Help Self Help Center (HSHC) began producing and marketing biodiesel made from croton seeds starting in November 2008. In fact, it is the first Kenyan organization to successfully produce bio-diesel from oil seeds on a commercial basis. This project was done in partnership with Community Forest Associations (CFA), Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) who were all involved in decision-making as key stakeholders. The problem being addressed was finding a balance between conservation and development that would also help reduce poverty in the communities adjacent to the Mount Kenya forest. The Community Forest Association members collect seeds from the forest to sell to HSHC for Biodiesel production. The fact that the seeds now bring income to the community has prevented the destruction of trees in the forest. There have been significant improvements in the community from the project, including changes in the peoples’ attitudes on conservation, improvements in household income, increased strength of local institutions, and increased efficiency in the utilization of local resources.
In a baseline survey conducted by HSHC, it was determined that 49% of people in the Mount Kenya region earn less than 1.5 dollars per day. Women (who comprise the majority of the target group) do most of the farm work and household chores, but do not have access to – or control over – incomes and productive resources, which are mainly in the hands of men. Most of the youth are faced with difficult issues such as landlessness, unemployment or underemployment, teenage pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS, all of which further perpetuate the poverty cycle in the region. In 2006, HSHC conducted an ethno-botanical survey in the Mount Kenya region; the goal was to document the occurrence of plant species of economic importance and priority for domestication. We hoped that by identifying local resources that were of economic importance, we could begin to resolve some of the problems that the community was facing. Further analysis of the oil from the seeds indicated various commercial properties including Biodiesel (croton, cape chestnut, and castor), lubricant (castor), cream and soap (cape chestnut), and plastic (vernonia).
The seeds that are processed to produce bio-diesel are collected from the forest, and collection centres have been established in the forest-adjacent communities. HSHC provides capacity-building to enable these centres to be managed by the community members as profit-making enterprises. The mission of HSHC is to improve quality of life for the forest-adjacent communities in Kenya through facilitation of innovative economic opportunities in sustainable agriculture and natural resource utilization. The organization has facilitated the development of alternative economic opportunities for thousands of women and youth who are now earning income through collection and sales of natural seeds.
In order to guarantee long-term access to the resources, HSHC promotes the planting of croton and castor plants on farms to offset the current collection of seeds from the forests.
This project introduced an additional income-generating activity which is easily accessible: collecting seeds from the nearby forests. The work does not require land, investments, or special skills. Moreover, it can be easily combined with other tasks, e.g. women can do it after their household chores and youth after school or on weekends. The additional income has helped in the reduction of poverty while at the same time increasing community appreciation of the forest, and has been an important incentive for environmental conservation. Additionally, the ability to deliberate and make decisions on how the collection centres are run has enhanced community involvement and team work. HSHC has also identified change agents who are farmers and who work among the communities to create awareness on conservation and economic benefits that can be accrued through natural resources.
The project established quarterly work plans, based on the schedule of activities and the programme’s logical framework. Evaluation and monitoring was done in quarterly follow-up meetings, where the program coordinator presented progress reports to the project committee chaired by the Director of HSHC. The committee is comprised of all major actors – Kenya Wildlife Services, Forest Department, Tree Crops Network and representatives from the community. The primary aim of these quarterly meetings was to ensure that relevant data was collected to measure progress, and to ensure accountability for results. The quarterly evaluations enabled us to quickly adjust project plans to account for problems or constraints that were identified in these meetings.
Furthermore, in our evaluations, we received data from the forest department which indicates that illegal activities in the forest during the reporting period (logging, charcoal production) were reduced by 40% due to two factors – strengthening of Community Forest Associations (CFAs) and perceived real benefits from the harvesting of croton and cape chestnut seeds which motivated the community to engage actively in the forest management and protection.
By linking natural resources to a credible alternative source of income and integrating it into the local livelihood system, we have reignited the appreciation of forest resources and interest in conservation issues among the local communities. The community is now more inclined to protect the forest and participate in conservation. The trees that will be planted on-farm and in the forest will also improve soil quality and the local eco-system in general. The economic feasibility of biodiesel production has already been demonstrated by HSHC; the organization is producing 300 liters of fuel per day, and for every litre produced, a net profit of 5 Ksh. (Kenyan shillings) is made. The demand for the biodiesel is higher than the supply thus there will always be a ready market for the biodiesel in the foreseeable future.
The intervention has made significant impacts at the program and organizational level. Every kilogram of seeds collected from the forest earns a minimum of 5 ksh. Our evaluation indicates that an individual woman will collect an average of 40kg of seeds in a 6 hour period. This would translate into 400 ksh per day. Thus, seed collection will ensure a steady household income for an average of 4 months in a year. The project has generated vast employment opportunities – from seed collectors, to collection centre managers, to factory employees who grade and pack seeds and extract oil, to those who then process and seel biodiesel. This has helped hundreds of individuals maintain a steady source of income. In addition, the project helped to generate secondary service industry (and further employment opportunities) in transport, food, and business development services.