There are roughly 80,000 smallholders farming oil palm trees in Kigoma. That’s ~200,000 acres and at 57 trees/acres (the correct spacing), that’s 11,400,000 low-yielding trees that should be replaced with our high-yielding ones. Our nursery has a capacity of 30,000 trees which is enough trees for about 400 farmers. But 80,000 farmers need trees. Square that circle. Here is how we try…
Clustering the trees in a relatively tight geographical area makes sense both organisationally (in terms of training, management, and on-going farmer support) and in an industry policy sense (better chance of ancillary businesses being created based around the trees if they are near one another). So we, along with the local government authorities, choose four neighbouring villages in the heart of the oil palm growing area of Kigoma.
Next – how to decide which farmers in those villages will get new, highly valued trees? We started by widely publicising our program through village meetings, flyers, and numerous general visits to the villages. Then we had an open call for farmers to register their interest in receiving trees. We assigned an equal number of trees to each of the villages and mandated that 50% of our farmers would be women. We collected up the responses and, unsurprisingly, we are always massively over-subscribed. Hugely. With no sensible/non-discriminatory way of parsing everyone apart, it is literally names in a hat and left to chance.
Finally, the selected farmers have their fields verified by a Seed Change employee. This simple but labour intensive process involves a quick field visit to ensure that:
- The farm exists inside the village boundary
- The land is not an existent forest just being cut down for to expand farming
- The farm is suitable for palm trees (not rocky soil where nothing will grow)
- The farmer selected has rights to farm the land
That’s it. Over 99% of farms are verified as suitable. If a farmer is lucky enough to make it to this point, they join our program and start to work with Seed Change.