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  • Sustainable intensification of dairy production can reduce forest disturbance in Kenyan montane forests

Sustainable intensification of dairy production can reduce forest disturbance in Kenyan montane forests

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Increasing demand for food and the shortage of arable land call for sustainable intensification of farming, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where food insecurity is still a major concern. Kenya needs to intensify its dairy production to meet the increasing demand for milk. At the same time, the country has set national climate mitigation targets and has to implement land use practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from both agriculture and forests. This study analysed for the first time the drivers of forest disturbance and their relationship with dairy intensification across the largest montane forest of Kenya. To achieve this, a forest disturbance detection approach was applied by using Landsat time series and empirical data from forest disturbance surveys. Farm indicators and farm types derived from a household survey were used to test the effects of dairy intensification on forest disturbance for different farm neighbourhood sizes (r = 2-5 km). About 18% of the forest area was disturbed over the period 2010-2016. Livestock grazing and firewood extraction were the dominant drivers of forest disturbance at 75% of the forest disturbance spots sampled. Higher on-farm cattle stocking rates and firewood collection were associated with 1-10% increased risk of forest disturbance across farm neighbourhood sizes. In contrast, higher milk yields, increased supplementation with concentrated feeds and more farm area allocated to fodder production were associated with 1-7 % reduced risk of forest disturbance across farm neighbourhood sizes. More intensified farms had a significantly lower impact on forest disturbance than small and resource-poor farms, and large and inefficient farms. Our results show that intensification of smallholder dairy farming leads to both farm efficiency gains and reduced forest disturbance. These results can inform agriculture and forest mitigation policies which target options to reduce GHG emission intensities and the risk of carbon leakage.

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  • ICRAF’s Tony Simons talks transformational change in land management

ICRAF’s Tony Simons talks transformational change in land management

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ICRAF’s Tony Simons speaks at the GLF Investment Case Symposium 2018 in Washington, D.C. Photo by L. Vogel/GLF

The second of three Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in 2018 is being held at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 29 to 30, with a focus on forest and landscape restoration.

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions, is based in Nairobi, and its Director General Tony Simons is set to have some of the last words at this current GLF.

Simons is speaking in the Policy Plenary just before the conference finale, which will explore how to create enabling environments for transformational change in landscape management in the region.

Originally from New Zealand, Simons has an impressive track record working on issues at the interface of tropical agriculture and forestry in more than 40 developing countries. GLF’s Landscape News spoke with him about the potential he sees for policy change to help make forest landscape restoration work for ecosystems, people and profit across the African continent.

What are some of the issues for enabling sustainable landscapes in Africa at the moment?

Africa has tremendous opportunities, but it’s also got a lot of issues and difficulties. It’s the second largest continent in the world; the second most highly populated; the most rural; the poorest; and the most reliant on agriculture. It has the least forest cover; the highest use of wood energy; and it’s got one of the youngest populations in the world. There are very low levels of mechanization in agriculture: 95 percent of crops are rain-fed, and only 5 percent are irrigated.

Staggeringly, Africa imports 35 billion dollars a year of food. That’s going to be 110 billion by the year 2030. Of that 35 billion, 95 percent of that is brought in from other continents. So while there is plenty of land available – and people to work it – food production is not yet happening at the scale that it should be.

Food trees grow on a farm in Kenya. Photo by A. Mamo/ICRAF

What policies need to change to help make landscapes more sustainable?

Back in 2009, the African Union [AU] heads of state passed a resolution on land use and management across the continent. It was at a time where there was a huge amount of attention on land grabbing. So the policy instruments put into place were about keeping the resource under sovereign control.

So that’s one of the issues in Africa now: about 75 percent of the land – even if it’s under customary control – is formally owned by the government. And the governments don’t really know what to do with it.

I think we’ve got to put land stewardship back in the hands of people. You’ve got the land; you’ve got a young population; you’ve got growing prosperity; better education; literacy and numeracy is growing; but there needs to be a kind of revolution in land management. It’s not going to be by individuals; it’s going to be by groups, collectives, communities and watersheds. We’ve got to leverage the agenda of that wise stewardship down to the level of the people.

Sustainable management costs money. How can we make it worth people’s while?

If you travelled to the world’s second largest rainforest, which is the Congo, and I sold you an acre of rainforest, it would cost about $10,000. But the government gets less than $100 of revenue from that per year: a 1 percent return. That’s the biggest problem with forests and wetlands: they’re not remunerative.

And that’s because we don’t count the value of all of the fantastic biodiversity, carbon provisioning, precipitation enhancement and other ecosystem services that these places provide. In a continent where 95 percent of crops are rainfed, forests are very important for agriculture. But protecting and restoring them is not remunerative because of the partial accounting. So that needs to change.

However, we’re not going to get anywhere if we spend all this money restoring the land to how it was in the past, because it will still be under pressure for exploitation. So we’ve got to make a viable business case for restoring that land. And that’s going to be about connecting and linking financial capital, natural capital, human capital and social capital.

This is also at a time when we’re seeing pressures on financing. So how do we get all of these new approaches and opportunities out to people? NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have stepped up in quite a large way, but the private sector needs to step up much more. And for that to happen, there are a number of things that we need to look at. The first one is the opportunities: where are the business cases, the viable enterprises to piggyback on?

The second thing to look at is investment return. What returns will the governments, the small-scale farmer, the community and the foreign investor get from investing in landscape restoration? And what are the risks associated with this, and how can we de-risk? Many people perceive agriculture as complicated, as confused, as risky, as having a low rate of return, as not really investment material. Investors need to see that yes, this is a viable enterprise, and when we start thinking about bringing that financial return to social dividends, to environmental dividends, that’s when it all starts to come together.

Rubus Pinnatus grows on Nyambene Mountain, Kenya. Photo by A. Mamo/ICRAF

Beyond opportunity, risk and return, next comes leverage. We have been relying in Africa on external Overseas Development Assistance (ODA); but ODA is currently drying up and being reallocated. Now for every single dollar of ODA, there’s $3 of remittances, there’s $6 of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), there’s $24 of domestic private sector spend, there’s $55 of national government spend, and there’s $1,000 of private capital.

So let’s use that $1 of ODA to leverage all those other sources. That’s going to be the real opportunity to bring change in landscapes.

What’s significant about having the GLF in Nairobi this year? 

Africa is innovative and unique. Practitioners can take things that worked in Latin America and Asia and adapt them, but Africa also has some fantastic indigenous ways of understanding and transforming landscapes. For example, we’re already seeing in Ethiopia how social capital is driving land use change.

The GLF provides an important opportunity to showcase that it’s not just doom and gloom, and that things are progressing. Let’s make a business case for restoration. Let’s connect with people; let’s think about gender, land ownership and tenure, and about motivating the youth. We candrive confidence to investors to bring financing to restoration. It’s not just about ecosystem services; it’s all of humanity that stands to benefit from this.

To hear more from Tony Simons and other policy experts, tune into the Policy Plenary live stream on Thursday, Aug. 30, at 5.45pm Nairobi time (GMT+3).

By Monica Evans, first published at GLF’s Landscape News

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  • ICRAF’s Tony Simons talks transformational change in land management

ICRAF’s Tony Simons talks transformational change in land management

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ICRAF’s Tony Simons speaks at the GLF Investment Case Symposium 2018 in Washington, D.C. Photo by L. Vogel/GLF

The second of three Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in 2018 is being held at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 29 to 30, with a focus on forest and landscape restoration.

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions, is based in Nairobi, and its Director General Tony Simons is set to have some of the last words at this current GLF.

Simons is speaking in the Policy Plenary just before the conference finale, which will explore how to create enabling environments for transformational change in landscape management in the region.

Originally from New Zealand, Simons has an impressive track record working on issues at the interface of tropical agriculture and forestry in more than 40 developing countries. GLF’s Landscape News spoke with him about the potential he sees for policy change to help make forest landscape restoration work for ecosystems, people and profit across the African continent.

What are some of the issues for enabling sustainable landscapes in Africa at the moment?

Africa has tremendous opportunities, but it’s also got a lot of issues and difficulties. It’s the second largest continent in the world; the second most highly populated; the most rural; the poorest; and the most reliant on agriculture. It has the least forest cover; the highest use of wood energy; and it’s got one of the youngest populations in the world. There are very low levels of mechanization in agriculture: 95 percent of crops are rain-fed, and only 5 percent are irrigated.

Staggeringly, Africa imports 35 billion dollars a year of food. That’s going to be 110 billion by the year 2030. Of that 35 billion, 95 percent of that is brought in from other continents. So while there is plenty of land available – and people to work it – food production is not yet happening at the scale that it should be.

Food trees grow on a farm in Kenya. Photo by A. Mamo/ICRAF

What policies need to change to help make landscapes more sustainable?

Back in 2009, the African Union [AU] heads of state passed a resolution on land use and management across the continent. It was at a time where there was a huge amount of attention on land grabbing. So the policy instruments put into place were about keeping the resource under sovereign control.

So that’s one of the issues in Africa now: about 75 percent of the land – even if it’s under customary control – is formally owned by the government. And the governments don’t really know what to do with it.

I think we’ve got to put land stewardship back in the hands of people. You’ve got the land; you’ve got a young population; you’ve got growing prosperity; better education; literacy and numeracy is growing; but there needs to be a kind of revolution in land management. It’s not going to be by individuals; it’s going to be by groups, collectives, communities and watersheds. We’ve got to leverage the agenda of that wise stewardship down to the level of the people.

Sustainable management costs money. How can we make it worth people’s while?

If you travelled to the world’s second largest rainforest, which is the Congo, and I sold you an acre of rainforest, it would cost about $10,000. But the government gets less than $100 of revenue from that per year: a 1 percent return. That’s the biggest problem with forests and wetlands: they’re not remunerative.

And that’s because we don’t count the value of all of the fantastic biodiversity, carbon provisioning, precipitation enhancement and other ecosystem services that these places provide. In a continent where 95 percent of crops are rainfed, forests are very important for agriculture. But protecting and restoring them is not remunerative because of the partial accounting. So that needs to change.

However, we’re not going to get anywhere if we spend all this money restoring the land to how it was in the past, because it will still be under pressure for exploitation. So we’ve got to make a viable business case for restoring that land. And that’s going to be about connecting and linking financial capital, natural capital, human capital and social capital.

This is also at a time when we’re seeing pressures on financing. So how do we get all of these new approaches and opportunities out to people? NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have stepped up in quite a large way, but the private sector needs to step up much more. And for that to happen, there are a number of things that we need to look at. The first one is the opportunities: where are the business cases, the viable enterprises to piggyback on?

The second thing to look at is investment return. What returns will the governments, the small-scale farmer, the community and the foreign investor get from investing in landscape restoration? And what are the risks associated with this, and how can we de-risk? Many people perceive agriculture as complicated, as confused, as risky, as having a low rate of return, as not really investment material. Investors need to see that yes, this is a viable enterprise, and when we start thinking about bringing that financial return to social dividends, to environmental dividends, that’s when it all starts to come together.

Rubus Pinnatus grows on Nyambene Mountain, Kenya. Photo by A. Mamo/ICRAF

Beyond opportunity, risk and return, next comes leverage. We have been relying in Africa on external Overseas Development Assistance (ODA); but ODA is currently drying up and being reallocated. Now for every single dollar of ODA, there’s $3 of remittances, there’s $6 of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), there’s $24 of domestic private sector spend, there’s $55 of national government spend, and there’s $1,000 of private capital.

So let’s use that $1 of ODA to leverage all those other sources. That’s going to be the real opportunity to bring change in landscapes.

What’s significant about having the GLF in Nairobi this year? 

Africa is innovative and unique. Practitioners can take things that worked in Latin America and Asia and adapt them, but Africa also has some fantastic indigenous ways of understanding and transforming landscapes. For example, we’re already seeing in Ethiopia how social capital is driving land use change.

The GLF provides an important opportunity to showcase that it’s not just doom and gloom, and that things are progressing. Let’s make a business case for restoration. Let’s connect with people; let’s think about gender, land ownership and tenure, and about motivating the youth. We candrive confidence to investors to bring financing to restoration. It’s not just about ecosystem services; it’s all of humanity that stands to benefit from this.

To hear more from Tony Simons and other policy experts, tune into the Policy Plenary live stream on Thursday, Aug. 30, at 5.45pm Nairobi time (GMT+3).

By Monica Evans, first published at GLF’s Landscape News

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  • Sustainable intensification of dairy production can reduce forest disturbance in Kenyan montane forests

Sustainable intensification of dairy production can reduce forest disturbance in Kenyan montane forests

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Increasing demand for food and the shortage of arable land call for sustainable intensification of farming, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where food insecurity is still a major concern. Kenya needs to intensify its dairy production to meet the increasing demand for milk. At the same time, the country has set national climate mitigation targets and has to implement land use practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from both agriculture and forests. This study analysed for the first time the drivers of forest disturbance and their relationship with dairy intensification across the largest montane forest of Kenya. To achieve this, a forest disturbance detection approach was applied by using Landsat time series and empirical data from forest disturbance surveys. Farm indicators and farm types derived from a household survey were used to test the effects of dairy intensification on forest disturbance for different farm neighbourhood sizes (r = 2-5 km). About 18% of the forest area was disturbed over the period 2010-2016. Livestock grazing and firewood extraction were the dominant drivers of forest disturbance at 75% of the forest disturbance spots sampled. Higher on-farm cattle stocking rates and firewood collection were associated with 1-10% increased risk of forest disturbance across farm neighbourhood sizes. In contrast, higher milk yields, increased supplementation with concentrated feeds and more farm area allocated to fodder production were associated with 1-7 % reduced risk of forest disturbance across farm neighbourhood sizes. More intensified farms had a significantly lower impact on forest disturbance than small and resource-poor farms, and large and inefficient farms. Our results show that intensification of smallholder dairy farming leads to both farm efficiency gains and reduced forest disturbance. These results can inform agriculture and forest mitigation policies which target options to reduce GHG emission intensities and the risk of carbon leakage.

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  • Trends, drivers of change and possible solutions to address deforestation and loss of forest habitat in the Kenya-Somalia cross-border area

Trends, drivers of change and possible solutions to address deforestation and loss of forest habitat in the Kenya-Somalia cross-border area

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The coastal forests of northeast coast of Kenya and southern Somalia form the northern tip of the East African Coastal Forest Biodiversity Hotspot. While this hotspot is considered threatened by deforestation and forest degradation, there is little up-to-date information on the status of these forests, their rates of deforestation and degradation, the underlying drivers of change and the opportunities presented by restoration of the degraded forest lands. The EU/IGAD-funded Biodiversity Management Programme, which supports one project that aims at the biodiversity conservation commissioned a study to describe the loss of tree cover, the associated drivers of change and reviewing possible solutions. This report first presents historic vegetation maps that localize the lowland tropical rainforests and the drylands forests that are the habitats of the biodiversity of the East African Coastal Forest Biodiversity Hotspot. Next, using information from Global Forest Watch (GFW), this study reports significant deforestation in the lowland tropical rainforests in southern and central Lamu County and adjacent Tana River County. We further report isolated deforestation in the dryland forests in the Awer Conservancy in the northern part of Lamu County. The GFW data reveals only limited deforestation in the south of Somalia. The Fire Information Resource Management System (FIRMS) active fire data reveals frequent fires in the lowland savannas surrounding the remaining tropical rainforest fragments. More isolated areas affected by fires are reported from the dryland forests in South Somalia, presumably reflecting the active charcoal industry in this area. Our analysis thus reveals that few fragments of indigenous lowland tropical rainforest remain in Lamu and Tana River Counties, while charcoal production is affecting the dryland forests in southern Somalia and the drier areas across the border in Kenya.

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  • Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

Observatory addresses urgent need to monitor forests in East Africa

A tropical forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by D Sheil/CIFOR
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A tropical forest landscape in Uganda. Photo by D Sheil/CIFOR

East Africa is home to some of the world’s most diverse forests: montane forests, which include some of the highest and oldest mountains in Africa; coastal forests; Miombo woodlands; tropical rain forests; and mangrove forests.

Like many forested areas around the globe, they are increasingly threatened by agricultural expansion and deforestation for fuelwood and timber purposes.

Although regional authorities, governments, NGOs and international organizations are working hard to protect these forests, without an accurate dataset, there is no effective way to monitor the ecological, environmental and social aspects of these forests.

Today, there are a number of observatories in East Africa monitoring forest activities. However, they lack precise country and regional level data that will help determine future strategies for protecting forests, reporting on countries’ obligations under the Paris Agreement, and evaluating the success of their initiatives under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) schemes.

Read also: Trait-based approaches for guiding the restoration of degraded agricultural landscapes in East Africa

ALL ABOUT THE DATA

Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) are now working with the Regional Center for Mapping Resources for Development (RCMRD) and the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD), including researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), to lay the groundwork for a new regional observatory in East Africa.

Throughout the year, scientists will be conducting a comprehensive study to gather forestry data and assess the status of forests, REDD+ activities, institutional systems and monitoring capabilities across four East African countries – Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

In February, a meeting was held in Nairobi, Kenya, with government representatives from the four countries to get the ball rolling. This new project will draw upon the experience of Observatoire des forêts d’Afrique Centrale (OFAC), a similar observatory now operating in Central Africa.

CIFOR scientist Paulo Cerutti, who helped establish OFAC, says the biggest advantage of having an observatory is that the information can be verified by the government.

“The data collected is more reliable because it focuses on a smaller scale, rather than on a global scale.”

Experts like Cerutti point out that global datasets, which are meant to compare larger regions, are not always effective when it comes to smaller regions because they can contain disparities.

People work in a field in Kenya. Photo by Tim Cronin/CIFOR

ON THE SAME PAGE

Before the new observatory can become fully operational, all four countries need to have the same capacity and expertise level to effectively contribute to the platform. Currently, the countries have different levels of technical skills, scientific equipment and data collection methods. Even the terms used to describe the types of forests can vary across borders.

The availability of data is another key issue for experts to overcome. For example, in Uganda, information on taxes and revenues from non-timber forest products is not available because they are not formally traded. Meanwhile, in Mozambique, remote sensing data on forests is only available at the national level. In Tanzania, there is a lack of remote sensing data for forest monitoring.

The new observatory would offer the region a more compatible, streamlined data system that would unite the four countries. It would also provide a new avenue for regional collaboration.

“The observatory will provide strong opportunities for synergies between the different focal points in each country and strengthen national capacity to monitor the forests,” says Alfred Gichu, head of the Climate Change Response Program at the Kenya Forest Service.

Countries in the region would be able to access a platform for sharing, exchanging and accessing data and information related to regional forests and REDD+. It would also provide a unified system for reporting on each country’s obligations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Stakeholders agree that regional cooperation gives everyone an opportunity to share their experiences and challenges and to build a stronger platform for the entire region.

“The observatory will help bring East Africa together as a collective working group to give it a voice in high-level discussions,” says Joaquim Macuácua from Mozambique’s Department of Inventory of Forest Resources.

Experts point out that the current lack of coordination is resulting in different agencies producing the same data.

“The observatory will help avoid this duplication of efforts across the region, and even within individual countries,” says Mugisa Micheal, the executive director of Uganda’s National Forestry Authority.

Read also: Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: Current challenges and future opportunities

NEXT STEPS

The project will be carried out through March 2018. Upon its completion, a database and website for the regional forestry observatory will be developed. This data will be made available to the public through the observatory.

Additionally, a thorough analysis of the state of forests and REDD+ activities across the four countries will be completed.

If these above objectives are successfully met, a five-year project will then be initiated to bring the observatory to life as part of the project’s second phase.

By Esther Mwangi and Laura Vanessa Mukhwana, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Esther Mwangi at [email protected] or Laura Vanessa Mukhwana at [email protected].


This initiative is supported through the ReCaREDD project, which is led by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Citizens support data collection on water towers that help to supply their communities

Citizens support data collection on water towers that help to supply their communities

In Kenya’s Sondu Basin, local communities take water measurements to aid monitoring. Photo by P. Shepherd/CIFOR
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In Kenya’s Sondu Basin, local communities take water measurements to aid monitoring. Photo by P. Shepherd/CIFOR

Montane forests in East Africa play a crucial role as water towers, holding freshwater long enough for it to recharge aquifers that supply local communities. 

On the other hand, a recent project from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Kenya that forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) has been examining what communities can do for the water towers.

“The state of forests in Kenya is really critical, so we wanted to estimate their water supply services to inform authorities and society of their value,” says Mariana Rufino, Senior Associate at CIFOR and Chair of Agricultural Systems at the UK’s Lancaster Environment Centre.

Read more: Bridging research and development to generate science and solutions

When she and fellow researchers found there were no consistent datasets on the state of water resources in the Sondu-Miriu River basin, a remote catchment in western Kenya, they decided to test an approach that is rarely used in developing countries, and even more uncommon in the field of hydrology: involving citizens in monitoring and crowdsourcing data collection.

“Collecting data for water flow and quality is expensive, so we set out to find low-cost alternatives to the sophisticated standard methods used elsewhere,” says Rufino.

The team installed 13 water-level gauges equipped with signs explaining the monitoring process, instructing passersby to send measurements via text message. They would then receive immediate feedback on their phones.

Over the course of one year, experts compared the crowdsourced data with that of automatic gauging stations installed nearby.

Watch: A technical overview: The role of citizen science in monitoring water towers in Kenya

In addition to overcoming data scarcity, the project sought to answer two key questions: first, if rural communities in a remote tropical setting would engage in citizen science; and if so, whether or not they would produce data of high enough quality to inform water resource management.

The scientists published a report on their findings, as well as producing two videos to show the benefits of citizen monitoring to local and national natural resource managers and land-use planners.

“We thought that showing our project locations and sharing the stories of people we collaborated with would also increase interest in the role of forests in the supply of water,” says Rufino.

Read more: FTA scientists feature in innovative series of talks on landscapes

PHONING IN

In the end, 124 citizens reported 1,175 valid measurements. Less than 5 percent of the data points was invalid.

“We were struck by the participation rate,” says coauthor of the paper Lutz Breuer, Chair of Landscape, Water and Biogeochemical Cycles at the Research Centre for Biosystems, Land Use and Nutrition at Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“The quality of the data was also excellent, with almost no difference against that of our sophisticated equipment,” says Rufino. “Communities were interested in the initiative, and they told us why: their livelihoods depend on water, so they want to know the state of the resource.”

Based on phone surveys on the socioeconomic background of volunteers, the study concludes: “The active participation is not depending on the actual education level, but rather induced by their personal perception of and dependency on their environment.”

“We are talking about open access data: data that belongs to the people, and that could be used by them to make decisions about resource use,” says Breuer.

“Monitoring the condition of a resource by its users is an important aspect of governance, as it is generally expected to be the basis for the design or adjustment of the use and management of the resource,” echoes CIFOR Principal Scientist Esther Mwangi.

Watch: Opinions and testimonials: The role of citizen science in monitoring water towers in Kenya

MEASURING UP

This is not to say that citizens can entirely replace scientists and authorities. Certain hydrological parameters are too complex for citizen management, and Rufino says the team is seeking to engage Kenya’s Water Resources Agency to help implement the project in two new sites.

And, there’s the issue of keeping people engaged over a long period of time.

To address this, the study paid back the transmission costs (1 US cent per text message) sent from one of the stations, twofold. This proved to increase participation rate, which there was between 2.5 and 7 times higher than at other stations.

However, Rufino believes that “true, sustained engagement will come when locals see value in the data collection and can do something with it.”

For example, if communities understand that a lack of vegetation leads to runoff and lower water tables, they may decide to increase tree cover. Likewise, if they see the links between logging and increased sediment in their drinking-water streams, they may take steps to manage the felling.

“A logical next step would be an assessment of whether and how such locally generated data can spur local actions aimed at sustainable resource management,” says Mwangi.

The scientists will also explore hydrological modeling approaches, both to fill gaps in irregular measurements taken by citizens and to model future alternatives for the region.

“By modeling the effect of land-uses on water fluxes, we can anticipate impacts on water supply, and advise people how to improve agricultural and forest management,” Breuer says.

For Rufino, the project proved that crowdsourcing is the way forward. “We are confident this data-collection model can disseminate in East Africa, and we will make ourselves available to discuss the implementation of this approach with water resource management agencies in the region.”

For low-income countries, the scientists agree that this low-cost approach can work.

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Corporation for International Cooperation.

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  • Opinions and testimonials: The role of citizen science in monitoring water towers in Kenya

Opinions and testimonials: The role of citizen science in monitoring water towers in Kenya

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Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientists are involving local citizens in promoting low-cost methods for monitoring water quality, to inform upscaling of sustainable water management in Southwest Mau Forest, Kenya. This video provides opinions and testimonials from those who participated.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • A technical overview: The role of citizen science in monitoring water towers in Kenya

A technical overview: The role of citizen science in monitoring water towers in Kenya

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Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientists are involving local citizens in promoting low-cost methods for monitoring water quality, to inform upscaling of sustainable water management in Southwest Mau Forest, Kenya. This video provides a technical overview of the efforts.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Women improve food security through land-restoration technology in Kenya

Women improve food security through land-restoration technology in Kenya

Three women from the Mattu community of practice harvest cow pea leaves. Photo by Ake Mamo/ICRAF
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Three women from the Mattu community of practice harvest cow pea leaves. Photo by Ake Mamo/ICRAF

Despite challenges from both the land and society, women in Kenya are taking control of their farms, with impressive results. Following a previous article on the topic, we delve deeper into a farming technique that is alleviating food shortages in the country.

Agricultural innovations in Africa aimed at improving the productivity of smallholders, especially women, are necessarily subject to accommodating multiple needs, which in turn depend on differing priorities, preferences and access to resources.

Renting an ox-drawn plough, for example, operated by able-bodied men, is a financial challenge for many farmers, particularly the women who make up the majority of farmers in the drylands of what is known as Kambaland in southeastern Kenya.

“It is too expensive to rent the bulls and pay for the young men,” said Veronicah Ngau of Mutembuku village, Makueni County. “Even if I beg someone for free help I have to wait until they are finished with their own work.”

She gave up on ox-drawn tilling after experiencing three rounds of stunted crops. She explained that technologies like terracing and sunken-bed kitchen gardens, however, had improved the situation.

The farmers achieved stark differences in yields with simple planting basins, a water-conservation technology. The basins, which are being modified and tested in several countries, are part of a partnership between farmers, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), World Vision, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Caritas Internationalis and governments. ICRAF, a CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner organization, is leading the research component.

Preliminary results show that the size of the basins and their combination with other practices, such as applying manure and mulching, determine their impact on maize production under different conditions.

Read more: Picks and spades can triple farmers’ yields in Kenyan drylands

Mary shows basin-measuring sticks that she cut herself. Photo by Ake Mamo/ICRAF

But what are perhaps more difficult to accurately assess are the implications for labour and time. A 60 x 60 cm pit, for example, takes about an hour for a woman in her fifties, like Ngau, to prepare. Like many of her neighbors, she does not have children at home to help.

That led them to convene a group of 10 women from the project’s community of practice to collectively dig three pits a week at each other’s homes.

Ngau’s success was enabled by the existence of the community of practice and her ability to mobilize her peers to work together. These factors are likely to vary between farmers and communities and will determine the success or failure of the technology.

An additional issue is women’s right to make decisions about their farms. Evidence shows that traditional gender norms and roles, as well as tenure rights, can limit women’s participation in decision-making about the use of land. But it seems that the migration of men, combined with the success witnessed by some of the participating farmers, has influenced decision-making dynamics at the project sites.

“We didn’t even have to ask our husbands for permission,” said Mary, another farmer in Machakos County. “Our husbands are not concerned with food production. They are mostly away and when they do have an opinion on where tree seedlings should be planted, for example, we allow them to choose their space first then we plant in our own choice of space.”

Most of the men are typically engaged with livestock and poultry trading or have migrated to earn a better living. Producing food therefore rests on women’s shoulders. Amid the land degradation and changes in climate that have lead to food shortages, the planting basins have helped to improve the women’s farming outcomes.

Community facilitators engaged with the projects have observed, however, that even from afar the male heads of households still have the final say on what is done with the land, including the digging of basins. But once they give consent for a plot to be used for planting basins, the women take over all other management decisions.

An in-depth study is currently underway to assess how this and other land restoration technologies can change gender dynamics, considering the social context and the specific challenges that female and male farmers face in using them.

Read more: Enhancing how trees and forests contribute to smallholder livelihoods

By Ana Maria Paez-Valencia, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World.  


The planting basins are part of a project funded by the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development on restoring land for food security, which complements the Netherlands-funded Drylands Development Programme

This research is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.


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