2012 Honoree: KOMAZA

Primary Area of Impact: Economic Development
Geographic Area Served: Ganze District in Coast Province, Kenya
Years of Existence: 2006
Website: www.komaza.com


In Kiswahili, the word KOMAZA means “to promote development and encourage growth.” KOMAZA is a pioneering forestry social enterprise that works to unlock the economic potential of tree farming in drylands across Africa. KOMAZA targets the hardest-to-serve families and works with them to establish small woodlots of drought-resistant, fast-growing trees. Fallow, unused, degraded land is transformed into flourishing tree farms that provide families with an unprecedented source of income when harvested. KOMAZA generates life-changing income for rural families while creating a sustainable wood supply for the African market that combats deforestation. They call this model Microforestry.
KOMAZA forms a long-term partnership with each farmer, creating a mutually-beneficial economic relationship. Their solution is centered on partnering with rural farmers at the base of the pyramid to produce a sustainable resource that meets unmet market demand. By avoiding the distribution of handouts, KOMAZA replaces charity with entrepreneurship and agribusiness.

Social Challenge

KOMAZA targets the hardest-to-serve families living in remote drylands of rural Africa. 2.1 billion people worldwide live on drylands, and rural families in remote drylands are the poorest and least developed on earth; their infant mortality rates are the highest and their GNP per capita the lowest. Conditions in these areas lead to the highest population growth of any ecological zone: a staggering 18.5%.

Currently, KOMAZA serves Ganze District in Coast Province, Kenya. Coast Province has some of the highest poverty rates in Kenya with 69.7% of the population falling under the national poverty line. Ganze District includes the poorest political constituency in Kenya, with over 84% of families living in extreme poverty. In KOMAZA’s area of operations, 67% of female farmers have no education, 73% of households have no savings, and 40% of children under five years of age have stunted growth due to malnutrition.  KOMAZA’s program uniquely addresses the challenges of these areas.

Families in Ganze eke out a subsistence-level living through rain-fed agriculture and few livestock.  However, low and erratic rainfall leads to poor agricultural yields and regular crop failure. With very little economic activity in the area, to begin with, farmers are margins away from total financial and physical ruin. Already, many area residents are dependent on food aid for portions of the year. Frequent droughts in the past few years have compounded these pressures. Because farmers cannot grow enough food or earn enough income from traditional crops, they rely on income from cutting down indigenous trees for sale as charcoal to survive.

In drylands around the world, deforestation leads to desertification, which leads to death. Traditional aid, largely successful at keeping the poor at subsistence levels of living, cannot solve this challenge. The challenges of dryland poverty and environmental degradation are inextricably linked—because families cannot grow enough food to survive, they extract what meager wealth they can from the environment, eroding the very resource that sustains them. When drought and environmental degradation result in poor harvests, families face famine, high infant mortality from malnutrition, and high drop-out rates from schools due to lack of money for fees. This is an unsustainable system heading for environmental, economic, and community collapse, potentially making millions of families totally dependent on outside aid or spurring mass migration to urban slums. With business-as-usual, dryland families today’s children and their children face total environmental collapse with dire social and economic consequences.

Addressing the challenges of the world’s rural poor living in drylands requires addressing both the root causes of social and environmental issues in a market-oriented, economically feasible way. The solution must break the cycle of dependency on aid in order to truly change the playing field of development. Unless all three of the key drivers needed to break the cycle of poverty (social, environmental, market) are solved at scale, rural communities living on dryland environments around the world will continue to face perilous futures.


Since being named a finalist for the 2012 Lipman Family Prize, KOMAZA continues to create sustainable economic opportunity through microforestry. Their recent accomplishments are listed below:

  • As part of its partnership with Wharton, KOMAZA will begin work with a Field Application Project in which a team of 5-6 MBA students will explore the viability of KOMAZA’s entry into the Carbon Credit Market through Microforestry in Kenya.
  • In 2012 KOMAZA nearly doubled in size, planting over 500,000 trees with nearly 2,000 new farmers in the October-November rainy season.
  • In January 2013, KOMAZA announced a partnership with Kiva to help lift rural farmers out of poverty. Of the 10 Kiva profiles posted, each was funded in less than 2 days.
  • KOMAZA has set plans to have a propagation facility with a capacity to produce 5 million plantlets annually. This will eliminate the need to buy the costly seedlings from suppliers.
  • In the fall of 2012 KOMAZA leveraged its powerful farmer extension network to deliver d.light solar powered lanterns and phone chargers.