Mars and ICRAF: Illuminating the ‘dark box’ of agroforestry

David and Molly Achiando stand among a panoply of trees on their farm. “When it is dry, I have shade,” says Molly, listing the services and products that the trees provide. “I can now give fruit to the children, and our incomes have slightly gone up.” Her husband says, “Before, there were no trees. I planted because I had the notion that it would make rainfall more regular so that we don’t get droughts then floods.”

Molly and David Achiando next to one of their many pawpaw trees; a guava is just behind.  The assets-boosting model on their farm was developed by ICRAF and COADY  - the Governors of St. Francis Xavier University. Photo by Cathy Watson/ICRAF

Molly and David Achiando next to one of their many pawpaw trees; a guava is just behind. The assets-boosting model on their farm was developed by ICRAF and COADY – the Governors of St. Francis Xavier University. Photo by Cathy Watson/ICRAF

The Achiandos are working with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) to build assets with trees. They are hosting Mars, Incorporated on their farm—less than one hectare —in Awach, Nyando Sub-county. Their grave expressions vanish into easy laughter when the team explains that Mars makes Big G and Juicy Fruit, famous sweets in Kenya. Mango, Albizia, Croton, Moringa, Markhamia and trees of other species sway in the wind.

Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief of sustainability and well-being, leads the team. Mars is the largest chocolate, largest pet food and largest gum company in the world. When Barry meets ICRAF scientists in Nairobi, he admits that “agroforestry is a bit of black box” to him. Four hours later, we are on an airplane taking him and nine other executives to Western Kenya to illuminate that dark box with a blazing light.

ICRAF research has shown that areas of Nyando have lost 90 tonnes of soil per hectare per year for the last 40 years. Forest and bush once covered two to three times more land than today. Erosion causes a plume 45 km long into Lake Victoria; nutrients in the plume are causing eutrophication. Water hyacinth is smothering phytoplankton, the food for the fish upon which 2 million livelihoods depend.

Awach, near Lake Victoria, is flat and flood prone as water rushes off the hills inland, which have lost much of the vegetative covering. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Awach, near Lake Victoria, is flat and flood prone as water rushes off the hills inland, which have lost much of the vegetative covering. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Ten executives from Mars’ sustainability team visited western Kenya with ICRAF  in June 2015. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Ten executives from Mars’ sustainability team visited western Kenya with ICRAF in June 2015. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

On the airplane, I read about this fragile environment, rife with extreme poverty and burdened by HIV. I sit beside a gentleman who appears to be a senior civil servant. Legendary Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson advises “always talk with people next to you on planes. You always learn something.” I introduce myself and am well rewarded. My flight companion works for Kenya’s ministry of agriculture.

“The tragedy is that land degradation starts very slowly,” he says. “One generation might not notice but, for the next, the damage is so big that you are unable to get anything productive from the soil. You are unable to even feed your family. Degradation reaches a point where the soil cannot hold the water. We have used trees without replacing them. We need to link with communities and get the model right. ”

Firewood is scarce in Awach, causing heads of households like Grace Ochieng (centre) to walk far each week under often insecure conditions to buy it from adjacent communities. She has started planting trees. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Firewood is scarce in Awach, causing heads of households like Grace Ochieng (centre) to walk far each week under often insecure conditions to buy it from adjacent communities. She has started planting trees. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

ICRAF’s model of Assets-based Community Development gives Molly fuel from trees. But Grace Ochieng, whose trees are still small, treks 18 km a week to buy it from a forest nearby. “During cattle rustling, it becomes dangerous and we cannot go.” Grace soothes conflict with gifts of sugar. But a bundle already costs 100 KSh; the price of shrinking resources is high.

Ten executives from Mars’ sustainability team visited western Kenya with ICRAF  in June 2015. Above Clara Shen, Catalyst Director - Emerging Markets, listens carefully to community members in Awach, Nyando. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Ten executives from Mars’ sustainability team visited western Kenya with ICRAF in June 2015. Above Clara Shen, Catalyst Director – Emerging Markets, listens carefully to community members in Awach, Nyando. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

ICRAF and Mars have worked together since 2004 and intensively since 2010 on the Vision for Change (V4C) project.  In Côte d’Ivoire, the V4C project has rehabilitated old cocoa trees so that they now produce over 50 pods/tree/year – up from just three or four before. Farmers’ incomes have grown.

Despite this astounding shared achievement, the ICRAF and Mars teams learn more about each other as the field trip goes on.

Mars is a 100-year-old business built largely on agriculture. Family owned, it has 75,000 employees and 135 factories around the world. Barry Parkin says Mars “believes that big business can be good business with true mutuality for the planet from farmers to consumers.” It has committed to zero-net deforestation, seeks only certified cocoa by 2020, and expects to deliver on its 2007 goal of reducing greenhouse gases from operations by 25% by the end of 2015. More on the company’s efforts in the realm of sustainability can be found in its just-released Principles in Action Summary.

Nevertheless, “a truly sustainable supply chain is decades away,” says Parkin. “We have no illusions about how hard this is”.

Mars sources 6100 different raw materials. The sustainability team is concentrating on twenty-three – including tea, mint, palm oil, cocoa, coffee and animal protein – that constitute 65% of what Mars procures.

But reforming even one pipeline is hard. Mars’ sugar comes from 12 countries, generating labour besides environmental concerns, says Marika McCauley Sine, Human Rights Director. Mars estimates there are one million smallholders in its supply chain, three quarters of whom live in poverty. Becoming a mutually beneficial business means addressing that, too.

Farmer Charles Njoroge talks with Adrian Greet, Mars Director of Global Sustainability. His farm, a model of agroforestry, produces ample firewood, fodder and timber. It also generates ecosystem services such as water regulation and carbon capture. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Farmer Charles Njoroge talks with Adrian Greet, Mars Director of Global Sustainability. His farm, a model of agroforestry, produces ample firewood, fodder and timber. It also generates ecosystem services such as water regulation and carbon capture. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

On Charles Njoroge’s farm in Kaptumo, a Grevillea robusta crashes to the ground. “You call that agroforestry?” jokes Adrian Greet, Mars Director of Global Sustainability. “Yes!” I shout over the chain saw. “Agroforestry is working trees.”

Njoroge earns 4000-5000 KSh/tree (around 40-50USD). Using the leguminous shrub Calliandra to provide the protein needed for high milk production, Njoroge has increased his milk yields 400%. The manure becomes biogas.

Just nearby, farmer Matthew Bungei has reduced his cows from 15 low-productivity grazing animals to 3 productive largely stall-fed ones. Smaller herds are climate smart as are fodder shrubs generally. Using the shrubs “to increase dairy productivity results in the reduction of the number of dairy cows per household,” writes a 2014 ICRAF report. “It subsequently reduces the overall methane emission while fodder shrubs assist in reducing erosion.”

Farmer Matthew Bungei describes his farming system which includes stall-fed cows, biogas and a fish pond. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

Farmer Matthew Bungei describes his farming system which includes stall-fed cows, biogas and a fish pond. Photo by Danyell Odhiambo/ICRAF

In simpler terms, poorly fed cattle are a major concern for emissions. So fewer cows that are better fed are a double climate win. Also, the intensive agroforestry that Njoroge and Bungei are practising accumulates carbon in biomass, which offsets many of the emissions produced by even the few cows that they keep. We are showing Mars win-wins.

Bungei has a fish pond too, selling 100 fish a week at 100 KSh (around 1USD) each. Of a clump of indigenous trees, Global Programs Manager Alex Assanvo asks, “Why do you leave these?” Bungei answers, “They give shade and conserve the water.” His agroforest conserves Polyscias fulva, which provides good mulch but is now “rare due to overexploitation,” notes ICRAF’s Useful Trees and Shrubs for Kenya.

Jonathan Muriuki, ICRAF’s country representative for Kenya, explains that, besides being climate smart and conserving biodiversity, agroforestry also “creates more enterprises in the rural space”, can absorb frustrated youth returning from cities, and protects Western Kenya’s ecosystems and biodiversity. “When we push into forests with agriculture, we get less water and more flooding.”

Finally, as the trip winds up, Adrian Greet and I talk about how, by adding trees, cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire might gain fuel, timber and fruit and thereby better health, nutrition and livelihoods. He looks more convinced than when I said the same thing 24 hours earlier. It has been a good trip. Mars’ agroforestry box is glowing brighter.

Blog by Cathy Watson, Head of Programme Development, ICRAF.

 

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Cathy Watson

Cathy Watson

Cathy Watson is chief of programme development at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi. Before joining ICRAF in November 2012, she founded and ran two NGOs in Uganda -- Straight Talk Foundation and Mvule Trust. She was made a senior Ashoka fellow for social entrepreneurship in 2006. She has also been a foreign correspondent, working for The Guardian and the BBC, among others. A graduate in biology and Latin American Studies from Princeton, she has almost 30 years of work experience in Africa with a focus on trees, youth, HIV, families, and communication for social change. She holds a certificate in agroforestry from the University of Missouri.

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