-
ly absent; Integrated Rural Study 1 (IRS1) indicated that the total area of rented
smallholder farming land accounted for less than 1 percent of all smallholder farm-
ing land. Access to credit is restricted to a small minority of smallholders (Collier
and Lal 1986).

The lack of access to credit for smallholders accounts in part for the focus on food
crop production on the smallest holdings: farmers are unable to afford the heavy
investment costs in say, coffee or tea, much less the high recurrent costs for fertil-
izers and other inputs.

One of the most attractive alternatives for those without access to credit or capital
is urban wage employment. Because off-farm income is usually generated by
household members who live elsewhere, and because of the inefficiency and diffi-
culty of supervising hired labour to replace household labour, this strategy may
cause difficulties because of the labour constraints it can introduce.

2.4 Conclusion: Tree Within this context we can introduce several ideas about why farmers grow trees.
growing and factor Tree cultivation and management require far less labour than other types of crop
markets production. Where there are markets for different types of tree products in Kenya
these include building timbers, charcoal, bark (for tanning extracts), fence posts,
pulpwood (for the paper mill at Webuye), and fuelwood returns to labour can be
quite high. A Senior Agricultural Officer in Central Province noted in the early

16 Community Forestry Case Study 5

1940s, that the labour-extensive nature of black wattle largely accounted for its
rapid adoption as a cash crop. People had found out that wattle trees

... grow quickly while they are sleeping, so that it is an easy way to get
money. They plant the wattle, tend it for a year or so, then go away to
Nairobi and find work for some years and know when they return that
their 'bank' has grown to -be worth many shillings without the owner
doing much work. (KNA 1941:AGR/4/343)

Investments required for tree growing can be quite small, and consist primarily of
labour for site preparation and planting. Seedlings can be grown by households in
small, on-farm nurseries, with very low labour costs for seed collection and bed
preparation. In Kisii District, it has been reported that most farmers plant trees
every two or three years, and that 65 percent of their seedling stock comes from
either their own tree nurseries or from their neighbour's. Another 10 percent of
seedling stock is bought in local markets. The balance 25 percent is obtained
from "official" Forest Department nurseries (Kuyper and Bradley 1985).

Seedlings for cash crops such as tea or coffee, on the other hand, can be quite cost-
ly and beyond the reach of the poorest farmers. In addition to sometimes large
investment costs, there are usually heavy recurrent costs for fertilizers and fungi-
cides for cash crops. To grow trees as a cash crop requires neither the heavy invest-
ment nor the recurrent costs.

Perennial tree crops such as black wattle, may also be playing a role similar to ear-
lier traditional perennial crops. The planting of perennial crops as well as partici-
pation in the migrant labour economy are both somewhat gender-specific. Trees
are in many ways the ideal crop for filling a particular role within the farm econo-
my: wattle could be planted on holdings when men sought wage employment off
the farm and could provide a source of income during times of environmental or
economic stress.

Finally, trees can provide a flexible source of household income in the absence of
alternative sources of capital because they can be harvested when they are most
needed to provide school fees, dowry, to purchase food in times of scarcity, and
for other basic needs. The timing of harvesting is quite flexible: when cash is most
needed, when the markets are right, or when labour is freed up from other farming
activities. For households that consume most of their marginal output, or that oth-
erwise have too little capital to pursue alternative savings strategies, tree cultiva-
tion and management provides a sort of on-farm revolving savings/credit mecha-
nism which can be withdrawn as capital when needed.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 17

Chapter 2 End notes

1. The Kikuyu are divided into nine clans (muhiriga) each descended from one of the nine
daughters of the ancestral parents of the Kikuyu. The mbari, or sub-clan, was a more impor-
tant unit of social organization. Members of the mbari lived for the most part on their own
land unit.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

The Evolution of

Kikuyu Land Tenure

Tree cultivation and management in Kenya can only be understood within the con-
text of land tenure. Land tenure systems in Murang'a had been in a state of change
long before the Colonial Administration sought to limit the dynamics of. the pro-
cess. The Administration's adamant support for a static system of traditional land
tenure sought to institutionalize what David Throup called the "moral economy of
'Merrie Africa'" (Throup 1987:4) rooted, in the Colonial mind, in a mythical, egal-
itarian past. Over the last 50 years, the traditional system of communal tenure has
eventually evolved into a system of private tenure but one which incorporates the
community trust obligations inherent in indigenous law (Okoth-Ogendo 1987).

Traditional law in many areas of Kenya generally recognized a distinction between
rights of control of land (which are usually held by a lineage authority) and rights
of use and access (often determined by the needs of individual members of a com-
munity). Because of this distinction, in pre-Colonial times, rights of private land
ownership by a single individual ownership of the land and everything on it -
were not generally a feature of traditional law. That is, in traditional tenure sys-
tems, rights of tree ownership and exploitation could be held separately. In English
law (which provided the basis for much of the land tenure legislation of the late
1950s and early 1960s) trees are considered part of the land; the control of things
on the land, such as trees, cannot be vested in someone other than in the landowner
(Onalo 1986).

Murang'a is, roughly speaking, in the centre of Kikuyu country although the
Kikuyu are relatively recent occupants who settled there in the sixteenth century
(Muriuki 1974). They emerged as a group which shared common agro-ecological
survival strategies, developed in part as a result of their movement from arid and
semi-arid areas into the high potential agricultural areas on the eastern slopes of
the Aberdare mountains.

3.1 Trees and
land tenure

Early settlement in

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 19

Chapter 3


The centre of Kikuyu country is traditionally associated with the area around the
town of Gakuyu of Murang'a District. Gakuyu is a form of the name for the miakiyi
tree from which the name GTkiyi (or Kikuyu) is also derived (Kenyatta 1938).
Another site, Mikurwe wa Gathanga, is named after another tree (Albizia .), and is
where, we are told, God appeared to the man, GTkiiyi, and allotted him all the land
south and west of Mount Kenya to the edge of the forest. The site was the location
where GWkiy4i, and Mumbi, his wife, made their home and raised their nine daugh-
ters who became the forbearers of the nine Kikuyu clans. Few trees, in any society,
have such important cultural associations as these two have for the Kikuyu.

Fig. 3.1
Mi ring (rdia1% africana
and Migumo (fkfg thon-
nonai) trees growing togeth-
er at the site of Mukurwe wa
Gathanga in Murang'a
Photo: Dewees

Sub-clan boundaries, and subsequent political and economic divisions, were largely
dependent on the physical geography. Much of Kikuyu land, particularly in
Murang'a, is characterized by a series of ridges and deep river gorges running from
west to east. This extensive system of ridges and valleys strongly influenced patterns
of settlement and the emergence of systems of land tenure. Ridges, for the most part,
tended to be cleared and cultivated first, and became the basis for the holdings of a
sub-clan (mbari) which could trace its origins to a common male ancestor.

Kikuyu agricultural expansion had long been limited by periodic wars with the
Maasai. A forest belt acted as a buffer between the Maasai and the Kikuyu, con-
cealing a series of fortified Kikuyu villages. European intervention put an end to

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Fortified Kikuyu Forest Vil-
lage in the Nyandarua
Forests, 1909.
Photo: Consolata Fathers, Turin

Maasai and Kikuyu raids, and as a result the buffer forests were no longer needed.
Between 1900 and 1910 there was a period of intensive forest clearance and culti-
vation by the Kikuyu.

Provincial Commissioner S.L.Hinde estimated that during this period, the Aber-
dare forests were being cleared at a rate of a half mile a year (Government of the
United Kingdom 1909). Hutchins speculated that between the early 1890s and
1909, around 350 square miles of forests on the slopes of the Aberdares had been
cleared (FD 1909/1910:5). The demarcation of Forest Reserve boundaries, well
underway in 1910, put an end to further clearance and expansion of Kikuyu areas.
The Administration's land policy put limits on Kikuyu settlement practices and
systems of land tenure that were, quite fundamentally, expansionist.

Acquisition of land in the earliest Kikuyu settlements was based on the rights of
first use, defined originally by the exercise of hunting and trapping rights. As
described by a Kikuyu elder in the late 1920s:

In those days we did not cultivate so much as we do now. A man
trapped animals and his hunting area became his Ngundu [land claim].
His descendants became his clan. Each father had his own hunting
area where he set his traps and he would show the boundaries of it to
his sons... In the course of time by a natural process the Estate breaks
up and each branch of the family gets control of its own Estate...
[They] still recognize the eldest son of the eldest branch as the head of
the family.(Colony and Protectorate of Kenya 1929a:8).

Hunting rights were strengthened by forest clearance and cultivation. The basic
land unit was known as the sub-clan holding (gTthaka) or estate. (Technically, as it
refers to uncleared bushland, its basis is in hunting rather than in cultivating tradi-

3.2 The sub-clan
holding (gfthaka)as
the basic land unit
Origins of the sub-clan
land holding

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 21

Tenancy and the
sub-clan holding

Fig. 3.3
Gathering of Kikuyu elders
at a Beer Fest (Tuthu
Village, 1908)
Photo: Consolata Fathers, Turin

tions.) It was reported in the late 1920s that most sub-clan holdings ranged in size
from about 20 ha to nearly 2,500 ha although they generally were between 80 and
120 ha in size (Colony and Protectorate of Kenya 1929a:9).

Cultivation rights of the sub-clan holding belonged to families with lineage rights,
and were held in perpetuity. People without lineage rights could obtain temporary
rights of cultivation to sub-clan lands through redeemable sales, from land lending
and tenancy (discussed in Chapter 2).

Land lending to people outside the sub-clan took several forms. A miihoi or tenant,
for instance, could be lent land for cultivation, usually on the basis of friendship.
Subject to the approval of the sub-clan leader (muramati), these rights could be
granted. In certain circumstances, the rights of a tenant could be passed from gen-
eration to generation. Although no rent per se featured in this type of tenancy
agreement, occasional gifts were expected.

The cultivation of the sub-clan holding was the clearest means of retaining land
tenure rights. In the event that lineage rightholders were not able to fully cultivate
the sub-clan holding, temporary tenants would be sought to clear and cultivate
underutilized land. As land became more scarce and labour more abundant, these
tenancy arrangements became less common and were often cancelled. Although in
principle a temporary tenant still held lineage rights to his own sub-clan land, in
practice it was very difficult to return and regain cultivation rights. Occasionally, a
temporary tenant might become a resident tenant (mithami) who was allowed the
right to cultivate and to build a homestead.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

So within the system of traditional Kikuyu land tenure, there were precedents for
tenancy and land lending arrangements. Resident tenancy allowed the building of a
homestead, while land lending expressly prohibited it. Land lending thus encour-
aged the formation of a class of non-resident farm labourers, but it was dependent
in part on there being holdings which could not be successfully cultivated by the
right holder. Resident tenancy and land lending arrangements could be inherited.
Rights of use were distributed to male descendants of the first owner, while a non-
distributed right of control was held by the eldest son of the senior branch of the
sub-clan or family who was its trustee (or miramati).

Until the time of European settlement, the sub-clan land holding system was rea-
sonably secure. It continued to function in varying degrees in Central Province as
late as the mid-1970s, although most traditional rights were extinguished during
the period of land consolidation and registration in the early 1960s. The earliest
pressures on the system became evident when the Colonial Administration
attempted to resolve disputes involving customary law and land tenure something
it did not fundamentally understand. In 1914, for instance, it was argued that the
Crown's responsibility was to develop "a system of tenure for
them real and definite rights to the land" (Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
1929a:63) as if these rights did not already exist. Later, however, the 1929 report
of the Committee on Native Land Tenure in Kikuyu Province recommended that
customary laws be accepted as the basis for Kikuyu land tenure and that specific
practices regarding the demarcation of holdings which involved the planting of
trees on farm boundaries be included as rules under the pending Native Lands
Trust Ordinance. Draft rules were prepared but never enacted (Fazan undated).

Any possibility for allowing a system of private land tenure for Africans was
greatly resisted by the Government (Ainsworth undated:497). The 1932 Kenya
Land Commission had recommended that tenure systems in Kenya "be progres-
sively guided in the direction of private tenure, proceeding through the group and
family towards the individual holding."(Government of the United Kingdom
1934). Largely because of the strength of European settler opinion, the recommen-
dation was ignored. Instead, it was legislated that native tenure systems not be
modified. This meant that customary tenure, however the Colonial Administration
chose to define it, was to guide the resolution of land disputes. Customary tenure
in Kikuyu areas; however, had never been static, but was itself derived from a
body of precedents and practices that evolved as new pressures presented them-
selves. By locking customary tenure practices in place, there were increased pres-
sures on the native tenure system. Land disputes were inevitable.

The Administration was particularly opposed to the rise of capitalism which would
accelerate if private tenure were granted (Throup 1987:63). But privatization was
taking place anyway. By the early 1930s, the difference between communal and

Pressures on the system

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 23

individual tenure was, in many areas of Kikuyu country, mostly semantic. Inherit-
ed exploitation rights, although there may have been communal obligations associ-
ated with them, would seldom be revoked by the sub-clan leader, whose power had
decreased with time. The establishment of permanent crops or plots of trees was
also an important mechanism for asserting individual, rather than communal,
rights of ownership (Colony and Protectorate of Kenya 1929a:39).

Accompanying the emergence of "private" land rights was the breakdown of the
system that granted tenancy rights and, particularly, allowed these rights to be
inherited. By the late 1940s, extensive land litigation was common between sub-
clan members and third or fourth generation descendants of the original tenants
with whom the tenancy agreements had been made. The considerable time which
had passed made it extremely difficult to resolve the litigation. Because of the
uncertainty of tenure, it was argued that tenants would be hesitant to make long-
term improvements in the holding (Simmance 1961:75-81).

In 1948 the Fort Hall Law Panel, comprised of chiefs, councillors, and court presi-
dents of the District, initiated reforms to make some types of land transactions,
particularly land that had been acquired through redeemable sale agreements
(aguri), no longer redeemable. The move to scrap land redemption and tenant
eviction practices gained momentum in the early 1950s. The problem of insecure
tenure was large. In the mid-1950s, it was estimated that between 10 and 50 per-
cent of the total land in Murang'a District was still, technically, redeemable.

3.3 Changing tenure The 1952 State of Emergency, called in response to the growing civil turmoil that
and land use systems would eventually lead to Independence, had a far-reaching impact on land tenure.
Villagization and the One of the measures mounted during the Emergency was "villagization." Origi-
Emergency nally the programme was intended to isolate Mau Mau fighters in the forests from
material and food supplies that were being provided by their sympathisers. The
programme also provided protection for Kikuyus who remained loyal to the Gov-
ernment and who could be more easily guarded in these armed and barricaded
sites. Others saw it as an opportunity for providing central educational, agricultural
and health services.

The villagization programme introduced unprecedented forms of social organiza-
tion. Families that had formerly lived on isolated homesteads with 10 to 20 other
individuals were forcibly moved into villages with an average of 1200 residents.
By 1956, 272 villages had been established in Kiambu District, 235 in Murang'a
District, and 169 in Nyeri District (Thurston 1987:85).

As a result of the Emergency, over 100,000 people were moved to the Reserves
from towns and from European farms where they had farmed as squatters. In every
sense, these were displaced persons who had no connection with the Reserves as

24 Community Forestry Case Study 5

they had often been working as squatters for several generations. They too were
placed in villages and were given plots. Their return often created suspicion and
resentment amongst the long-time residents of the Reserves. The villages provided
everyone with a twentieth of a hectare (around 500m2) and was partly an attempt
to solve the problem of squatter landlessness. Those who had land use rights were
allowed to continue cultivating their holdings. Those who had no land except for
their 500m2 plot were expected to seek wage labour on the larger holdings. There
was, however, neither the capital nor the means of production to support a class of
wage labourers (Sorrenson 1987:147).

Villagization was closely linked with land tenure reform, particularly the consoli-
dation of fragmented holdings. From the times of earliest settlement in Kikuyu
country, landholdings became progressively and extensively fragmented. Most
households had several distinct and geographically separate plots within the sub-
clan holding. This was partly because of the inheritance of exploitation rights,
which basically meant that lineage holdings would become progressively smaller
over time. When land holdings became too small given family size (usually when
a man married another wife) the man would try to obtain rights to another plot for
cultivation. The new plots were seldom contiguous with plots the household was
already cultivating. Fragmentation was also a product of the system of land lend-
ing and redeemable sale which encouraged tenant farmers to cultivate fragmented
sub-clan lands.

One result of fragmentation was that, by cultivating different plots spread over
several agro-ecological zones, farmers could spread out their environmental risks.
In the event of drought, for instance, crops on a few plots would fail, but not all of
them would fail. The cultivation of multiple plots could also even out seasonal pat-
terns of labour demand because cultivation and harvesting tasks could be stag-
gered, depending on where the plots were located. Fragmentation as an unwitting,
though adaptive, land use made tremendous sense in areas of huge agro-ecological
variability like Murang'a. Even so, the Administration consistently chose to ignore
these types of benefits. The arguments against fragmentation were usually based
on the notion that it was detrimental to agricultural practices: fragmentation hin-
dered modernization, it generated inefficiencies in the use of factors of production,
and it would be costly to change (McPherson 1983:10, Binns 1950:15).

The extent of fragmentation varied widely. In Kiambu, for instance, it was reported
that one farmer held a total of four hectares made up of 20 plots within a radius of
14 miles (Homan and Sands undated:5). The record was probably in Murang'a
though, where district reports noted that one man had 108 fragments spread over
17Ha (KNA 1958). The norm in Murang'a was probably that a single farmer
would have around five or six holdings totalling around two hectares. Households
which held only one plot were the exception.

Consolidation of
fragmented holdings of

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 25

Consolidation was thought to be the key to an agricultural revolution in Kenya,
and the granting of individual title was seen as a mechanism for channelling loan
funds, and other resources, to smallholder agriculture. It particularly affected land
and labour use patterns. In economic terms, its impact is surprisingly often under-
stated; few efforts have been mounted to evaluate the effects of consolidation on
agricultural production specifically, and on the rural economy in general.

Momentum for change gathered from around 1950, with the appointment of Roger
Swynnerton as an Assistant Director for Agriculture. In 1953, the Swynnerton plan
made consolidation a key feature of agricultural development in Kenya. Consoli-
dation, however, could not have been accomplished without the Emergency
(Swynnerton undated). Villagization removed people from the land which meant
that the Administration could initiate consolidation without the problem of having
to deal with established homesteads. Secondly, consolidation was seen as a mecha-
nism for rewarding loyalists with economic patronage.

Fig. 3.4
Land consolidation
committee meeting (Thuita,
late 1950s)
Photo:Ministry of Agriculture

Consolidation was carried out in blocks of between 800 and 1,600 ha, about the
size of a sublocation. Redemption of every plot of land from the temporary pur-
chasers (aguri) was a prerequisite to consolidation (Wilson 1956:146). Generally,
the objective was to include a proportion of arable, cash-crop and grazing land
within each consolidated holding. The extent of existing cash crops and other
improvements was recorded so that compensation for permanent improvements
could be paid by the new owner.

The smallest holdings were grouped around villages and larger holdings were sited
beyond these (Pedraza 1956:85). The landless were given plots in villages, from
where they were expected to seek wage labour in agriculture or to become shopkeep-

Community Forestry Case Study 5

ers and artisans. Consolidated holdings generally ran in strips from ridges to valleys -
giving a right holder a range (albeit limited) of agro-ecological conditions and soils
in which to farm (Wilson 1956:149). Consolidation was followed up by boundary
marking and farm planning. Basic farm layouts were made for all farms as soon as
they were consolidated. They included recommendations to cultivate food crops on
land with a slope of less than 20 percent, to cultivate grass or trees on land with a
slope of greater than 35 percent, and to cultivate permanent crops on slopes between
20 and 35 percent (Brown 1962:297). Farmers who requested it could benefit from
more detailed farm layouts. By 1961, detailed plans had been prepared for around 18
percent of the holdings in Murang'a District (and 10 and 21 percent of the holdings,
respectively, in Kiambu and Nyeri Districts) (Brown 1962:284).

Despite the proliferation of farm plans, the Colonial Department of Agriculture
was inexperienced when it came to smallholder farming.

Despite the fact that the whole purpose of agriculture is to produce,
you will not find production. Agriculture is limited to the production
of terraces. There are no decent crops to grow on them.... There are a
few beautiful to look at smallholdings, which have cost the earth to
make. They are surrounded by miles of barbed wire and are good as
show places for VIPs. They are not, however, economic.(Thompson

There was no legal basis for consolidation, nor were consolidated holdings recognized
in law. Consequently, the Administration imposed a moratorium on all land cases, and
drafted and passed legislation that provided for consolidation, the registration of titles
and inheritance. The outcome was the Native Lands Registration Ordinance of 1959
which, for the first time, legalized private land ownership in the Reserves.

That legislation formed the basis for the legislation that now comprises the accept-
ed body of land law. The 1963 Registered Land Act (Cap. 300) is the primary legal
instrument controlling land transactions. Under its terms, customary land rights
were extinguished in areas which had been consolidated and registered, as in virtu-
ally all of the high potential agricultural areas (Allot 1988[II]:2). Rights of control
and rights of access or use were equated with ownership rights. Land is conse-
quently inherited by the sons of each house of a rightholders' wives. For instance,
if a man with three wives died, the land was split equally into three; each third was
then split equally amongst the sons within each line. Women had rights of use, by
marriage, but were unable to inherit land.

African agriculture had, for the most part, been ignored by the Colonial Admin- Agricultural contexts
istration. At the urging of the European settler community, most Africans were
prevented from growing any of the better paying export crops. By the mid-
1940s, African agriculture was in a fairly bad state. It was seriously undercapi-

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 27

3.4 Changes in land
tenure and their
Impact on tree tenure

talized and development in the Reserves had come to a virtual standstill. Still
clinging to the notion that the problem was linked to the growth of "individual-
ism" and the soil degradation which had allegedly resulted, the Administration
embarked on a massive programme of communally-based soil conservation that
relied on reviving the traditional use of communal labour supervised and con-
trolled by tribal elders.

One of the few cash crops which Africans in Murang'a were actively encouraged
to grow was black wattle. It was introduced into the district around 1902 and had a
major social, economic and political impact on the area. (Black wattle is discussed
in detail in Chapter Five.)

The Administration did, however, recognize a serious need for land reform. Nor-
man Humphrey, for instance, argued that parts of Kikuyu country were completely
unable to provide even a subsistence standard of living, and that each household
needed a minimum of around 4.8 ha, in comparison with the 2.6 ha of land the
average household had access to at the time. Humphrey proposed a massive pro-
gramme of resettlement, recommending that "14,000 families must come off the
land as soon as possible." What Humphrey and others had chosen to ignore in their
calculations of land requirements in Reserve areas was the potential for cash crop-
ping (Humphrey 1945a:10 and 1945b:52).

The reversal of policies toward communal development began around 1947 after
the breakdown of the soil conservation programme. That year, the Director of
Agriculture announced that the European coffee growers had abandoned their
objections to smallholder coffee production, provided that it was adequately super-
vised and cultivated away from European farms. Two years later, the Tea Growers'
Association abandoned their objections to smallholder tea production (Thurston

The Registered Land Act (Cap.300) of 1963 specified that, for holdings registered
under the act, customary law would no longer apply. The result was that rights of
control, and rights of use both became vested in the landowner, rather than in lin-
eage authority or lineage right holder. The legislation introduced important
changes affecting tree tenure. Trees, as well as "all things growing on the
land...and other things permanently affixed to the land" were the property of the
registered landowner. Rights of control, then, were vested in the landowner, rather
than in a lineage authority, and it would be up to the landowner to determine if an
individual could use the trees growing there. The effects of the legislation, like
much of the land-related legislation of the 1950s and early 1960s, were most pro-
foundly felt by the landless, who may have had rights of use to trees growing on
sub-clan land guaranteed to them by the sub-clan leader, but who lost these rights
as sub-clan land was registered in the names of private land owners.

28 Community Forestry Case Study 5

Sub-clan lineage land use right holders (who were probably less likely to need other
tree-use rights on sub-clan lands) lost exploitation rights to communal tree resources as
well. Landed farmers, however, were far more able to respond to the tree scarcities
brought about by consolidation and registration than were the landless. Farmers who
might otherwise have relied on sub-clan trees for timber and fuelwood supplies, but who
no longer had access to them, were able instead to grow trees on their own consolidated
holdings. Indeed, they were already doing so from the 1940s, as real physical scarcities
of trees were developing both on right holders' lands and on communal lands.

While the impression given might be that farmers are freely able to plant and har- Controls on tree planting
vest trees as they choose, this is not exactly the case. Several pieces of legislation
place some controls on tree planting and other land uses and bear mention here.
These are the Chief's Authority Act (Cap.128), the Agricultural (Basic Land
Usage) Rules and the Agricultural Act (Cap.318) from which they were derived.

The Chief's Authority Act was first introduced in the 1920s as the Administration
sought to develop a framework of local government. The chiefs were widely
enlisted in the Government's various agricultural campaigns, and in the process
were empowered to regulate a wide range of land uses.

The current Chief's Authority Act is extremely wide ranging. Chiefs are able to require,

...persons to plant any specified crops for the support of themselves
and their families when the area concerned is suffering from or threat-
ened with a shortage of foodstuffs.

The Act also allows a chief to prohibit grazing in areas that are being rehabilitated
or have been planted with fodder crops. Finally, it also gives chiefs the power to
employ compulsory labour in the event of natural catastrophes or other emergen-
cies, and for "the conservation of natural resources" (a euphemism for compulsory
tree planting and soil conservation work).

With regard to tree harvesting, Section 10 of the Act specifies that,

Any chief may from time to time issue orders to be obeyed by the per-
sons residing or being within the local limits of his jurisdiction
for...[the purposes of] regulating the cutting of timber and prohibiting
the wasteful destruction of trees...or for any other purpose appointed
by the Minister in writing. [emphasis added]

This last provision gives broad authority to chiefs to enforce any land use practice
which the Government wishes to introduce.

The provisions of the Chief's Act are strengthened by the Agricultural Act and the
Agricultural (Basic Land Usage) Rules which empower the Minister to require

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 29

afforestation or reforestation. The Agricultural Act also makes provision for the
regulation of the planting of cash crops such as coffee and tea. These crops can
neither be planted nor taken out without a permit.

The Land Usage Rules also regulate hillside cultivation. They prohibit the cutting
of trees and the grazing of livestock on hills with slopes of greater than 35 percent.
They empower Agricultural Officers to prohibit cultivation on land that is greater
than 20 percent slope, and to require soil conservation measures on any cultivated
land between 12 percent and 35 percent in slope.

There is no consistency whatsoever in the extent to which controls on farmer tree
growing are enforced. Chiefs may require a farmer to obtain a license before trees
can be harvested in exchange for a payment of one form or another. In some areas,
this requirement has acted as a disincentive to plant trees because there is no assur-
ance that the trees can be harvested. Indeed, the general practice of requiring
licences to plant or harvest particular crops acts as a disincentive to alter patterns
of land use in response to changing economic conditions.

Rules and regulations about tree planting are introduced and enforced with great
irregularity and as it becomes politically expedient to do so. In 1985, for instance,
eucalyptus came under heavy attack in Parliament following the head-of-state's
vocal concern about the possible negative impact of these trees on the environ-
ment. A ban on the planting of gum trees was very nearly introduced. Since then,
the discussion about eucalyptus has been greatly tempered in part, because of
growing recognition of the economic value of the tree to the rural economy.

More generally however, potential problems with the authorities are reduced by
the discrete harvesting and management of trees. Trees are sometimes harvested
and managed individually or in small blocks, rather than as an even-aged group: if
a few poles are harvested from a woodlot and sold, no one really notices; if the
woodlot is entirely cleared, there may be problems. Where permits are not general-
ly required, it is more common to see entire stands of trees or windows felled at
the same time.

3.5 Summary: Patterns of land use, defined as a result of the farm planning exercises that fol-
Changes in land lowed consolidation, are easily recognized in current land use practices. Villagiza-
tenure and the tion and consolidation also clustered smaller holdings around villages.
Impacts of
Consolidation strengthened the African middle peasantry, but largely at the
expense of the landless. The people whose position was most seriously damaged
by consolidation were the tenants (temporary and resident) and those making
redeemable land purchases (maguri). As plots were consolidated, land lending and
tenancy arrangements were cancelled and land sales were redeemed. While it was

30 Community Forestry Case Study 5

assumed that the landless would form a labouring class engaged in employment on
larger holdings or in villages, these opportunities were not extensive enough (Sor-
renson 1967:221).

Patterns of labour organization were radically changed as well. The process freed
up enormous amounts of household labour, formerly used for the cultivation of
fragmented holdings. No analysts of the economics of smallholder agriculture in
post-independent Kenya have ever assessed (or even speculated upon) the dramati-
cally changed patterns of labour use resulting from consolidation. A reliance on
labour-extensive land uses (or tenancy arrangements) to keep distant holdings pro-
ductive was simply no longer necessary. The fact that household labour became
more available partly disproved the hypothesis, that consolidated holdings would
provide good opportunities for employment of the landless.

The shift in patterns of labour availability was accompanied by shifts in patterns of
land use. In Murang'a District prior to consolidation the dominant cash crop was
black wattle. As labour was freed up by consolidation, there was no longer the
need to cultivate fragmented holdings with labour extensive crops like trees. This
created an overwhelmingly positive environment for the introduction of other cash
crops such as coffee and tea. Consolidation, the Swynnerton Plan, and the liberal-
ization of agricultural policies in the Reserves brought about large increases in
income from smallholder agriculture. However, the immediate benefits were not
evenly distributed and if consolidation could be judged to have been a failure, it
was in this respect.

Finally, consolidation greatly changed the relationship between the rights of con-
trol of land and rights of use. Contemporary land tenure practices no longer
assured people of customary rights of access to trees growing on sub-clan lands.
Tree resources which could be managed and utilized on a communal basis were no
longer accessible to people who may have needed them. The long-term impacts of
this change are related to the widespread cultivation and management of trees on
private lands, where rights of ownership and control are one and the same.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 31

Chapter 4

Tree Cultivation and

Management Practices
----------------- * *

Land tenure processes have long been closely associated with tree cultivation
and management practices. In some cases, tree production was the primary
objective. In other instances, cultivation was more concerned with traditional
land tenure practices such as boundary demarcation. Forest cover was also
used to protect and fortify villages. At the household-level, trees and woody
biomass served similar purposes of protection and boundary demarcation and
was also used for livestock management. Finally, trees played a vital role in
religious practices and were an abundant source of medicines and food
(Gachathi 1990).

As with other features of the sub-clan land holding system, rights of use to natural- 4.1 Tree tenure
ly-growing trees on a right holder's plot belonged to him and to his household,
while rights of use to trees on unallocated portions of the sub-clan holding
belonged to the sub-clan as a whole. Permission to fell these trees had to be
obtained from the sub-clan leader, but as long as unallocated bushland remained,
there were few supply problems.

In Murang'a and Nyeri Districts, a person who obtained land through redeemable
sale (miguri) had no right to cut down the trees on the plot. Trees were actually
inventoried at the time of the sale, and if the miguri wished to cut any of them,
they had to be purchased from the original owner. Sometimes he was allowed to
cut them as gifts. The cutting of trees without payment or permission, however,
was an offence for which fines were assessed. New trees which grew up after the
time of the sale belonged to the miuguri, and he could do with them as he wished.
Similar conditions applied to temporary and resident tenants; they were not able to
cut down existing trees. In Kiambu, when land was sold outright, the trees growing
on the plot were always included in the sale (Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
1929a :28-29).

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Planted trees belonged to whomever planted them, as long as they held some sort
of cultivation right. When land lending or tenancy agreements were cancelled, or
when land was redeemed, rights to planted trees were relinquished (although the
trees could be disposed of until the time the lineage right holder regained posses-
sion)(Ainsworth undated:501). Even by the late 1920s, the ownership of wattle
woodlots or other permanent crops was posing problems lor the tenure system
because the crop owners were not necessarily the land owners (Fazan undated).

Similarly, coppiced production belonged to whomever held cultivation rights. A
number of trees were particularly appreciated for their coppicing qualities, and
were planted as timber species. These included mFuuu (Markhamia hildebrandtii)
and mdikuhakuha (Macaranga kilimandscharica) which were both profusely cop-
picing timber species. Coppiced trees would be allowed to grow on cultivated
land, as well as in hedges and windows. The Routledges, amongst the earliest of
the social scientists to carry out ethnographic studies of the Kikuyu in Nyeri,
reported that they commonly observed coppiced stems up to 20 feet in height on
farmland (Routledge and Routledge 1910:39).

4.2 Trees as Trees were commonly used to demarcate the boundaries of sub-clan lands. They
boundary markers were actually a departure from the norm but later came to be preferred because
Demarcation of the they provided greater visibility. Certainly as population pressures increased in
sub-clan land boundary Murang'a and other parts of Kikuyu country, tree planting around boundaries

became the accepted practice.

The customary method of marking out sub-clan land boundaries involved the
planting of the Pajama Lily (Crinum kirkii) by the hereditary sub-clan right holder
or by representatives of the sub-clan who held lineage rights to it. The 1929 Com-
mittee on Native Land Tenure in Kikuyu Province noted that boundaries in
Murang'a and Nyeri were not fully marked in the days when the sub-clan land
holding was a hunting area, but that they were sufficiently well-established to
allow for proper marking when the occasion arose (Colony and Protectorate of
Kenya 1929a:19). Natural features such as streams, prominent trees, game pits,
and so on served as boundary markers in the meantime.

The marking out of sub-clan land boundaries was done as cultivation became
widespread. It was often the result of of land disputes, but was also undertaken simply
as a means of preventing future conflicts. It was to be done in the presence of witness-
es and representatives of the sub-clan which owned the land adjacent to the plot in
question. Witnesses would be asked to bring large numbers of the Pajama Lily, which
could only be removed from already well-established boundaries by senior elders. A
specific ceremony accompanied the marking and involved the ritual slaughter of a
ram at the sub-clan land boundary at which also bundles of leaves of the mithakwa
bush (Vernonia auriculifera) were used. In some areas, large stones would be buried

34 Community Forestry Case Study 5

where the lilies were planted. In the event that the lilies died out over time, boundary
disputes could be resolved by using the stones (Fazan undated). There was little fear
that a person would willfully destroy boundary plants, as the Kikuyu believed that
such a person would die almost immediately (Leakey 1977:108).

S"Fig. 4.1
Pajama Lily (Cr(num Akirkm
as a boundary marker
S( (Kiambu District, late 1950s)
_IA_ Photo:Ministry of Agriculture

Pajama Lily plantings along sub-clan land boundaries were seldom in continuous
strips. Rather, lilies would be planted at irregular intervals, and it would not always
be immediately clear that they were contiguous with boundaries (Kenyatta undat-
ed:433) Before death the lineage right holder or the sub-clan leader would show
the boundaries to his heirs in the presence of elders and other witnesses. In this
way, lineage rights were passed from generation to generation (Fazan undated).

While the Pajama Lily was the usual boundary marker, a number of trees and bush-
es were accepted as substitutes. The planting of trees became considerably more
common as the need for clearer boundaries to sub-clan land became evident. Trees
were planted at irregular intervals, as well as in what would now be called
windows and hedges. This process was apparently well underway by the time of
European settlement. The Routledges wrote about sub-clan land holdings in 1910:

The boundary of the estate .... was indicated by the planting of trees in
line, by regular hedges, and by boundary stones sunk deep out of site....
The countryside presents the appearance of large allotments or of small
fields divided by hedges.(Routledge and Routledge 1910:6,39).

Trees which were used as sub-clan land boundaries included miigumo (Ficus natal-
ensis), (Kenyatta undated:433) mwatha (Synadenium compactum) (Wangana

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

undated:185), miiri (Prunus africanum), miikawa (Caissa edulis) (Fazan undated),
and mriinga (Cordia africana). With the exception of P.africanum and C.edulis,
these trees could be propagated from cuttings which made boundary demarcation
fairly easy. They were also easy to identify. F.natalensis, for instance, is still wide-
ly recognized as a fast-growing tree. It was often the site of important ceremonies.
If it could be prevented, F.natalensis was never allowed to naturally regenerate. If a
tree of this species was found growing somewhere, one inevitably had to assume
that it had been planted for some reason.

Other boundary trees were also easy to spot. S.compactum is distinctive for its red
leaves and latex. P.africanum is a tall tree with numerous medicinal properties and
has extremely hard timber which was used for mortars, pestles and farm imple-
ments. C.edulis is one of a number of thorny species that can form a dense hedge.
It is used mainly for boundaries to household plots and for cattle enclosures.
C.africana, a tall timber tree, has profuse white flowers, and is valued for shade,
timber, and its medicinal properties.

S.H.Fazan, the District Commissioner for Kiambu in the early 1930s, noted that in
some instances, the boundary of the sub-clan holding would be marked by cop-
piced and pollarded tree stumps rather than by planted trees,

... that is to say they cut off the tree itself and leave the bushy growth to
spring from the root. I saw several of these, and in one place they have the
general appearance of having been planted in a row. (Fazaa undated:960)

The Forest Department, wittingly or not, adopted the practice of boundary demarca-
tion with trees. In 1933, it was reported that the boundaries to the Forest Reserves
were being demarcated "by cut or ploughed lines, marked by posts, or exotic trees
planted at intervals."(FD 1933). The planting of Reserve boundaries with exotic trees
by the Colonial government must certainly have held some significance to the
Kikuyu who had always used their own trees for marking out their own boundaries.

The customary demarcation of sub-clan lands with Pajama Lilies and with trees
was first widely discussed during the hearings before the Kenya Land Commission
in 1933. The Commission frequently asked European witnesses whether or not
they had ever noticed boundaries planted with the lily. The reply was invariably
that the lilies were reasonably common, but that they were seldom found planted
in straight lines as if they were marking out boundaries (Leakey undated:857,
Ainsworth undated:497,508). Because of this, the Commission basically refused
to settle the many pending land cases which involved European farms on the basis
of lily boundary markers, even though the Administration had earlier explicitly
recognized this feature of traditional land tenure (Colony and Protectorate of
Kenya 1929). The irregular planting of lilies along boundaries was perhaps the
biggest difficulty in establishing land claims in the face of colonial settlement.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Additionally, land disputes had become far more common, particularly after the
Kenya Land Commission had made it clear that land would not be available for the
future settlement of Africans. Tree planting along boundaries assumed new impor-
tance as a means of unequivocally identifying the limits of a right holder's land.
The ceremony of marking out sub-clan land boundaries with Pajama Lilies died
out over time, but the practice of demarcation remained and was encouraged by the
Colonial Administration. The 1929 Report of the Committee on Land Tenure in
Kikuyu Province, for instance, made a series of recommendations for including
boundary marking practices in rules proposed under the Native Lands Trust Ordi-
nance (Fazan undated). The report recommended:

...that only Mugumu trees and Pajama Lilies should be used for mark-
ing the boundaries of a Githaka...; [that] it should be made unlawful
for [them] to be planted in lines in any place other than on a GTthaka
boundary; [and that] it should be lawful for any native authority to
issue orders that any Mugumu trees or Pajama Lilies which may be
found to have been planted in lines in any place other than a recog-
nized Githaka boundary be removed.

The Chief Native Commissioner, G.V.Maxwell, incorporated the recommendations
in a set of draft rules, which also specified that it would be an offence to plant
Fnatalensis and Pajama lilies on any boundary which was not a sub-clan boundary
(Fazan undated). This basically meant that where homestead (as opposed to sub-
clan) boundaries were to be demarcated, other species would have to be used. Of
course the outcome of enclosure of the type envisaged by Maxwell and others
would have been some sort of agreement that Africans could privately own land,
and this was simply not acceptable either to the Colonial authorities or to the Euro-
pean farmers whose position depended on their monopoly land-owning rights. Not
surprisingly, the Committee's recommendations were never implemented. It would
take another 25 years before Africans could privately own land and before hedges
had any sort of legal standing.

Boundary demarcation with exotic trees gradually became the norm. Trees such as
eucalyptus and black wattle were sometimes planted in rows by themselves or in
conjunction with indigenous trees over the spots where Pajama Lilies had original-
ly been planted (Wangana undated: 185, Karanja undated: 145).

Boundary demarcation was a critical part of the consolidation and registration pro-
cess. Ultimately, hedges became a legal requirement for land registration. The
Land Consolidation Act (Cap.283), for instance, notes that,

The Demarcation Officer may order any demarcate his
land, and for the purpose of such demarcation, to erect or plant...such
boundary markers as the said officer may direct.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Trees on other

The reasoning was primarily that they were visible from the air, and could be used
for mapping out consolidated holdings from aerial photographs (Wright 1956:39).
Because of the speed with which it was deemed necessary to map out and register
the plots, it was desired as well that hedges were fast growing.

Tree planting practices for demarcating sub-clan land boundaries were different
from the practices that were adopted for marking other boundaries. It is important
to also distinguish between boundary demarcation practices and functional or pro-
tective hedge establishment practices (Leakey 1977:1286-1354).

Sub-divisions within the sub-clan land holding were often marked out. The species
which predominated in these boundaries were usually utilitarian in nature. Muiiui
(M.hildebrandtii), for instance, was commonly planted along the boundaries of
sub-clan land holding subdivisions. It is an obvious tree with bright yellow flow-
ers, but is especially useful in that it coppices easily and can be cropped many
times for pole wood. It easily regenerates from cuttings. Miikmngiigu (C.zimmer-
mannii) shares these characteristics. Young trees of this species are still frequently
found in many shambas where they are used to support climbing plants. Old sub-
clan land holding subdivisions can still be identified where these trees, which grow
as high as 20 metres, are found.

Around fortified villages near the border of Kikuyu country, it was common practice
to fell trees and bushes into a barrier, and then to encourage thorny plants to grow
around it or noxious creepers to climb over it to make the barrier impenetrable. Plants

Entrance to a fortified
Kikuyu village (Murang'a
District, around 1907. i 9..
Photo:Consolata Fathers Turin I

38 Community Forestry Case Study 5

such as mutanda mbogo (Pterolobium stellatum), mayuyu (Chaetacme aristata),
muutT (Aspilia spp.), and miikawa (Caissa edulis) were used to create these barriers.

Hedges would usually be planted around homesteads. Inevitably, there was some
specific utility to the planted hedge for medicinal uses, as a famine food, for fod-
der, or for food. Mithakwa wa aathi (Crassocephalum mannii), the leaves of which
have medicinal value, falls into this category and is still one of the most frequently
found indigenous hedge species in Kikuyu country, particularly in Kiambu Dis-
trict. Other hedge species include mutigoya (Plectranthus barbatus) whose leaves
are used to help ripen bananas. Miitbage (Caesalpinia decapetala) is native to Mau-
ritius, but has been in Kenya for a long time and is widely planted as a hedge.

Within the homestead, Muhndahnda (Trimeria tropical) and mitkandu (Lantana sV
or Lippia p.) were commonly planted as boundaries between huts. The former
was primarily used for making household implements. The berries of the latter
were used as a famine food.

A frequent assumption on the part of the Colonial Administration was that enclo-
sures of these types were an outcome of Kikuyu contact with European farming
(Government of the United Kingdom 1955:24). In fact, others who noted the pres-
ence of these enclosures during the earliest stages of European settlement, particu-
larly Leakey and the Routledges, confirm that these practices were in place long
before Africans were exposed to Europeans.

Timber and fuelwood needs were met from a combination of sources: planted trees 4.3 Protected forests
or trees which were naturally growing on plots and trees on unallocated sub-clan and woodlands
land. Leakey noted that the sub-clan would sometimes explicitly protect good for- Timber reserves
est stands for the long-term and sustainable production of timber (Leakey
1977:123). The Routledges similarly confirmed the presence of small copses
which had been preserved for timber production and which could not be used with-
out permission and until payment had been made to a chief, or to the sub-clan
elders (Routledge and Routledge 1910:39).

The Karura Forest Reserve, as well as City Park in Nairobi were originally tradi-
tional forest reserve areas. As late as 1904, the Karura forest was recognized as
one of the few remaining stands that acted as a buffer between the Maasai and the
Kikuyu (Battiscombe undated:411). It was gazetted as a Reserve in 1912. There
are several traditional (and now gazetted) reserve forests remaining in Murang'a
District, such as the Marimira Forest, as well as numerous small forested parcels of
obscure origins and with unclear tenure and use rights.

The Murang'a Local Native Council took the concept of the traditional forest
reserve one step further and claimed in testimony before the Land Commission in

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

1933 that "the whole of the forest reserve was reserved by Kikuyu for the purpose
of obtaining trees for building, for herding, and for firewood for the present and
future generations." (Fort Hall Local Native Council undated: 119).

Without any doubt, government reservation of large areas of forests conflicted with
the sub-clan's traditional rights of control. The process of creating Forest Reserves,
in itself, destroyed any traditional control the sub-clan may have had over the
largest chunks of forests. As soon as it became clear that forests were being placed
under Forest Department control, the tendency was to overexploit the remaining
pockets of woodlands.

The Colonial Administration recognized two types of forests. Forest Reserves,
under the control of the Forest Department and Native Reserve Forests, which
were technically under the control of Local Native Councils, but which in prac-
tice were often managed by the Forest Department. Under the Native Lands
Trust Ordinance, any lands in Native Reserves could be gazetted as Native
Reserve Forests on the recommendation of the Native Lands Trust Board, even
in the face of local opposition. By the time of the Kenya Land Commission,
many of the remaining pockets of woodlands had disappeared and "in many
reserves...there [was] little left to preserve." (FD 1933:21) In Machakos District,
for instance, it was noted that by 1935, any forests had long ago been destroyed
(FD 1935:35).

The reservation of forests within the Native Reserves caused difficulties because it
changed the controlling authority from the sub-clan to the Local Native Council,
which had little traditional authority. The Forest Department claimed that opposi-
tion would generally disappear

"... when local people are reassured that the forests still to belong to
them, and that their old privileges of honey collection, gathering dead
and fallen fuel and forest fruits, etc., will not be interfered with so
long as they do no harm to the forests, and that finally they will
receive any profits that accrue." (FD 1934:21).

It was an obvious contradiction for the Forest Department to claim that traditional
rights of access would be recognized in the absence of a traditional authority with
rights of control.

Sacred groves The other category of woodland that was preserved by the sub-clan were
sacred groves. These were quite small clusters of trees, usually dominated by
a mugumu (Ficus natalensis) or a mukiyu (Ficus sycomorus) tree, which were
the sites of rituals and ceremonies. The extent of these sites is uncertain, but
they were believed to be fairly widespread. They had very strong religious and
cultural associations.

40 Community Forestry Case Study 5

Trees had their own spirits. Leakey maintained that when an area of forest had been
cleared for cultivation, a number of big trees would be left standing at intervals. Such
trees were called mirema kTriti (the trees that resisted the cutting of the forest) and
these trees became the dwelling places of the spirits of all the trees that had been
felled. The miirema kifrti were not normally felled, but in the event that they became
old and were in danger of falling or needed to be felled for timber, a ceremony would
be carried out in order to ask the resident spirits to move their abode. In the event an
old tree was felled, a young tree would be planted to replace it (FD 1934:1117-1118).

As a result of the Kenya Land Commission, there had been an offer to relocate some of
the Kiambu Kikuyu on to land belonging to the Nyeri Kikuyu. Senior Chief Koinange
wa Mbiyu, writing in a letter, objected to the Governor General, H.M.Brooke-Popham:

"We can never agree to the Kiambu people to take land of Nyeri peo-
ple. Furthermore, a large bulk of African people still retain their
ancient religious rites and belief that to be removed from their trees,
ceremonies and graves of their ancestors is to be suddenly torn in their
spiritual body. (Quoted in Brooke-Popham 1939).

A sacred tree, standing alone or in a grove, was chosen as the site for clan and sub-
clan ceremonies and sacrifices. They were not permanent fixtures, but were only
associated with the ruling generation of the clan or sub-clan. A sacred Enatalensis


Fig. 4.3
Sacred tree, probably a
variety of Ficus.
(Murang'a District, 1910)
Photo: Consolata Fathers, Turin

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

or Esycomorus tree only had this status for the duration that a particular age grade
was in control. It would be uprooted upon the appointment of a new ruling age
grade, and a new Fnatalensis would be chosen in its place. These trees had to have
been planted, but not necessarily by someone in the age grade nor at the time of
the appointment of the new ruling age grade. Generally, preference was given to a
Fnatalensis which was parasitic on another tree (Leakey 1977:1078-1089).

4.4 Other tree The planting of hedges and windows in Murang'a District and in many other
management practices areas remains common. The preferred species in high rainfall areas include an
Hedges and windows exotic species of cypress (Cupressus lusitanica), as well as minbage (Caesalpinia
decapetala), mukawa (Carissa edulis), kaiaba (Dovyalis caffra), and mitindi
(Croton macrostachvus). In lower rainfall parts of the district, the dominant species
is kariaria (Euphorbia tirucalli. Hedges are often allowed to become windows.
The three dominant window species are cypress, muibariiti (Grevillea robusta),
and mikindiri (Croton megalocarpus).

Cypress is very commonly managed as a "multi-story hedge." Every 3 metres or
so along a tightly-clipped hedge, a stem will be left untrimmed, and will grow into
a full-sized tree. In some parts of Kikuyu country, these stems are side-pruned. The
branches are used for fuelwood, or are sometimes used to make furniture, or small
farm structures such as cattle enclosures and fences. Side pruning also increases
the light that is available to crops. The stems are occasionally felled by pitsawyers
who convert them into sawn timber. Cypress is usually only planted in rows; indi-
vidual stems are seldom planted, except occasionally for shade around households.

Cupressus lusitanica was first introduced in Kenya sometime before 1920,
although the exact date is uncertain. The planting of cypress on farms in Murang'a
and other Kikuyu areas for saw logs was first noted by the Forest Department in
the mid-1940s when the practice was reportedly quite widespread. Plantings appar-
ently conflicted with other land uses that were deemed to be more important, and
the Department noted that the widespread planting of cypress "may not be such a
desirable development as it appears unless such planting is confined mainly to the
steeper hillsides." (FD 1944:7)

Cypress is especially easy to regenerate. On-farm nurseries are believed to account
for the bulk of new plantings, although it is still one of the major species grown in
Forest Department nurseries and sold to farmers. The Department sells at heavily
subsidized prices, although seedlings are often resold at much higher prices.

The two other tree species that are most common on or near smallholders' lands
are Mubariiti (Grevillea robusta) and Mi~kindiiri (Croton megalocarpus). G.robus-
ta is occasionally grown and managed in windows much like cypress and is used
for both fuelwood and timber and for small farm structures. Unlike cypress, how-

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Fig. 4.4
Boundary planting of
Cypress (Cupressus
lusitanica) Murang'a
District, 1990.

ever, it is often planted in and around fields as well as in woodlots. It was original-
ly introduced as a shade tree for coffee plantations (and is discussed below in this
context). C.megalocarpus is a fast-growing species with a high, twisted canopy. It
is unsuitable for building timber, but is occasionally harvested for woodfuel. It
doesn't compete too heavily with crops. It is maintained primarily for its amenity

Contiguous blocks of trees are sometimes planted over large areas. It has been esti-
mated that there are around 6,000 hectares of woodlots in Murang'a District, and
that aggregate woodlot areas in high potential zones of Kenya total around 80,000
ha (World Bank 1987:14). The effect of block plantings on the rural economy is
poorly understood, but the impact must be considerable. The primary block planting
species are black wattle (Acacia mearnsii), the dominant woodlot species in
Murang'a District, and eucalyptus. There are also small block plantings of G.robus-
ta in some areas, but these are more commonly planted in fields and in windows.

Livestock ownership, the main means of exchange amongst the Kikuyu, generally
involved some form of tree cultivation and management. Cattle enclosures were a
basic feature of the homestead. Enclosures were generally reinforced with cuttings
from fast growing species such as Fnatalensis. murigono (Clerodendrum john-
stonii), and muThutT (Erythrina abyssinica) which eventually formed living fences.
In the 1940s, an Assistant Agricultural Officer, L.A.Elmer noted the predominance
of muztura (Solanum aculeastrum or S.marginatum) which was used in living
fences for Kikuyu cattle enclosures. He recommended that European farmers adopt
these species as alternatives to expensive wire fencing and described in great detail
how to propagate and plant them out (Elmer 1944). The wood of mibiriu muiru
(Vangueria linearisepala) was also used in cattle enclosures, but it was seldom
planted as a living hedge.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Block plantings

Trees and livestock


Tree replacement

There were fairly sophisticated strategies of stall-feeding that increased produc-
tivity and limited disease. C.zimmermannii. sometimes planted to demarcate the
boundaries of the homestead, was also planted in the main courtyard and was
used to suspend fodder for goats and sheep, protecting it from contamination.
Stall-fed animals rarely, if ever, suffered from intestinal worms. Usually, small
huts would be used for keeping stall-fed animals, and the animals would rarely
leave them until they were ready for slaughter. They were prized for their fat
content, which would be used for cooking and for preparing skins (Lyne Watt

The most common sources of livestock fodder were sweet potato vines. During
times of famine, a number of species were used as alternatives. These were gener-
ally climbing bindweeds and creepers, called rather generically ihulrura (Ipomea
. and Glycine s.). There were just a few tree species that were used for fodder.
These included miuheregendi (Grewia similis) which made very good goat food,
and muhethu (Trema orientalis).

A final tree planting practice which bears mention was tree replacement. Trees
often had negative and positive features which might have been associated with an
event that had taken place in the vicinity or which might have been a function of
the species and its relationship to spirits and to magic. The ficus Fnatalensis was a
tree with particularly strong associations, both positive and negative. They were
generally chosen by diviners as sacred trees for the sub-clan, though only specific
trees served this function. Sub-clan ceremonies and sacrifices were held by these
trees and persons accused of crimes could seek sanctuary at the foot of a sacred
tree. Fnatalensis trees only had positive associations if they were planted. Natural-
ly-sprouted seedlings were uprooted and a tree with a positive association would
be planted in its place.

These trees and woody shrubs were generally miuthakwa (Vernonia auriculifera)
easily recognizable because of its deep purple flowers, muikenia (Lantana trifolia)
or mikeu (Dombeya se). They were commonly used as sacred trees for household
ceremonies and sacrifices. V.auriculifera was the most common of these. It was
widely used in all manner of ceremonies and was associated with "good" magic. It
was specifically planted as a replacement tree under three circumstances: to
replace uprooted F.natalensis trees; to replace a tree that had been cut down to
make a cattle trough; and to replace a tree that had been used by someone for
hanging themselves. Lantana trifolia was planted for the same reasons as V.auri-
culifera, but in addition it would be planted in place of a sugar-cane plant that had
flowered and been uprooted, or in place of a banana tree that had been slashed in
anger with a knife. Dombeya s was less frequently planted than these other
species, but was still recognized as a "good" tree (Leakey 1977:1313-1314;1343-
1344 and 1347).


Community Forestry Case Study 5

Brief mention should be made of a number of other trees of economic value. The Shade and other trees
two other most frequently found trees on farms in Central Province are Grevillea
robusta and eucalyptus. Grevillea first became popular in Kenya as a coffee and tea
shade tree. Young coffee and tea seedlings require protection from the sun, and also
benefit from protection from wind (Warren 1941:16). Grevillea, as a fast growing
tree which is relatively easy to regenerate, filled that role. It was adopted by coffee
planters from the very earliest days of the industry in Kenya and by 1910 the Forest
Department had started planting it in mixed stands with cypress. In the 1940s, it
was widely recommended as a timber tree for planting at altitudes below 2,000
metres, while cypress was recommended for higher altitudes (Graham 1945:133).

Grevlla robusta interplanted
with smallholder coffee and
heavily side pruned.
Photo: Dewees

The tree has a wide range of other uses. Leaf litter is widely used in locally-devel-
oped green manure agroforestry systems in Central Province. The wood is appreci-
ated as a fuel because it dries quickly. Much like on-farm cypress tree manage-
ment, the branches are usually heavily pruned for fuel and the construction of
small farm buildings.

The practice of planting trees with tea and coffee came into question in the 1960s.
Research carried out at the East African Agriculture and Forestry Research Organi-
zation (EAAFRO) suggested that reduced windspeeds in tea estates increased the
temperature extremes, resulting in higher temperatures during the day and lower
temperatures during the night (Ripley undated:80).

Grevillea has long been associated with a high incidence of the root-rot Armillaria
mellea in coffee and tea (Wallace 1935 and FD 1924:22). This fact, coupled with
the findings of EAAFRO, has brought the tree into some disfavour amongst com-
mercial coffee and tea growers, but it remains extremely popular amongst small-
holders in many areas.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

4.5 Summary: Trees as
part of traditional
land use practices

Eucalyptus was first widely promoted in Central Province in the 1930s, but it
never became as popular there as it did in Western Kenya as a farm tree. It was
introduced as a fast-growing pole and fuelwood tree. In other areas, it was wide-
ly planted to provide fuelwood for the railways. Generally, however, eucalyptus
trees have a far more limited range of values than trees like grevillea, wattle, or
cypress even though growth is much faster. The most common species planted
on farms are E.grandis and E.saligna, as well as related hybrids which have
developed over the many years these trees have been cultivated. In drier areas,
E.camaldulensis predominates.

Fig. 4.6
eucalyptus timber, split
and stacked by the roadside
for sale as fuelwood.
Photo Dewees

One of the eucalyptus tree's advantages was that it could be planted on swampy or
water-logged soils, and would tend to dry them out and make them suitable for cul-
tivation. Generally, E.robusta was preferred for this role. One of the Kikuyu names
for eucalyptus, miinyua maai, literally means "the drinker of water". The agricul-
tural extension services have tried, without much success, to discourage the plant-
ing of the trees because of their alleged impacts on stream flows.

There are strong traditions of tree cultivation and management in Kikuyu areas of
Kenya. Boundary demarcation with trees was a particularly common practice, both
for marking off boundaries of the sub-clan land holding as well as for marking off
divisions of the sub-clan land and divisions within the household. Trees were
planted as living hedges around livestock enclosures, and were incorporated into
village fortifications. Trees had both positive and negative magical and spiritual
associations, and several species were widely planted because of their "good" char-
acteristics. Timber production largely came from trees that were protected in sub-
clan controlled forest reserves, from farm trees, or from trees that had been left
standing on farmlands after the forest had been cleared.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

It is unlikely that the guarantees of private tree ownership per se, actually encour-
aged farmers to plant more trees. In fact, the ownership of planted trees had long
been guaranteed by customary law. Planted trees always belonged to whomever
planted them, but only as long as they held some sort of cultivation rights. The
Registered Land Act increased the security of these rights, and it was this security
which likely had a greater impact on the farmer's interest in tree planting and in
making other improvements to the land. Finally, changing patterns of land tenure
and the wholesale governmental reservation of large stands of forests probably
strengthened the tendency to use trees for boundary demarcation, but jeopardized
traditional forest management and reservation practices.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Chapter 5

The Case of

Black Wattle

Black wattle (Acacia meansii) is a species indigenous to Australia and is widely
grown in a number of countries because of the high tannin content in its bark
which is processed into tanning extracts. This was not, however, what brought
about its introduction as a farm tree in Kenya.

It is likely that black wattle was first introduced into Kenya by the Reverend Stuart
Watt, an early missionary, who brought wattle, eucalyptus and grevillea seeds from
Australia where he had lived before coming to Kenya in 1885 (Stuart Watt undated)
(Trzebinski 1985:23, Maxon 1980:34-35). Black wattle was introduced into Murang'a
District in 1898. During the time of the great famine of 1898, a mercenary, merchant
and adventurer named John Boyes settled in Murang'a. Boyes acquired some wattle
seed from a seed merchant and planted it on a plot he had been given by Karuri (KNA
1933: AGR/4/526). The plot was eventually given to a Catholic mission.

By 1919, around 4,000 ha of wattle plantations had been established on European
farms, and a factory was built in Njoro to process the bark from these plantations
(Huxley 1935:167). The 1919 Economic Commission which was set up to explore
commercial opportunities for the colony noted with regard to wattle that "the
industry requires very little labour and its prospects are excellent." (Government of
the United Kingdom 1919).

The Administration first began actively encouraging farmers in Nyeri District to
plant wattle and eucalyptus trees around 1911, and later in Murang'a from 1917
(Cowen 1978:61,69). At first, the Administration's objective was to reduce pres-
sures on the indigenous forests for fuelwood and building timber which had great-
ly increased since the demarcation of the boundaries of the Forest Reserves on the
eastern slopes of the Aberdares between 1900 and 1910. A push by the Adminis-
tration to encourage the planting of trees on farms began in earnest in 1921, but
was widely resisted.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

5.1 The introduction
of black wattle

By the late 1920's, the situation had radically changed when wattle was being
widely planted as a response to the bark trade. As noted in two Forestry Depart-
ment Annual Reports.

"In Kikuyu, small black wattle plantations are numerous and in more
accessible areas, their increase has been encouraged by the trade in
wattle bark." (FD 1928:18)

"There is no organized planting, but the planting of black wattle is
extending rapidly and thousands of small wattle clumps are quite
rapidly changing the appearance of many parts of the Reserve." (FD

Within a few years, the Forest Department claimed that "the afforestation problem
had been solved" in Kikuyu Province1.

There was limited -apacity to process the bark at this early stage in the develop-
ment of the industry, and most of it was exported. Extracting factories were
opened in Limuru and Thika in the early 1930s. The Limuru facilities were
largely dependent on wattle produced by European farmers, while the Thika fac-

Fig. 5.1
Black wattle (Acacia
mearnsi) woodlot.
Photo: Dewees

Community Forestry Case Study 5

stories were almost entirely dependent on smallholder production. In order to
ensure that the facilities in Limuru and Thika had sufficient bark to operate, a
vigorous marketing network was established. Increased access to markets for
bark, which accompanied the establishment of these factories, greatly contribut-
ed to the popularity of wattle as a smallholder crop. The Native Affairs Depart-
ment reported that in 1935 the total area under wattle had nearly doubled since
the previous year (from 18,000 ha to 40,000 ha) and that there were plans to add
another 20,000 ha the following year (Native Affairs Department 1935:100,
Kitching 1980:64). By 1937, it was estimated that there were nearly 18,000 ha of
wattle in Murang'a District alone (compared with 9,700 ha in Nyeri and 6,100 ha
in Kiambu).

There were three major periods of intensive wattle development in Kenya which
corresponded with periods of rising market prices for tanning extracts: from 1921
to 1929, in 1935, and in the late 1940s. Although the earliest campaigns were
directed at a relatively small class of educated elite, later programmes were much
farther reaching and introduced wattle to the widest possible economic range of
farmers. Wattle production came to be concentrated on the holdings of the middle
peasantry, primarily because it produced a broad range of household commodities
(fuelwood, charcoal, building poles, wood for the construction of farm buildings
and cattle enclosures, and so on) while generating income for the household at the
same time (Cowen 1978:190-191).

Wattle production in the late 1920s was especially profitable. Africans were 5.2 The political
excluded from the production of other cash crops, and returns to food crops such economy Of early
as maize and potatoes were, by comparison, quite low. In 1934, the Nyeri District wattle production
Commissioner J.W.Pease noted that the moment, the price of a tonne of chopped wattle bark is about
the same as the price of a tonne of native maize. If this continues I
shall anticipate a much greater increase than 50 percent in land under
wattle in this district; it might easily be doubled in the next 10 years
(Pease undated:1061).

The situation remained very much the same until the late 1950s.

The emergence of wattle as a cash crop in Kikuyu areas had a number of immedi-
ate and long-term impacts. When wattle was first cultivated in Murang'a, in the
1920s, it was most widely adopted by chiefs (who were compelled to plant it by
the Administration) and by the emerging class of relatively educated elite -
Africans who had gone to mission schools and who had jobs as school teachers or
as clerks, traders, or businessmen (Cowen 1978:72-75). From its very beginnings
as a cash crop in Central Province, wattle was grown primarily by absentee sub-
clan right holders.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya

Fig. 5.2 .... 2; 7
Wattle bark stacked
for drying, Thika.
Photo: Dewees-

The need for labour to strip and plant wattle contributed to the introduction of new
forms of labour organization. The chiefs were able to use compulsory labour to
strip bark from their trees, retaining profits from the sale of the bark and timber for
themselves. For the educated elite, however, with no access to compulsory labour,
existing forms of labour organization primarily communal labour as well as work
groups were not able to provide enough labour inputs for wattle cultivation. As a
result, they became dependent on an emerging wage labouring class for wattle
woodlot cultivation and management (Cowen and Murage undated:41).

Wattle enabled sub-clan right holders to maintain their rights to sub-clan land, as
absentee land users, without being dependent on temporary or resident tenants or
on redeemable land sales to cultivate their plots. Tenants, on the other hand, could
more firmly establish long-term rights to land on which they had planted perma-
nent crops. The emergence of wattle as a permanent cash crop brought about a
round of litigation as right holders sought to evict their tenants, and as tenants, in
effect, sought to ensure their long-term rights of use, de jure.2

By the late 1940s, wattle production had been adopted by a broad spectrum of
farmers, on the smallest holdings to the largest. Many of the processes land litiga-
tion, development of small businesses and shops, urban employment, and so on -
which had characterized the earliest stage became much more widespread.
Between 1945 and 1955, the production of wattle extract more than tripled and had
become the colony's largest source of earnings from exports to the United States
(Cowen 1978:265).

Part of the appeal of wattle was also that it generated income while freeing
household labour to develop businesses elsewhere. As Cowen has suggested,

Community Forestry Case Study 5

during those lengthy periods when landowners... were engaged in
wage employment outside of the reserve, the irregular seasonal appli-
cation of labour permitted the production of wattle without the contin-
uous presence of labour power (Cowen 1978:191).

At the same time, expanded peasant production of wattle, and the labour strategies
which accompanied it, reduced the supplies of wage labour which this class had
formerly provided and which were necessary to strip the trees. Felling and strip-
ping tasks were undertaken by household labour in the absence of wage labourers.
By the early 1950s (before the villagization programme), women had largely
become responsible for stripping the bark from household wattle woodlots
although men were responsible for felling.

Wattle also contributed to the development of political processes in Central
Province during the late 1940s. The ability to articulate disaffection rested with
those who were educated and with those who had economic power, rather than
with the Administration-controlled chiefs. These were frequently wattle growers.
A number of wattle producers' societies were formed, such as the Central Province
Wattle Growers' and Producers' Association, the Wattle Bark and Native Produce
Cooperative Society, and the Murang'a Wattle Growers and Sellers Association
and they developed close working links with political organizations such as the
Kenya African Union (KAU). The Kenya Fuel and Bark Supplies Company,
formed around 1945, negotiated the purchase of a building in Nairobi, Kiburi
House, (unheard of at the time for an African-owned company) that eventually
housed the offices of the KAU as well as most of the trade unions which had exist-
ed before the Emergency. Kenyatta maintained offices there as well. It still houses
the headquarters of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions,
Hospitals, and Allied Workers Union (Ngugi 1988:24).

The Administration associated the development of the wattle industry with political
movements of one form or another. These were in turn associated with the growth
of "individualism" and the demise of Sir Philip Mitchell's vision of a communal
Africa. One response was the introduction of fairly strict controls on the trading of
bark, introduced by the Marketing of Native Produce Ordinance of 1935. Licensing
was coupled with strict quota arrangements which, at least in theory, limited the
income any single producer or trader could make from the sale of wattle bark. In
practice, both trading licenses and quotas were widely circumvented.3

In some respects, black wattle is an ideal agroforestry species because it can be 5.3 Soil conservation
easily incorporated into farming systems, it is nitrogen-fixing, it produces wood- and wattle in the
based products for the household, it is easily grown and can generate income from 1940s
the sale of bark. The Administration mounted all of these arguments in favour of
wattle during its planting programmes (Leckie undated:55).

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 53

Stacking of wattle logs for
burning into charcoal.
Murang'a District, 1989
Photo: Dewees

5.4 Consolidation
and the post-
Independence wattle

However, the Administration's concerns about the growth of individualism in the
Reserves took form in its soil conservation programmes of the mid-1940s and wat-
tle became a target. Arguments against wattle were generally made in the context
of the soil conservation debate. These arguments posed some interesting contradic-
tions. In the mid-1930s, the Department of Agriculture recommended that "all cul-
tivated land should be planted under wattle to prevent declines in fertility." (KNA
1934: AGR/4/525). By the mid-1940s however, Norman Humphrey, whose opin-
ions on the state of African agriculture bore tremendous weight, noted that

experience showed that under certain conditions wattle, far from
improving the soil, can become a potent factor in increasing soil ero-
sion. As a result steps have been taken to lessen the acreage under this
crop, whilst greater control of self-sown plantations, all too often
overcrowded and neglected, will have to be ensured if wattle is to take
its rightful place in the farming economy (Humphrey 1945:25).

The bottom line, however, was that wattle was frustrating the Administra-
tion's efforts to strengthen tribal authority within some sort of communal
framework because of its role in income generation and differentiation, and
because it enabled individuals to embark on land litigation often at the
expense of this authority. From around 1940, the Department of Agriculture,
rather than arguing for improved general management practices, campaigned
against the planting of wattle on slopes greater that 15 percent. Considering
the ridge-valley topography of the most heavily settled areas of Central

Community Forestry Case Study 5


Province, the Department's campaign affected most of these areas.

By this time, however, other income-generating land use opportunities, such as
pasture development, were possible, and wattle production in many areas was
abandoned. Farmers who felled their wattle woodlots in the late 1940s were able to
greatly benefit because of peak post-war tanning extract prices. They contributed
to the "individualism" which the Administration so greatly feared.

The abandonment of wattle cultivation on a large-scale was precipitated by the
Emergency. The creation of a large number of Emergency villages resulted in the
clearance of large areas of wattle for building timber and for village fortifications.
The trade in wattle bark became concentrated in the hands of loyalists who were
the only persons able to get trading licenses and they greatly benefited.

As a result of consolidation and the Swynnerton Plan, wattle lost favour as a cash
crop. Land reform made wattle less appealing. It guaranteed private land owner-
ship, reducing the threats of litigation while eliminating customary tenancy
arrangements. Consolidation changed patterns of labour organization by freeing up
household labour that had formerly been used to cultivate dispersed fields. Finally,
the removal of controls on the smallholder production of coffee and tea and other
cash crops presented an entirely new set of income-generating strategies with
which wattle could only compete with some difficulty.

Although there were early efforts to incorporate wattle into farm planning exercis-
es, nothing came of them. The price of wattle extract fell sharply between 1955
and 1960, and a strong case for continued or expanded plantings could simply not
be made. Between 1951 and 1962, African production of bark fell from 74 percent
of the total to 36 percent (Colony and Protectorate of Kenya 1962). The balance of
production shifted from smallholders, to estates operated by the tannin extract

Even after prices slumped however, wattle was still widely grown, but not neces-
sarily for bark. In Nyeri in the mid-1950s, for instance, trees were cut in large
quantities for poles, but the bark was not being stripped from them (KNA 1955:
AGR/4/343). Most estate producers would have gone out of business had they
been dependent on bark production alone. Stems can be harvested, at virtually any
rotation length. The decision to harvest at any particular time during the growth
cycle will depend on the household's need for capital or wood-based products like
fencing or building material, as well as on the prevailing prices for charcoal, fuel-
wood, building poles, and stakes and on access to alternative supplies of capital.
All of these factors were acting to divert bark supplies from the tannin factories. At
the same time, the presence of a huge range of possible uses for wattle ensured that
it remained a popular on-farm tree.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya


5.5 Current wattle
planting practices

Where wattle has been cleared in Central Province, land has largely been used for
the planting of coffee, tea and for pasture development. Between 1957 and 1968,
the area under smallholder coffee in Central Province increased from just under
5,000 ha to around 40,000 ha (Thurston 1987:132, Kitching 1980:318). In com-
parison, the area under smallholder tea (which had not been planted prior to
around 1959) increased to around 10,000 ha in Murang'a District by 1985 (Kenya
Tea Development Authority Annual Report 1985). Wattle still accounts for around
6,000 ha of agricultural land in Murang'a. In some areas, it covers as much as 20
percent of farmland. There are still a number of very large woodlots in the district -
some as large as 15 ha.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Chapter 5 End notes


1 FD 1932, p.16. In the same breath, however, it was noted that the "inculcation into the
natives of an interest in tree planting makes only slow progress." This is an interesting and
fundamental contradiction which is as common today. It is widely acknowledged that
farmers have planted many trees on their farms, but it is still claimed that farmers know lit-
tle about the subject, are unable to plant enough trees to meet their needs, and must be
taught to do so and provided seedlings by the extension services.

2 Wattle was nowhere as popular a farm crop as in Kikuyu areas. At the same time as wattle
was being promoted in the 1930s, a programme involving the widespread distribution of
eucalyptus seedlings was underway in Kisii and North Kavirondo (Kakamega) District.
Like wattle, eucalyptus provided a fast-growing source of construction timber and fuelwood
at a time when the Forest Department was restricting access to the natural forests (Kitching,

3 See also, KNA AGR/4/220, 21 August 1945, memorandum from G.J.Gollop, Assistant
Agricultural Officer, Kiambu to the acting Senior Agricultural Officer, Kiambu, "Wattle
Rules and Marketing, 1942-46".

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 57

Chapter 6


Tree Growing and the

Rural Economy in Kenya

Trees in high potential agricultural areas of Kenya occupy a significant land area.
Land use inventories have suggested that planted and managed trees usually cover
between 5 and 10 percent of agricultural land. On average, over 20 percent of the
total high potential, smallholder agricultural land area has been used for growing
trees, or has otherwise been left under natural woody cover. Even when other
forms of land use could generate substantially higher levels of household income,
the planting and management of trees has remained an important form of land use.
This is in part an outcome of problems with agricultural labour supplies. Though
other land uses may be more lucrative, labour for smallholder agriculture has
become constrained and farmers are not able to cultivate other crops because of the
much higher levels of labour use that would be required.

Central to the question of why trees are a common form of land use is why agricul-
tural labour has become constrained in the first place, in the face of burgeoning
urban sector unemployment and a phenomenal population growth rate. The answer
is partly related to long-term policies which have favoured the development of a
migrant labour economy policies that date to the earliest days of Colonial settle-
ment and that sought to mobilize labour for work on European farms.

Labour constraints could be somewhat alleviated if capital were available so that
farmers could hire wage labourers to help cultivate other cash crops. However,
capital for this specific use is seldom available through formal lending mecha-
nisms, though it can sometimes be generated through informal mechanisms: kin-
ship credit, moneylending, mutual savings societies, or the redeemable sale of
crops or capital assets. One outcome of a limited access to capital is the develop-
ment of alternative forms of labour organization (often derivatives of traditional
labour practices) to provide farm labour during periods of peak demand. The most
common of these strategies is labour sharing.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 59

For the most part however, capital is generated through employment in the formal
sector a process encouraged by the inertia of pre-Independence labour policies
which favour labour migration as a means of supplying workers to urban areas and
plantations. Household labour migrates to these areas to generate capital which,
remitted to the farm, can be used for hiring agricultural wage labour or for other
farm inputs. As a result, household labour becomes increasingly scarce, and hired
labour to replace it is much more expensive because of the difficulty of supervi-
sion and its relative inefficiency.

The household has responded in part by modifying its patterns of labour use and
consequently its patterns of land use so that less farm labour is actually needed.
Partly by growing subsistence crops, households can reduce their labour demands
while reducing their exposure to the risk that income from cash crops will be
insufficient to meet their subsistence needs. In Kikuyu areas, subsistence crops
were traditionally women's crops; they have emerged as a dominant land use in
areas where male labour migration has skewed the labour supply picture. Perennial
crops, on the other hand, were traditionally crops which were cultivated by men
and were also famine foods: arrow root, cassava, bananas, and so on. The absence
of male labour, because of the migrant labour economy, meant that there was an
important niche for a labour extensive perennial crop that could also generate
income in times of need.

Around the time colonial labour policies really began to bite, black wattle emerged
as an important cash crop. Though it was introduced originally to meet subsistence
demands for wood that could no longer be met from the forests, its bark could be
sold for processing into tanning extracts. Before independence, it was nearly the
only cash crop which Africans were allowed to grow. Its adoption meant that a
household could plant its plot with trees, allowing male labour to go off to cities
and plantations in search of waged employment. Wattle served other purposes as
well which helped to account for its huge popularity. These were primarily related
to the insecurity of traditional land tenure in Kikuyu areas.

Within the system of traditional Kikuyu land tenure, land use rights were inherited
through the male lineage. Rights of control remained with the sub-clan's lineage
authority. Use rights could be borrowed and lent, in which case the person cultivat-
ing the land was not allowed to live there. Land could also be lent through a sort of
tenancy agreement that did allow the tenant to live on the land. It could also be
temporarily "sold" so that the seller could generate income for bridewealth or for
other needs. The sale would be cancelled upon the return of the original selling
price. The proliferation of land lending agreements, which were entered into to
maintain the land use rights of the original rightholder, fostered the creation of a
class of landless agricultural labourers who were not allowed to live on the land
they had borrowed.

60 Community Forestry Case Study 5

The outcome of these inheritable tenancy and sale arrangements was that the land
use rights of the original rightholder became open to debate after several genera-
tions. When the Kikuyu agricultural frontier was closed to further expansion after
around 1905, tenancy and land lending arrangements were increasingly cancelled.
This in part contributed to landlessness, but also fostered the development of the
migrant labour economy, as these people often sought employment either as squat-
ters on European farms or in urban areas.

Wattle became popular during the 1930s because the planting of permanent crops
could more firmly establish land use rights. Permanent crops belonged to whomev-
er planted them, and they tended to reinforce long-term cultivation and use rights,
regardless of how these rights might have been acquired. If a rightholder was
unable to cultivate all of his fragmented plots, his alternative was to rely on some
sort of tenancy arrangement, or to plant plots with permanent crops like wattle.
While tenancy arrangements could technically be cancelled, with the general
breakdown in customary systems of land tenure, rightholders were more inclined
to plant their plots with wattle. The wholesale cancellation of tenancy and land
lending agreements in the 1930s and 1940s was accompanied by a huge increase in
the area planted under black wattle.

Wattle was also important because it generated income so that rightholders and
tenants could mount land litigation to recover, or to gain use rights, to additional
land. It also provided income for the development of small businesses in Central
Province. The ability to articulate disaffection rested with those who were educat-
ed and with those who had accumulated capital, such as wattle growers. Wattle
producers developed close working links with anti-Government political organiza-
tions. Although the Government had earlier strongly encouraged wattle growing in
reserve areas, by the mid-1940s, it mounted a vigorous campaign against it, rooted
in the notion that it was contributing to economic differentiation, land tenure inse-
curity, and, ultimately, to the African vision of independence from their colo-
nial masters.

Social and economic disaffection in Kenya brought about serious unrest, eventual-
ly resulting in the 1952 State of Emergency. Land tenure reforms in the late 1950s
through the mid-1960s, an outcome of the State of Emergency, sought to strength-
en the African middle peasantry, though often at the expense of the landless. A key
aspect of these reforms involved the cancellation of land lending agreements, the
consolidation of fragmented holdings, and land registration processes that con-
ferred private land ownership rights upon Africans. Consolidation and registration
lessened the importance of wattle as a means of strengthening land use rights.
Coupled with declining prices for bark in the mid-1960s and new opportunities for
smallholder cash crop development, huge areas of wattle were cleared by the late
1960s and planted under coffee and tea.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya f1

At the same time, the consolidation process capitalized on traditional tree planting
practices by requiring that consolidated holdings be demarcated with planted trees.
This was a long-term outcome of accepted customary land tenure practices that
involved the planting of specific trees along the boundaries of sub-clan lands as
well as the planting of subdivisions within these holdings.

Land tenure reform introduced important changes affecting tree tenure. In cus-
tomary law, whomever planted a tree (provided they had some sort of cultivation
right) was its owner. With land reform, trees became the property of the regis-
tered land owner. The effects of land reform on tree tenure were mostly pro-
foundly felt by the landless, who may have had rights of use to trees growing on
sub-clan lands, but who lost these rights as land was registered in the names of
private land owners.

It is unlikely that guarantees of private tree ownership by themselves, a result of
land tenure reform, actually encouraged people to grow more trees. Ownership of
planted trees had long been guaranteed by customary law. Planted trees always
belonged to whomever planted them but only as long as they held some sort of cul-
tivation rights. Land tenure reform increased the security of these rights. It is this
security that had a greater impact on farmers' interest in tree planting and in mak-
ing other improvements to the land.

In contemporary Kenya, limited controls on tree cultivation and management are
supposed to be enforced through the Chief's Authority Act and the Agricultural
Act. There is, however, no consistency in the extent to which these controls are
enforced. In some areas, chiefs may require a farmer to obtain a license before
trees can be harvested, and this has acted as a disincentive to plant trees because
there is no assurance that they can be harvested for the benefit of the person who
planted them. As a result, trees are sometimes harvested or managed individually
or in small blocks, rather than in even-aged stands.

Over the last 15 years or so, there have been numerous publicly-supported or aid-
financed efforts to encourage farmers in Kenya to grow more trees. These efforts
have seldom taken into account the extent of existing farmer tree growing activi-
ties. Plans for future efforts have the same disregard for the obvious and
widespread local knowledge and awareness about tree growing. The challenge for
planners and development agencies alike is threefold.

First, it is critically important that efforts to introduce tree planting innovations are
put into a context which more accurately reflects local farmer ability and knowl-
edge. Conventional approaches to rural forestry extension have been expensive
and ineffective, particularly in the light of what farmers have been able to accom-
plish in the absence of these types of inputs.

Community Forestry Case Study 5

Secondly, tree growing is one result of problems in the rural economy that limit
agricultural development. If these problems are effectively addressed, trees will
become a less common feature of the farming landscape. If farm trees are to con-
tinue to provide the range of benefits they have in the past, there is a clear need to
diversify the tree planting strategies that have been undertaken in the areas of least
agricultural diversity. For instance, if problems with labour and capital markets are
reduced in tea growing areas, the planting of tea at the expense of tree cover, will
be accompanied by an increasing scarcity of wood products to meet both subsis-
tence and market demands.

Finally, the long-term security of rights to trees and their products has been affect-
ed by externally imposed controls on planting and harvesting. An assurance that
benefits and income from the farm production of tree products will accrue to the
farmer and not to the Government or the local administration, will be essential
before there can be any hope that farm trees will meet the many demands that will
be placed on them in the future.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 63


This glossary contains the most frequently used Kikuyu and Swahili words used in
this report. Definitions are from a number of sources, primarily Benson's Kikuyu-
English Dictionary, but also from Leakey's The Southern Kikuyu before 1903.
Botanical descriptions are from Leakey's botanical appendix to The Southern
Kikuvu... and from Norman Gachathi's excellent Kikuyu Botanical Dictionary of
Plant Names and Uses as well as from information collected from key informants.
Words in this Glossary are in Kikuyu, unless otherwise noted.

aguri Plural of miiguri.
ahoi Plural of mihoi.
athami Plural of miithami.
GTkiyii Name of the mythical male forbearer of the Kikuyu, to whom
God gave all the land south and east of the Nyandarua mountains.
Married to Mumbi, who bore nine daughters who were the
otherss of the nine Kikuyu clans. Also sometimes used in place
of Kikuyu which is the orthographically incorrect, but commonly
used, form of Gikifyii.
gfthaka sub-clan (mbari) land holding. Originally meaning uncultivated
bush, the holding was based on rights of first-use, and were
derived from hunting, rather than from agricultural traditions.
gFtoka The Pajama Lily (Crinum kirkii) which was used to demarcate
the boundaries of the gTthaka. The dark flowering variety which
was preferred for demarcation was called gitoka kiru.
ihinii-ra A general term for various plant species which vine and twine.
Often these were vines of the genus Ipomea and were used as
goat and sheep fodder.
fthimbi Plural of githumbi.
itoka Plural of gftoka.
kaiaba Dovyalis caffra. Also called kei apple and often used for hedging.
Usually impenetrable because it is very thorny.
kariaria Euphorbia tirucalli. Also called Finger Euphorbia, which is often
used for hedging in arid and semi-arid lands. Easily propogated
from cuttings. Has a thick latex which is highly toxic, and
particularly noxious to livestock.
Kikuyu Orthographically incorrect name for Giki-yi, referring variously to
the language or people or to the mythical tribal forbearer.
Kfinfiin Early Kikuyu name for Nairobi, referring to "the place where
there are many miinu (Cassia didymobotrya) trees.
mbari Sub-clan of one of the nine Kikuyu clans.
Mbiiyini Swahili place name for the town where the baobab (Adansonia
digitata) was growing.
miibage Caesalpinia decapetala. Also called Mauritius Thorn. A native of
Asia, but naturalized in East Africa. Used for hedging around

Community Forestry Case Study 5

miibariiti Grevillea robusta. Also called Silky Oak and in Kikuyu, mukima.
Native of Australia, but widely planted in fields. Prolific producer
of mulch. Is often sidepruned to limit light competition and for
fuelwood or small construction timber.
miibiri miiri Vangueria linearisepala. A small tree, the wood of which was
often used for constructing cattle enclosures. The berries are
miggumo Ficus thonningii. Sacred tree, widely distributed. Easily
regenerated from cuttings but seldom found naturally growing.
Naturally regenerating trees were often uprooted and replanted
with other trees or bushes. Trees would be planted to mark sacred
miuguri Purchaser of land in a redeemable land sale. Usually, land would
be sold for livestock for bridewealth or to pay off debts. The land
could be redeemed by returning the original number of livestock
to the miiguri.
miiheregendi Grewia similis. Tree used for constructing granaries. Also
produced very good fodder.
miahethu Trema orientalis. Saplings of this tree were used for building
rafters. Leaves were used as fodder.
miihfndahFnda Trimeria tropica. Often planted between huts of a homestead as a
living fence.
miuhoi Tenant with cultivation rights on mbari holdings. Not allowed to
construct a homestead and had to live elsewhere. Land was
temporarily lent to a milhoi. The arrangement could be inherited
and could be cancelled by the original rightholder. Ahoi
arrangements were most common when land was abundant and
labour to cultivate it, and so to establish permanent tenure, was
miihiat Erythrina abyssinica. Cuttings of this tree were commonly
planted to reinforce the cattle enclosures and to make living
miigoya Plectranthus barbatus. Often grown as a hedge, the leaves were
used for ripening bananas.
miiri Prunus africanum. Tall timber tree.
mikandu Lantana or Lippia sp. Grown as hedges. Lantana was introduced
with colonization, while Lippia is indigenous. Branches of both
were commonly used for the construction of small buildings and
for fencing.
mikawa Carissa edulis. Bush used for fencing around fortified villages. Is
very thorny but with edible berries.
mikenia Lantana sp See mikandu. A "good" tree planted in the place of
naturally generating miugumo trees.
miikeu Dombeya sp. Saplings of this tree were favoured for timber cross
beams. Good timber for beehives. A "good" tree, planted in place
of naturally generating miigumo trees.
mikindiri Croton megalocarpus. Very common tree planted on field

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya i5

boundaries. Produces good fuelwood and has a high canopy that
allows light to pass through, limiting crop competition. Often
managed as a tightly pruned hedge.
miukuhakuha Macaranga kilimandscharica. Timber tree used for building poles.
mikiingigii Commiphora zimmermannii. Cuttings of this tree were used to
mark boundaries within a gTthaka. Also commonly planted in the
centre of a courtyard to support fodder for goats and sheep.
Miukurwewa "The sandy place where the Albizia grows" also variously
Gathanga translated as "the building place." Traditionally held to be the
place in Murang'a District where God gave Gt7kiyi all the land
south and East of the Nyandarua mountains.
miakiiyi Ficus sycomorus. Sacred tree from which the name Gikiiyii is
miinyua maai Kikuyu name for Eucalyptus. Literally translated, in means "the
drinker of water."
milmmati Lineage authority with rights of control over sub-clan lands. The
eldest son of the eldest son...
miirema Trees which were left after an area had been cleared for cultivation
kirtti to become the dwelling place of the spirits of the trees which had
been felled. Literally, "the trees which resisted" the felling of the
mirigono Clerodendrum iohnstonii. Branches of this shrub were used for
constructing cattle enclosures. Also used as stakes for training
yam vines.
miiringa Cordia africana. Large timber tree covered with white flowers.
Cuttings of this tree were used for marking ghthaka boundaries.

mitanda Pterolobium stellatum. Bush used for living fences
mbogo around fortified villages.
mithakwa Vernonia auriculifera. Bush with many ritual uses. A "good" tree
used for replacing naturally generating miugumo trees.
miithakwa wa Crassocephalum mannii. Shrub commonly planted around
athi homesteads and field boundaries. Propagated by cuttings, the
leaves are used for treating gall sickness in cattle.
mithami Tenant with cultivation rights on mbari land. Similar to a miihoi
except that a mithami was allowed to construct a homestead. A
miihoi had to live elsewhere. Tenancy rights could be inherited,
but could also be cancelled by the original rightholder.
miutFndi Croton macrostachyus. Common boundary tree and sometimes
managed as a hedge. Naturally regeneration was reportedly
prolific on burnt-over sites.
mitiira Solanum aculeastrum. Bush planted as a living fence.
muutT Aspilia Sp. Noxious shrub planted around fortified villages.
miiiai Markhamia hildebrandtii. Freely coppicing timber tree used to
mark subdivisions of the githaka.

miyuuy Chaetacme aristata. Shrub planted around fortified villages.

66 Community Forestry Case Study 5

mwatha Synadenium compactum. Tree used for boundary demarcation.
Has bright red leaves and white latex.

ngundu Name for a sub-clans holdings, similar to gfthaka but in less
common usage.

ngwatio Form of labour organization involving reciprocal labour use
during times of peak labour demand.

Nyandarua Proper name for the Aberdare Mountains, which form the
western boundaries of what were traditionally Kikuyu lands.

riigongo A ridge lying between two rivers in Kikuyu country. Ridges were
often formally recognized territorial units sharing similar social

shamba Swahili for a smallholding.

wira Used to describe large work parties which would be convened on
particular holdings to complete big tasks such as digging. The
person whose land was being attended to would be required to
provide beer, at least, and sometimes food as well.

A Case Study from Murang'a District, Kenya 4

A Note on Sources, Abbreviations

and Photographs


The following are private papers held in the Rhodes House Collection of the University of
Oxford, and which are noted in the footnotes by their Rhodes House classification.

MacGregor Ross
J.A.Stuart Watt
A.Creech Jones
Kenya Ministry of Legal
Affairs, Opinions file



Photos on the following pages were taken by the author: 24, 53, 54, 57, 60, 63, and 64.
Photos on the following pages are reproduced with the kind permission of the Consolata
Fathers and are from their archives in Turin: 9, 12, 14, 25, 44, 45and47.
The photos on the pages 35 and 40 were reproduced from an anonymously written and
undated cyclostyled report I found in the Ministry of Agriculture library titled, History and
Customs Relative to the Settlement of Kiambu. I would date it to around 1955 or so.
The photograph on page 55 is from the frontispiece to John Boyes' book, John Boyes,
King of the Wa-Kikuyu. The copyright is held by the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Community Forestry Case Study 5


Ainsworth, J. 1920?. KLC [I] Kenya Land Commission Volume I, Nairobi, Kenya

Allott, A.N. (ed.). 1968. Restatement of African law (volumes I and II).Sweet and
Maxwell, London, UK.

Askwith T.G. (undated) Private paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Afr.s.1170)
University of Oxford.

Battiscombe. 1920?. KLC [I] Kenya Land Commission Volume I, Nairobi, Kenya

Binkley, C.S. and Perez-Garcia, J. 1988. The application of household production models
to smallholder forestry in developing countries. World Bank, Washington, D.C., USA

Binns, B. 1950. Consolidation of fragmented agricultural holdings. FAO Agricultural
Study No.11., FAO, Rome, Italy.

Boyes, J. 1911. John Boyes. King of the Wa-Kikuyu. Methuen, London, UK.

Bradley, P.N. and Kuyper, J.B.H. 1985. Woody biomass survey of Kakamega District.
Beijer Institute, Nairobi, Kenya (unpublished).

Bradley, P.N. and Ngugi, A.W. 1986. Agroforestry. soil conservation, and woodfuel in
Murang'a District (Part I). Beijer Institute, Nairobi, Kenya (unpublished).

Brooke-Popham, H.M. 1939. Letter from Senior Chief Koinage wa Mbiyu 5/7/39 Private
paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Brit.Emp.s.839) University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

Brown, L.H. 1957. Development and farm planning in the African areas of Kenya. East
African Agricultural Journal. October:67-73.

Brown, L.H. 1962. Land consolidation and better farming in Kenya. Empire Journal of
Experimental Agriculture 30(120):277-285.

Bullock, R.A. 1974. Subsistence to cash: Economic change in rural Kiambu., Cashiers
d'Etudes Africaines 56[XIV(4)].

Chavangi, N.A. 1987. Agroforestry potentials and land tenure issues in Western Kenya. In:
Raintree, J.B. (ed.). 1987. Land. Trees and Tenure. Proceedings of an international
workshop on tenure issues in Agroforestry, ICRAF and the Land Tenure Centre.
May 27-31 1985, Nairobi, Kenya.

Clayton, E.S. 1961. Economic and technical optima in peasant agriculture, Journal of
Agricultural Economics. 14(3):337-347.

Colchester T.C. (undated) Private paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Afr.s.742)
University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

Collier, P. and Lal, D. 1986. Labour and poverty in Kenya. 1900-1980. Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK.

Cowen, M.P. 1978. Capital and household production: the case of wattle in Kenya's central
province. 1903 1964. PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Cowen, M.P. and Murage, F. Undated. Notes on agricultural wage labour In Kenya
locations. Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya.

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Creech Jones A. (undated) Private paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Brit.Emp.s.332)
University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

Crompton J.H. (undated) Private paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Afr.s.496)
University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

Dewees, P.A. 1988. The impact of rural capital and labour availability on smallholder tree
growing in Kenya (unpublished).

Elmer, L.A. 1944. Two useful hedge plants for high country. East African Agricultural
Journal. January: 162-165.

Fazan S.H. (undated) Private paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Afr.s.1153) University
of Oxford.

Fazan, S.H. 1920. KLC [I] Kenya Land Commission Volume I, Nairobi, Kenya

FD 1909 to 1935 Forest Department Annual Reports Nairobi, Kenya.

Fisher, J. 1964. The anatomy of Kikuyu domesticity and husbandry. Department of
Technical Cooperation.

Fisher, J. Undated. Notes on the Kikuyu. unpublished. See also KNADC/FH3/1.

Fort Hall Local Native Council. 1920?. KLC [I] Kenya Land Commission Volume I,
Nairobi, Kenya.

Gachathi, F.N. 1990. Kikuyu botanical dictionary of plant names and uses. Kenya Forest
Research Institute. Nairobi, Kenya.

Geertz, C. 1962. The rotating credit association: a 'middle rung' in development.
Economic Development and Cultural Change. 10(2):241-263.

Graham, R.M. 1945. Notes on the growing of cypress timber on farms. East African
Agricultural Journal. January:132-139.

Homan F.D. (undated) Private paper Rhodes House Collection (Mss.Afr.s.1267)
University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

Homan, F.D. 1963. Succession to registered land in the African areas of Kenya. Journal of
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74 Community Forestry Case Study 5


Community Forestry Notes

I. Household food security and forestry: an analysis of socio-economic issues

2. Participatory assessment, monitoring and evaluation in community forestry

3. Rapid appraisal

4. Herders' decision-making in natural resources management in arid and semi-arid

5. Rapid appraisal of tree and land tenure

6. The major significance of 'minor' forest products: the local use and value of forests
in the West African humid forest zone

7. Community forestry- ten years in review

8. Shifting cultivators: local technical knowledge and natural resource management
in the humid tropics

9. Socio-economic attributes of trees and tree planting practices

10. A framework for analyzing institutional incentives in community forestry

Community Forestry Field Manuals

I. Guidelines for planning, monitoring and evaluating cookstove programmes

2. The community's toolbox the idea, methods and tools for participatory assessment,
monitoring and evaluation in community forestry

3. Guidelines for integrating nutrition concerns into forestry projects

Community Forestry Case Studies

I. Case studies of farm forestry and wasteland development in Gujarat, India

2. Forestland for the people: a village forest project in northeast Thailand

3. Women's role in dynamic forest-based small scale enterprises case studies on uppage
and lacquerware from India

4. Case studies in forest-based small scale enterprises in Asia rattan, matchmaking and

5. Social and economic incentives for smallholder tree growing A case study from
Murang'a District, Kenya

v Charcoal in northeast Thailand: rapid rural appraisal of a wood-based small-scale

v Community forestry: lessons from case studies in Asia and the Pacific region