Food vs. Wood: Dynamic Choices for Kenyan Smallholders
Smallholder farmers in many areas of the semiarid tropics are planting exotic tree species that provide alternative income sources, fuel, and building materials. While providing other benefits, these trees often occupy land that could produce annual food crops. This study uses a polyperiod, linear programming model to explore the opportunity cost of planting Eucalyptus grandis and Grevillea robusta trees compared to crops in the Nyando watershed of western Kenya. Results of the ten year period wealth maximization model suggest that a representative farmer’s decisions on farm resource allocation are sensitive to changes in the relative prices of short rotation tree products and annual crops. The model also suggests that there are economic tradeoffs between planting trees and crops, as well as between planting different tree species. Timber production is not likely to replace food crops for two main reasons: (1) the high cost of meeting household subsistence requirements from marketed grains, (2) household cash flow needs met by annual crops. Farmers plant eucalyptus for commercial purposes because they can obtain timber products within four years; however if the prices of these short rotation products go down, farmers will prefer to grow timber from high yield grevillea.
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