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An integrated agro-ecosystem approach for land and water resource management at the service of agricultural sustainability and food security



It is estimated that 42% of Kenya’s GDP is derived from natural resource related sectors such as agriculture and forestry.These sectors are highly sensitive to climate change, a fact that makes rural based economies highly vulnerable.In the agriculture sector for example, smallholder farmers are the backbone of the economy, generating about 70% of their agricultural production while also being the custodians of precious agro-ecosystems.Conversely, land, water resource base and populations whose livelihoods and food security are dependent on such resources have been subjected to the vagaries of land degradation,deforestation and declining productivity of croplands.This has undermined the sustainability of food systems and productivity of natural landscapes.

To address these challenges,this proposal leverages on the development of ecological engineering and forest landscape restoration in arid and semi-arid areas as a nature-based solution for addressing ecosystem degradation and climate change resilience.It is therefore a practical intervention that serves as an entry point for adaptation strategy to improve the productivity, efficiency, profitability and fairness of landscape production while also establishing an approach that builds wetland restoration.In essence, the ecosystem-based adaptation approach will ultimately reduce environmental impact of production while addressing food insecurity.To ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations, the proposal focuses on;

  • Investing in watershed development to rejuvenate water resources.
  • Building sustainable and resilient agricultural production systems.
  • Greening dry lands through planting community forests.
  • Establishing Bio-enterprises to create economic activity for local communities.

This methodological approach offers blue print for rehabilitating approximately 250 hectares of degraded Land for restoration annually.

Is this proposal for a practice or a project?


What actions do you propose?

Extensive degradation of natural resources is a persistent threat to sustainable development. An integrated framework with an active involvement of local communities should be scaled-up. The following presents the development pathways to reshaping degraded landscapes as well as interventions for creating an enabling environment for building climate-resilient agriculture. They include;


  Micro-watersheds store up to 30 million liters of water and create the opportunity to invest in ecological agriculture

1.Developing micro-watersheds for community based projects- it is considered as a sustainable measure in rural development to increase water availability. These are small natural watersheds that are organized as structural bench terraces across the landscape. It creates shallow wetland habitat, harvests rain water and also enables ground water to be stored in the aquifer system. It offers natural bio-retention mechanism thereby reduces dry season deficit.

2. Adoption of agro-ecological farming practices-the project seeks to implement agronomic practices that enhance ecological functions through the following activities;

  • Reducing dependency on external input-replacing the use of agro-chemicals with organic or natural pesticides and biofertilisers into the agro-ecosystem to reduce the risk of water pollution and environmental risk.
  • Designing Crop choices and crop rotations systems-the former involves choosing crop species that favor the development of beneficial soil microorganisms that stimulate plant growth  and the latter entails intercropping to enhance biological interaction.
  • Direct seeding farming-this corresponds to reduced tillage as a practice to minimize soil disturbance to a greater extent.
  • Agroforestry-this is a suitable strategy to optimally integrate arid and semi-arid landscape at field and farm level by planting trees together with annual crops in order to improve ecological services and assist in regeneration of native vegetation. The farming communities will be nurtured to partake tree planting within their farmlands.

3. Pragmatic, field-based and farmer-centric education. It is a participatory, community-based educational method that entails modification of the technical aspects of farm production to fundamentally build on soil and water management as well as develop learning practices for adaptive ecosystem management. At this level, farmers have the opportunity to investigate and learn a wide range of topics and apply best practices for example: management of soil fertility and water resources; risks associated with toxic pesticides and implementation of low-toxicity alternatives. The education and training helps farmers to understand how agricultural practices can either complement and build—or undermine and destroy—the biological processes and ecosystem services on which their production systems are built. Knowledge sharing and effective learning aims to create a community of practice that will inculcate and create more enlightened populations about the transition to climate-smart or resilient farming systems.


                                                               Field-Based School for Training on agro-ecosystem management

4.Promoting livelihood diversification through Forest conservation Income Generating Activities (IGA).This entails establishment of community bio-enterprises that depend on the continued existence of the forest.The aim is to enable vulnerable communities to apply alternative livelihood support systems.The   focus therefore is to plant multipurpose fast maturing high value commercial trees and in particular Tamarindus indica.Over the years, the tree has been used widely to make many products such as herbal medicine and foodstuff.The tree is one of the indigenous fruit tree species that can contribute to food security and ecosystem stability in sub-Saharan Africa. It is important to note that this approach was first piloted at Matinyani Women Group-a self help group and can therefore be successfully replicated.


The farming communities will be responsible for growing the indigenous Fruit Tree while processing and value addition of the T. Indica will be done by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) to ensure continuous processing of quality products according to Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).Through contractual arrangements therefore, this will support the farmer’s production that will in turn generate them revenues in two fold-first by supplying the T.indica raw materials for further processing and secondly through market-driven initiatives of the value added T.indica products.The primary growers of the Indigenous  Fruit tree will be incentivized as the sole distributors of the end-product to the market thereby enabling them to earn income through the Sales revenue.

5. Ecological restoration through eco-innovation. The project has already developed innovative, eco-friendly and effective natural and healthy pest luring systems; pheromones and attractants systems for pest management which maintain the health of plants and the environment.This also includes bio-pesticide that repels termites from attacking young tree seedlings. As such, it reduces environmental impact of agriculture through helping farmers overcome challenges such as protecting crops against diseases and insects thereby contributing to more sustainable farming practices, meet climate change goals and most importantly decrease the use of hazardous and toxic chemicals. In order to ensure sustainability, the project has capitalized on the development and sale of its Eco-friendly pest control agro-inputs to the farming communities which has remained financially profitable.To date, the project has around 3,000 paying customers subscribing to the bio-pesticide.Through this self-sustaining model, the project anticipates to fund part of the proposed actions in order to expand the scope of the project activities.


                                Sample Eco-innovation implemented by the Project

Apart from offering cost-effective and affordable prices  to the eco-products compared to the industrial ones, we influence behavior change and encourage buy-in of the eco-friendly agro-inputs through sharing the products socially by hosting field-day marketing and demonstrations as well as reference marketing.Secondly, through partnerships with local agro-vets as eco-ambassadors and therefore as primary suppliers.Thirdly, we organize learning expeditions to create platforms for the local communities to learn and share experiences about the eco-products thereby leading to shifting attitudes and behavior.

Who will take these actions?

Agricultural co-operatives- Kenya has a long history of cooperative development which make significant contribution to national development.The project has engaged 4 co-operatives whose vital role is build the capacity of farmers to analyze their production systems, test possible solutions and eventually adopt green and eco-friendly practices best suited to their socio-economic and environmental context. Furthermore, the co-operatives provide the project with access to its registered pool of members in an effort to integrate them into the project’s climate smart agriculture and ecosystem regeneration programmes.

Development project partners-the project has embarked on a partnership with development stakeholders such as the Water Project Fund to mobilize financial resources through Grant/ Seed Fund/ Donation to support the development of the hydro-logical infrastructure. At the same time, Kenya Forest Service will work closely with the project to identify reforestation areas, provide tree seedlings that are to be planted as well as oversee management of the tree seedlings during growth and their utilization after maturity.

Research institutions-the project will primarily work with Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) to offer Capacity Building in the Tamarind Fruit Value Chain.The research institution specializes in Tamarind indigenous fruit product development. At the same time, it will be responsible for offering hands-on training in selected farmers’ fields which includes; propagation, nursery establishment and processing.The value addition of Tamarind indica products will be done by KEFRI thereby distributing the end-product to the community growers for selling.

Community Self Help groups-it involves groups of individuals who participate in agricultural and non-agricultural practices. They are one of the driving forces in the agricultural value chain as they  are key participants and beneficiaries who engage in all stages of production, from the adoption of sustainable natural resources management to conservation practices.Nevertheless, their core submission is to implement strategies in order restore land productivity, conserve biodiversity, increase the resilience of agro-ecosystems, alleviate poverty and eventually contribute to food security and nutrition. This will be the primary agency at village level responsible for the project.

The proposal author’s role will include;

  • Being the project’s steering director to help steer implementation of the activities.
  •  Mobilize partnerships with different stakeholders to ensure effective project implementation.
  • Coordinate the design and execution of community-level mobilization.
  •  Conduct assessment and  monitoring of the project implementation. 
  • Identify potential risks; provide support, guidance and oversight of progress.


Where will these actions be taken?

Project area: The proposed project areas where these actions will be taken include semi-arid zones of Southeastern part of Kenya and in particular Machakos, Makueni and Kitui.


The Semi-Arid region has a land area of approximately 45,000 km2 , with its defining features characterized by poorly distributed rainfall and fragile ecosystems susceptible to degradation as a result of poor/unsustainable agricultural practices, soil erosion and deforestation. The population which is approximately 3 Million is largely dependent on subsistence agriculture and forest resources for their livelihood. Activities under the current project have been initiated in Machakos region with the location of the project areas shown by green dots on the following map. The highlighted project areas consist of community Self-Help groups with 100 members drawn from different households. The area that has been brought under shifting cultivation is around 10 acres. Nevertheless, the strategic plan (2020-2025) is to gradually scale up the project’s activities to be replicated in Makueni and Kitui counties.



In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.


Country 2

No country selected

Country 3

No country selected

Country 4

No country selected

Country 5

No country selected


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

Reduction in Area being deforested-the area being deforested in the project area is approximately 10,000 ha owing to energy demands as a result of over reliance on wood fuel. Currently, the average area under shifting cultivation is around 10 hectares. By 2025, the project anticipates to reduce the area being deforested by 250 hectares each year.

Carbon Sequestration and Reduction in CO2 Emissions-the agro-ecological engineering approach offers an excellent mechanism to reduce GHG sources and increase carbon sinks. The adoption of agroforestry systems will contribute to agricultural GHG mitigation activities by sequestering carbon  in terrestrial biomass and soils and avoid emissions through reduced fossil fuel and energy usage. Similarly, by adopting crop diversification, the project assumes that it will be able to exploit opportunities for reducing or removing greenhouse gas emissions where feasible because resistant varieties will reduce pesticide application and hence CO2 emission.

The use of climate-smart inputs such as organic fertilizers and pesticides produced from extracts of botanical plants respectively will act as drivers of greenhouse gases reduction.Furthermore, by restoring degraded soils and adopting conservation practices, the soils become the largest store of terrestrial carbon.

What are other key benefits?

From a socio-economic and environmental perspective, the major desirable outcome in the proposed actions is associated with behavior change in ecosystem and land management at the same time building resource efficiency and resilience.

At economic level, desirable outcome include;

  • Increased green investment in sustainable Nature-based enterprises.
  • Increased rural incomes and diversification of agricultural revenues.
  • Reduced poverty levels.
  • Increased value of sustainable Natural resource management in GDP.
  • Diversification of economic activities.
  • Increase in yield from conventional agricultural systems.

At Environmental level, desirable outcome include;

  • Increased land productivity.
  • Percentage change in tree cover.
  • Improved plant and animal biodiversity.
  • Reduction in environmental health risk.
  • Improvement in soil fertility.
  • Decrease in wind and water erosion.
  • Improvement in micro agro-climate.
  • Carbon sequestration and storage.
  • Reduction in deforestation.
  • Mitigation of climate change impacts on agriculture.

At societal level, desirable outcome include;

  • Enhanced adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities.
  • Increased uptake of climate-resilient innovations and technologies.
  • Improved standards of living for local communities in the agricultural areas.
  • Improved food security and nutrition.
  • Adequate provision of human sustainable livelihoods.
  • Increased green jobs.
  • Improvement in public opinion regarding agricultural and forestry activities.
  • Diversified land use.

This proposal helps to fulfill Kenya’s national climate goals which highlight the national Green Economy strategy as one of the priorities to implement Vision 2030 and in particular, promote climate change interventions. This proposal supports the aforementioned goals by building efforts to ensure livelihoods are less vulnerable to the challenges of climate change and also embracing management and conservation of the natural land-based resources. Furthermore, it has affirmed its commitment to promote low carbon development pathways through resource efficiency and sustainable management to target land degradation. This is in line with Kenya’s  Green Economy strategic and implementation framework (2016-2030) spearheaded by the Ministry of Environment and Natural resources and United Nations Environmental Programme, which firmly embeds Natural resource management, climate change interventions, sustainable livelihood and building resilience in growth dynamics. On the same note, the project synergizes with National Climate Change Action Plan 2013-2017 adopted by the Kenyan government whose key priority area is to secure the country’s development against the risks and impacts of climate change.


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

Challenges of implementing the proposed actions;

  • Integrating agro-forestry practices into the agricultural system involves new training, altering known practices as well as managing the trees for competition with agricultural crops. An even more profound local lifestyle change could be required due to changing climate demands. Introducing new practices that require these profound shifts may evoke resistance among some local communities.
  • Nature-based initiatives cut across biophysical and socioeconomic dimensions, which present different issues at different scales. This may create difficulty in mapping out, implementing and monitoring impacts at scale.  
  • Achieving successful land use change, reforestation or other climate change interventions across the agro-ecosystem is challenging with inadequate financial resources.
  • An adaptation Nature-based solution that is suitable for a particular area may not be applicable in similar environments with other ethnic groups, due to different norms,  or work burdens.

Taking this into account, the following strategies will be employed to overcome the aforementioned barriers;

  • Connect with community values to promote adoption of environmental and economically sustainable agro-ecosystem management practices. Additionally,mobilize communities  to understand impacts of land degradation thereby empowering them to be part of the solution thus encouraging shift of behavior and attitudes.
  • The project is also working on an innovative and sustainable model that can incentivize communities with positive track record as champions or drivers of agro-ecosytem management. 
  • Establish multidimensional approaches to diversify revenue streams for the project which will in turn mobilize financial resources to support growth strategy such as;
  1. Expanding the existing bio-enterprise model.
  2. Leverage on partnerships with development organizations for training and capacity building on Nature-based ventures.
  3. Establish annual membership fee or subscription to community based-groups in order for them to continue benefiting from knowledge transfer, capacity building and technological support or advancement.
  4. Establish network for market linkages for the communities agri-food products and  forestry products thereby earn a small-percentage from these market linkages.




The proposal impacts in the short-term include;

  1. Restoration of land productivity through improved soil fertility and optimized nutrient availability thereby contributing to food security and nutrition.
  2. Hydrological modeling will generate meaningful gains in increased water quantity in the targeted areas.
  3.  Improved rural livelihoods and income thus alleviating poverty.

In the medium-term;

  1. Creation of green job opportunities at scale which implies  employment will be created at scale.
  2. Establishment of new additional conservation enterprises.
  3. Empowerment of agricultural actors with the right tools for economic growth thereby enhancing their trust in the agribusiness sector.
  4. Intensification of agricultural production systems  in a variety of ecological and socio-economic context.
  5. Contribute significantly to food security goals, reclaim where damaged and protect valuable and fragile natural environments, leading to generation of opportunities for improved quality of life for present and future populations on a sustainable basis.

In the long-term;                 

  1. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions resulting from agri-culture is one of the main  long term impact of the proposal. Nature-based intervention will lead to sustainable reductions of agricultural GHG emissions. On the global scale, the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector are responsible for approximately a quarter of anthropogenic GHG emissions—mainly from deforestation, livestock and poor soil and nutrient management. This proposal will therefore establish mitigation opportunities which will be achieved through reduced food waste and loss, improved management of land ecosystem. According to (IPCC, 2014), carbon sequestration in soils and biomass lead to increased levels of terrestrial carbon stocks.
  2. The project will increase the uptake of technologies, innovations, policies and approaches leading to sustainable food production and consumption patterns in a changing climate.
  3. Improved benefits will be accrued to communities from exploiting nature-based resources.
  4. Upscaled payment for ecosystem services.

The project will start having an impact during the 5th  year of operations. Overtime, the impact will change through the generation of environmental income which will in turn stabilize  household economies of the  poor, translate into better nutrition and health, create more opportunities for saving and investment and reduce vulnerability to climate change. Furthermore, social gains will be enhanced as the vulnerable communities will start assuming greater power to manage local land ecosystems and become more active players in the local economy.  Additionally, development of institutions that recognize local communities as best placed to conserve natural resources will be experienced thereby supporting conservation enterprises.

About the author(s)

Elizabeth Achieng is an astute researcher passionate about exploring trans-boundary climate risk and adaptation governance. Much of Elizabeth’s experience is drawn from studying, managing and implementing projects on key thematic area-Climate Smart Agriculture.Her focus of interest include climate change adaptation and climate information services. She also holds a Masters degree in Development Studies. She has over 5 years of experience in managing and implementing organic and sustainable farming practices across communities in the Eastern part of Kenya.  Through her agricultural venture, she received the Green Innovations Award by National Environmental Trust Fund in 2016 as the most promising innovation that seeks to turn Green to Gold.  She was also Awarded Certificate of Recognition for the project’s innovative solution towards Sustainable Consumption and Production by UNEA-4 in February 2019. She has received business training and funding from Kenya Climate Innovation Center to accelerate the development and deployment of the project’s climate-smart technology. 

Related Proposals

Not  sure


Chiteva, R., Mayunzu, O., Lukibisi, M., & Wachira, N. (2016). Enhancing Community Livelihoods through Nature Based Enterprises: Case of Matinyani Women Group, Kitui, Kenya. Environment and Ecology Research, 4(1), 30-35.

FAO (2011). The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture: Managing systems at risk. London: Earthscan. Summary Report.<>.

Boyce, J. K. (2006). A future for small farms? Biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Human development in the era of globalization: essays in honor of Keith B. Griffin, 83-104.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. <>.

IPCC (2007). Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R.K and Reisinger, A. (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland.