HDRA is now called Garden Organic. This letter is from Phil Harris, Professor of Plant Science at Coventry University, who works with Garden Organic's International Development programme. The bold type is our emphasis.

Hi Sylvia

I am responding to your message to Garden Organic regarding the Today Programme that was edited by Michael Palin on 30th December 2013 about the problems in Ethiopia with the 'Devil Tree' (Prosopis). I have also sent the relevant information to Farm Africa/ Michael Palin stressing that it is not all bad news.  While Prosopis is certainly perceived as a major week in some places, it has also successfully been turned into a valuable resource in many areas, including in Kenya with the invaluable early support from Kennington Overseas Aid. The work in Kenya started back then is going from strength to strength and our collaborator, Simon Choge from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, is now Director of a Sub-Centre of KEFRI in Baringo District with the remit to take this work forward. The best publication that sets out the overall position and our currrent view on Prosopis is attached: Pasiecznik, N. M., Choge, S. K., Trenchard, E. J., and Harris, P. J. C. (2012) ‘Improving Food Security in Famine-Prone Areas Using Invasive and Underutilized Prosopis Trees’. FoodChain 2(2): 197-206.

The following information may also useful:

A direct result of work in Kenya in 2006, including work by Garden Organic and Coventry University funded by Kennington Overseas Aid, the Kenyan Government, and others were two policy changes. The Kenyan Government lifted the blanket ban on charcoal production and trade specifically for the exploitation of Prosopis, and issued a two-year moratorium on the release of biological control agents against Prosopis to allow time for a nascent pod processing industry to develop and make an impact. Both policy changes came into full effect in 2008. By 2013, the moratorium had not been overturned as Prosopis utilisation is expanding.

Target groups in Kenya include poor pastoralists and subsistence farmers, including women-headed households and indigenous peoples, many in very remote areas. Studies on the impacts of Prosopis on livelihoods concluded that revenues from the sale of Prosopis products was providing up to 46% of family income in Baringo, and approaching one million pounds per year of additional income in selected communities in Baringo, Garissa and Tana River since 2008 (Choge et al., 2012). These are all areas where training and demonstration courses occurred and have large areas of Prosopis.

Official records of charcoal sales gathered from individual communities in all the three districts since the charcoal trade ban was lifted in 2007 averaged 440,000 for each full year for which data was available. In addition, official estimates of illegal sales by the Kenya Forest Service were considered to be at least equal to official sales figures. Added to this were estimates of the income earned by local community associations from the sale of pods for animal feed and poles used in the construction of local huts, particularly in Garissa where they are used by many of the 450,000 Somalis in the Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world. The informal sale of fuelwood is also considered to be significant. These huge benefits approaching one million pounds a year directly to poor rural people during the past five years is considered as self-sustaining, and such impacts are actually expected to increase. Choge et al. (2012) note for example, that “there is an increasing use of processed Prosopis pods by many communities for feeding livestock as a positive impact of the awareness and training programmes in the recent years by the Government and other development partners.”

The economic potential of Prosopis in Kenya is also soon to expand exponentially. A company is preparing to invest in a ‘green’ power station in Baringo using only Prosopis wood (Price, 2012), supported by external financial support. The company attributes their successful application for a grant and loan of one million US Dollars to the results of the Garden Organic/ Coventry University research programme (Saleem Ahmed, Tower Power Baringo Limited, Nairobi, Kenya, 24 September 2012). A second power station is also planned in Garissa.