To the ordinary person, Palm trees provide good shelter and beautiful scenery to behold while relaxing in the afternoon.
While this may be true, there are far much more benefits derived from the trees.
The Oil palm tree has a reputation for producing high-quality oil that is used for cooking, mostly in developing countries. It also finds its way into several food products, detergents, cosmetics and, to some extent, biofuel.
There is a need therefore to increase the production of palm oil to meet growing demand, plantations continue to spring up along river banks in most parts of Busia County but at the expense of forests.
The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO) Alupe Center in Busia County has demonstrated how Palm trees can be a viable source of income if harnessed properly.
The center produces quality palm seedlings that are sold to various farmers for planting. Due to its multiple benefits, the crop has attracted many people who would like to diversify from traditional staple food crops like maize.
“We produce seedlings for oil palm and have 3000 seedlings ready for transplanting, besides 25,000 that we have propagated to be sold to farmers,” said Patrick Mudavadi the Director of Alupe Kalro center.
Mudavadi cited the tedious exercise the staff at the center undergo to ensure the right quality of seedlings is maintained to guarantee a valuable finished product.
“We have to ensure the right environment for the seedlings to grow and this demands that our staff apply required conditions including fertilizer, humidity, and protection from human and animal interference,” added Mudavadi.
His sentiments were supported by Linet Ongadi, the nursery manager who said that unlike the perception that Palm trees can grow and survive on their own, a lot of work is done to get desired results.
“The seedlings in the nursery are at different stages, and will be transplanted depending on suitability to withstand the new environment,” said Ongadi, adding that it takes three years for a palm tree to produce fruit.
She added that the tree can thrive in warm climatic conditions therefore suitable for planting in most parts of the country, unlike other tree crops like Avocado that require more humidity.
“The Crop grows in areas with an altitude between 500-600m with a rainfall of between 1800-3500mm annually. Volcanic sandy soil is the most appropriate with good water holding capacity,” said Ongadi, adding that the average price of one seedling is between Sh250-300.
She appealed to farmers in the area to venture in palm tree farming, citing the growing demand for palm oil, considering other oil products are very expensive for the ordinary person.
“If every farmer can plant at least two palm trees in their compound and tend them properly to maturity, they are able to process their own cooking oil and therefore cut down on the cost of expenses incurred in purchasing cooking oil.
Nancy Were, a staff at the center and regular user of palm oil, encouraged local residents to try the product, saying it has many other benefits besides being a source of income.
“Since I started using palm oil for cooking, the skin texture of my family has improved. I am also able to supplement my salary to meet all my family needs including school fees,” said Were.
By Absalom Namwalo