Life is better with trees

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Justine Watalunga (58) has 2 acres of land in Bukhaukha village, in the district of Bududa, in the foothills below Mount Elgon National Park where she produces predominately high value Arabica coffee and matooke as cash crops. She also grows other crops such as coco, yam and beans and keeps 3 cows along with chickens. Soils are very fertile here, but climate change is having an impact, as rains are becoming increasingly unreliable and torrential downpours cause damage to crops and landslides. Soils were becoming very dry at times and crops were damaged by heavy rains, hailstones and wind.

Justine Watalunga

Justine was among one of the first in her village to embrace agroforestry as a sustainable way to manage her land, secure her income from cash crops and further improve her livelihood. She is a member of the Konokoyi Organic Coffee Growers Cooperative Society, which is part of the Mount Elgon Agroforestry Community Cooperative Enterprise Ltd (MEACCE), which supports the sale of Fairtrade organic products to markets all around the world. Local MEACCE Project Officer, Victor Mandu, has provided Justine and other local farmers with support for tree planting and growing. Mount Elgon Tree Growing Enterprise Ltd. (METGE) supports this role, as well as providing free seedlings.

Image of Victor and Justine (middle), shaded by Guava planted at the compound
Victor and Justine (middle), shaded by Guava planted at the compound

Over the past 4 years Justine has planted 77 trees and she recognises the many benefits that trees can bring. The canopies of planted trees provide much needed shelter from damaging rains and wind. Yields of coffee and matooke have enhanced her income. The trees also provide valuable shade for her cows. Justine has also recently felled her first tree in order to provide timber for the roofing of an extension to her house, to be used as a guest house, a project she has been able to afford as she has grown her own timber. Other trees are sold as construction poles for building local traditional houses. Every part of the tree is utilized, with side branches being used as wood fuel for cooking stoves at home and also at the small private school she established in the village in 2002, and which now also schools and feeds local orphans whose parents were killed following a devastating landslide in 2018.

Additionally, fruit trees such as jackfruit, mangoes, guava and avocado were planted along boundaries and within the compound around the house, and these are already producing fruit. What is not eaten by the family is sold locally. Justine is also happy for local schoolchildren to help themselves as they walk to the nearby government school.

Nurturing the planted trees is not a problem for Justine, preparation of the ground for planting and tree weeding can be carried out at the same time as for other crops.  She also recognises that for tree growing to be sustainable she has to have a programme of replanting, so for every tree she fells, she plants another five seedlings.

Agroforestry trees provide shade for cow and chickens
Agroforestry trees provide shade for cow and chickens

Growing trees has changed my life. It has enabled me to make plans for the future. It is easier to get timber to use at home, and I also have an income for selling trees. It has not only changed my life but will also help the local community. People will come to stay at my guest house and spend money in the village. Life is better, it is easier for me to put my children through school as I can now easily pay their school fees.

As well as her plan to open a guest house, Justine is also planning to buy a pig from which she can breed.

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