Western Kenya Smallholder Systems

Lead Organization:

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO)

Partner Organizations:

Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI)–Maseno, National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARGIP) and its community-driven development committees (CDDCs) and common interest groups (CIGs), FRNs, other institutions, research and development actors, NGOs, and CBOs

Community of Practice:

East & Southern Africa






Low productivity characterizes western Kenya smallholder systems. Continuous interaction between natural processes and human activities has contributed to negative landscape changes, resulting in loss of soil health and biodiversity, food insecurity, and decreased livelihood streams. Historical review of changes in the landscapes reveals consistent decline in soil health, natural vegetation, and tree and forest covers. These negative trends connect with the current problems, i.e., loss of land productivity, food insecurity, scarcity of medicinal herbs, soil erosion, and poor water quality in streams and rivers. 

Degraded land has limited capacity to support essential social and environmental goods and services.
With the complex interaction between natural processes and human activities in the landscape, a delicate balance is needed between natural resources exploitation and conservation to ensure sustainability. Also, the consequences of some natural processes such as soil erosion may go beyond loss of fertile land to include water pollution through increased eutrophication (Bhateria & Jain, 2016), negatively impacting fish species diversity. Restoring degraded land to enhance food availability and regulate and support ecosystem services (Reid et al., 2005) requires an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional approach. Besides KALRO, a number of other institutions—e.g. Ministry of Agriculture and KEFRI—are addressing different aspects of natural resource management to improve land productivity. Impact, however, is limited because of poor coordination and lack of deliberate efforts to align goals. 

The project’s previous phase co-created promising AE interventions, including high-quality organic soil health management inputs (compost, farmyard manure, biochar, and adapted nitrogen fixing leguminous plants) and legume-cereal rotation systems to control striga. Land degradation generally occurs from burning crop residues (Taddese, 2001), overexploitation of natural vegetation (Ayoub, 1998), excessive tillage (Karlen & Rice, 2015), and mono-cropping (Meyer &  Van Antwerpen, 2001). AE technologies co-created to address these problems have shown great promise. A number of gaps still constrain meaningful impact. Addressing land degradation at plot or farm level does not facilitate exploration of the complex interactions between interdependent land uses and numerous natural processes nor the impact various stakeholders and local actors have on the landscape. 

Grant Aims:

The overall goal is to adopt a landscape approach to bring major stakeholders and actors together to interact and identify high-leverage gaps to achieve scaling of co-created AE knowledge and management practices. 

Specifically, the project aims to address the questions: 

  • How can community participation in landscape restoration be enhanced?
  • How can cultural, social, technical, and local knowledge, experience, and expertise be effectively leveraged to generate and execute an effective landscape restoration plan?
  • How well can the AE technologies targeted for use in landscape restoration activities respond to the major productivity, environmental, social, and economic challenges, etc.?

Outputs and Outcomes:

  • Improved land productivity, leading to food security and general well-being of local communities
  • Increased access to diverse food and non-food products, including firewood, timber, and medicinal herbs, contributing to better nutrition, good health, and improved quality of life
  • Improved livelihoods/economic opportunities for local people through increased product value chains and long-term social security of local communities
  • Enhanced environmental resilience, improved ecosystem services, and increased adaptive capacity of local communities to better manage threats to their environment while taking advantage of opportunities presented by landscape restoration to enhance development
  • Greater environmental awareness and sensitization of farmers and local communities through knowledge sharing and capacity building, leading to more regenerative natural resource management practices, sustainable productivity, and environmental conservation
  • Enhanced capacity of farmers and stakeholders to apply AE practices, leading to stakeholder institutionalization of AE
  • Emergence of platforms for engagement and collaboration between local communities and researchers, partners, students, and faculty for analysis of complex problems and co-creation of solutions that address context-specific problems, including their technical, socioeconomic, cultural, and political dimensions
  • Increased access to and utilization of local knowledge, leading to its greater role in planning community development projects
  • Better local climate regulation, reduced soil erosion, increased biodiversity and ecosystem services, and preservation of way of life