From Just Means, writer Harry Stevens introduces us to KOMAZA.
What if the American Dustbowl could have been prevented by social enterprise? KOMAZA, a social enterprise which just won the 2010 SVN Innovation Awards, is trying to do just that in Kenya. The farmers in Kenya's eastern Kalifi District, where KOMAZA operates, work semi-arid, degraded land not unlike the American prairies of the 1930s. Many of the region's farmers cannot grow enough food to survive and are forced to supplement their income by cutting down trees to sell as charcoal. Without trees, topsoil erodes, desert swallows the land, and families either starve or become environmental refugees.
KOMAZA, Swahili for "encourage growth, promote development," provides a solution to this potential disaster in the form of drought-resistant, high-profit tree farms. Unlike seasonal crops, which often fail for lack of water, trees are able to survive for months without water and can effectively use whatever rain water is available. KOMAZA employs a model which it describes as "microforestry," providing smallholder farmers with the tools required to make tree farming profitable on only a half-acre of unutilized land.
After each harvest cycle, KOMAZA processes the lumber from farmers' trees into a variety of products including firewood, electricity poles, sawn lumber and even luxurious floorboards. The company then sells the products on markets that would normally be completely inaccessible to smallholder farmers. KOMAZA projects that each microfarm will return over $3,000 to each family at the final harvest, a huge sum for families accustomed to living on less than $300 a year.