In Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, a unique approach to forest management is taking hold. By working hand-in-hand with communities and promoting native species, Acacia EPZ is transforming landscapes and livelihoods through gum arabic and sustainable charcoal briquettes.
Acacia EPZ is a Kenyan company founded in 2012 that works with farmers to harvest gum arabic from native acacia trees, an industrial ingredient used to make chocolate, candies, and binding agents. Their impact is growing throughout Kenya with a low-interest loan from TerraFund for AFR100, an initiative of World Resources Institute, One Tree Planted, and Realize Impact that finances Africa's top restoration enterprises and projects.
Sam Nyamboga, the Founder of Acacia EPZ, recognized that environmental protection is often overlooked. As the population increases, unsustainable practices and human settlement are leading to the deterioration of the environment. While it is easy to cut down trees for firewood or timber, replanting and maintaining them is not always prioritized. To address this challenge, he set up Acacia EPZ to create a business that also restores lands.
In 2021, Acacia EPZ enrolled in the Land Accelerator program- a program that equips entrepreneurs with knowledge and skills to tackle the issues of land degradation by building economically-viable, sustainable businesses that safeguard our planet and provide livelihoods for millions of people. Acacia EPZ developed an approach to balance people's economic needs with the need to protect the environment.
The company empowers communities to generate income through cultivating acacia trees that produce gum arabic, which is then sold. The company has engaged over 8,000 gum collectors who cultivate trees on thousands of hectares of land. As a result, the risk of landslides has been reduced, and the environment has started to regenerate.
To make all of this happen, Acacia EPZ employs 11 staff members and 100 village agents who provide training and support in the gum-sourcing process.
Protecting the environment is vital, and Acacia EPZ values community conservation efforts and puts people at the center of its projects. The company has been collecting more and more gum every year, with 10 tonnes of gum collected each month from 250,000 native trees that they have regrown.
“We have observed a considerable increase in green coverage, and this has created more income-generating activities. As the community strives to protect the environment, their lives are also transforming, which is a big change from the past,” says Sam.
The process of restoring these lands hasn't been easy and climate change, which has brought a years-long drought, has been difficult to cope with. Despite this, the company is making progress.
“We have a big problem with climate change because we rely on certain rain patterns for planting crops. So, we're working with nearby schools to plant acacia trees around their grounds. In exchange, we give them tools to collect water and help us with watering and protection,” Sam says.
Acacia EPZ is also replacing invasive Prosopis juliflora trees, known as methenge locally, with native acacia trees. The company transforms the invasive trees into sustainable charcoal briquettes that it sells to community members that would otherwise cut down native trees.
Acacia EPZ is now looking to expand their efforts by fostering partnerships with other restoration champions and improving living standards of the communities they work with.