Kenyan Farmer Treasures the Calliandra Tree

Environment and climate changeTrees and agroforestry

Notes to broadcasters

Many species of high value trees can benefit farmers. Broadcasters can promote trees that help farmers to: Diversify Income, Enhance Productivity, Conserve Energy, Create a Healthy Environment, and Meet People’s Needs. You may want to consider programming that features a different agroforestry tree each week, or each month.

This script discusses the benefits of the calliandra tree (Calliandra calothyrusus) and the experience of a Kenyan farmer who is growing it. Calliandra is truly ‘multi-purpose’. It can be used as a high-quality fodder supplement for livestock, to improve soil fertility, for seed production, as bee forage, for fuelwood, for income generation from sale of seeds and seedlings, and for stakes for climbing beans and tomatoes. Please see notes at the end of the script for further information about calliandra and other multi-purpose trees.



Host 1:
Welcome dear listener to today’s programme about ‘High Value Trees.’ Our tree of the day is calliandra, and we will hear about the experience of a farmer in Kenya who grows this tree. Stay tuned.


Host 2:
Imagine for a moment a farm product input that could control erosion, increase crop yields, absorb water-polluting runoff, and be used as a fertilizer in areas where animal manure is not available.

Host 1:
What if it could also be used as livestock feed, and to protect livestock from winds and heat?

Host 2:
And perhaps this special product can provide income for farmers and ranchers. At the same time it helps to create a more diverse and healthy countryside, with clean water and more abundant wildlife. Surely, most of us would rush out to purchase this special product!

Host 1:
Well, this product is not on any store shelf. It is in fact a set of farming practices called agroforestry. Agroforestry means combining trees and agriculture. It is based on a traditional practice that farmers know well – putting certain kinds of trees to work for agriculture.

Host 2:
Today’s show is about high value trees that can benefit farmers: fruit trees such as mangoes, avocados and guavas; medicinal trees like moringa and neem trees; fodder trees like sesbania, leucaena and calliandra; natural fertilizer trees like sesbania, leucaena, pigeon pea and calliandra. The list goes on and on…we just don’t have time on this program to mention them all. But we do have time to hear the story of one farmer and his treasured calliandra tree.


Host 1:
Although there are many high value trees for farmers, the tree of choice will depend on every farmer’s unique situation.

Host 2:
Fredrick Kinyua Mwaniki is a farmer from Embu in Kenya and he practises agroforestry – growing trees with crops. One of his best performing trees is calliandra.

Host 1:
When Fredrick first started to work on his land, it was covered with couch grass. There were many eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus trees are not good trees for agroforestry. Eucalyptus exhausts the soil and takes a lot of water from the ground. When they are planted near farmers’ fields, eucalyptus trees reduce crop yields.

Host 2:
So Fredrick Kinyua Mwaniki had many challenges ahead of him.

Host 1:
It was Fredrick’s wife, Purity, who inspired him to try agroforestry.

Host 2:
Several years later, Frederick is happy to feed the fresh tender tips of the calliandra leaves to his cow. The older, tougher leaves are used for mulching – to protect the soil. And he uses the tall, straight stems to stake his climbing beans and tomatoes.

Host 1:
And seeds! Fredrick keeps ten trees for seed production. He sells the seeds for a good profit.

Host 2:
When you meet Fredrick, you can tell that his land and trees bring him joy and peace. And why not? He can earn a living without traveling away from his family. People come for advice and he’s glad when they come again.

Host 1:
I want to share something that Fredrick said to us to give listeners an idea of how he feels about his land and his trees. He said: “When I sit under the shade of the umbrella tree where the air is cool, I eat my pawpaw to quench my thirst and look at the beautiful flowers of calliandra ” I just feel happy.”

Host 2:
In less than ten years, through hard work, and by thinking in a new way, Fredrick has transformed his land from an unproductive hillside into a lush, fertile little piece of paradise.

Host 1:
So that is the story of Fredrick Kinyua Mwaniki from Embu in Kenya. A farmer who has seen the benefits of agroforestry, and of the calliandra tree.


Host 1:
If you are going to plant trees, you will have to carefully consider your soil, climate and the kinds of tree seeds or seedlings that are available to you. Calliandra is one tree you might want to consider. I’m going to mention, once again, all the uses for calliandra on the farm. Calliandra can be used as fodder for livestock, for soil improvement, for seed production and bee forage, as fuelwood, and as stakes for climbing beans and tomatoes.

Host 2:
Listener, this brings us to the end of our program today about farming with the calliandra tree. We do hope that you’ve been informed. Until we meet again.



  • Contributed by Charles Ogada, Ugunja Community Resource Centre, Kenya.
  • The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute and the International Center for Research Agroforestry collaborated with Mr. Fredrick Kinyua Mwaniki in his agroforestry work.
  • Reviewed by Professor Helen Hambly Odame, Rural Extension Studies, University of Guelph, and by Professor Naresh Thevathasan, Temperate and Tropical Agroforestry Specialist, University of Guelph, Canada.


High value trees
Many kinds of high value trees are available to farmers. Here are some examples:

Fruit trees – mango, avocado, guava
Medicinal trees – moringa, neem
Fodder trees – sesbania, leucaena lucocephala, calliandra
Natural fertilizers (nitrogen fixing) trees – sesbania, leucaena, pigeon pea and calliandra
Alley cropping trees – calliandra and sesbania
Boundary marking trees – calliandra and sesbania
Erosion control trees – calliandra and leucaena leucocephala
Shade trees – mango, avocado
Timber trees – gravelia robusta, casuarinas
Trees that provide shelter and food for animals – gravelia for birds, calliandra nectar for bees.

The calliandra tree (Calliandra calothyrsus)
Calliandra calothyrsus originated in Central America and Mexico. It was introduced in Indonesia to provide shade in coffee plantations, but the tree has now proved more useful for other purposes such as fodder, fuel wood, and land reclamation. In many parts of the world including Kenya, calliandra cuttings are now used as fodder for grade dairy cows and other livestock. It’s valued for the protein it can provide when livestock are fed low quality roughage or when fed on grasses like Napier, which are often deficient in protein content. Calliandra also increases the butter fat content of milk.

In Kenya and Indonesia, calliandra has been planted on steep eroded slopes to provide stability and prevent landslides. It builds soil fertility as it fixes nitrogen. Although not pollinated by bees, calliandra can be a source of nectar for honey production. In Indonesia bees can produce one thousand kilograms of honey per year from one hectare of calliandra. It also supplies good fuelwood that dries well and burns rapidly.

Calliandra occurs naturally in some parts of the tropics at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1900 m and where the average annual rainfall is above 1000 mm. It can withstand dry seasons of two to four months with less than 50 mm rainfall a month. Calliandra can grow well in Kenya at elevations ranging from coastal lowlands to lower highlands, not exceeding 1900m above sea level.

How to grow calliandra
Grow calliandra in nursery beds that are one meter in width and three meters long. Apply manure to the beds; for every three meters of soil apply one 12 kilogram tin can or ‘debe’ of manure. Before planting, soak the seeds for two days. Make furrows about two centimeters deep (the distance between the end of your finger and your knuckle), and place the seeds in the furrows, covering them lightly with soil. Water the bed thoroughly after sowing. Continue watering three or four months until transplanting. Transfer calliandra seedlings to the field at the onset of rains when the soil has enough moisture and the rains are expected to continue for two months. The planting holes should be about 20 centimeters wide and 30 centimeters deep (this is about half the length of your jembe or hoe). In drier areas, the holes should be bigger than this to help retain more soil moisture. Use well-decomposed animal and compost manure mixed with fresh ash to improve quality. Add one 2 kilogram tin of ash to every one 12 kilogram tin can or “debe” of manure. Remove the seeds with some soil attached to their roots when transplanting. Place the seedlings upright in the prepared hole and fill the remaining space with a mixture of topsoil and manure. Compact the soil and manure to make the seedling firm.