Agroforestry implementation update from Laikipia, Kenya
Published on: December 18, 2020
Written by the Laikipia Regenerative Agroforestry Team, Laikipia Permaculture Center (LPC) Kenya
Restoring a degraded landscape
“Laikipia” is a Maasai word for tree plains; these have been increasingly disappearing recently. The landscape has experienced a devastating decline in the number and diversity of trees due to land degradation. Land degradation is a serious challenge caused by overgrazing, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and adverse effects of climate change.
This has pushed many Maasai communities into absolute poverty most of them shifting into charcoal making, sales of firewood and timber production. All of these activities have detrimental effects on the fragile ecosystem. This has also led to escalated food insecurity and malnutrition among children.
Reverse the trend
To address this, Laikipia Permaculture Centre (LPC) collaborated with reNature and the Leopold Bachman Foundation to reverse the trend by promoting regenerative agroforestry practices. Regenerative agroforestry is a form of cultivation that merges trees with agriculture hence utilizing their complementary roles for enhanced resilience, increased biodiversity, and improved profitability while ensuring climate-friendly use of land resources.
This protects the soil against erosion, fertility loss, and loss of essential microorganisms. In addition, it contributes to improved soil water retention capacity by adding organic matter that also enhances its fertility. Improved local biodiversity, economic empowerment and social integration is also an expected outcome of the approach.
Aiming for a holistic paradigm shift
The Laikipia Regenerative Agroforestry Project follows an innovative approach aimed at driving a holistic paradigm shift towards responsible resource exploitation. It includes a model farm where various innovative regenerative agroforestry models are set to provide a practical learning for the community.
Similarly, the project advocates for replication of the models on community farms in the area including communal as well as privately owned land. Intensive, interactive capacity building forms an important component of the project, which aims to incorporate traditional knowledge and best practices of agroforestry from research and practice.
Towards sustainable exploitation of agroforestry products, the project advocates for value addition of non-wood tree products for the cosmetics and medicinal industry. The project targets communities organized in community-based groups’, as shown in the map, Lekiji, Nabulu Mukuri, Nabulu Kimugadura, Ereri Vision, Mukima, Muramati and Ensongoyo Youth Group.
Since September 2020, the project activities on the ground have begun. It started with a baseline survey that sought to understand the status of the project area at the project initiation stage. As provided by the principles of regenerative agroforestry, we aim to mimic nature, which is usually very diverse.
Listening to the communities
We have also been listening to the communities to ensure that we achieve their aspirations of the ecosystem they desire to create and live in. From our interaction, we have identified seven functions that are dear to the community since they speak into their daily way of life. The seven functions are; Food, Fodder, Fruit, Fuel, Fibre, Fertilizer, and Forage. These functions have greatly shaped the selection of tree grasses and herbs.
Interestingly, by adhering to this selection, the project will reintroduce endangered but very important tree species, improve soil fertility, increase revenue streams from land and income generation through value addition.
Beginning in October, we have engaged the communities by conducting introductory training as well as planting the first trees. As of 1st of December 2020, the project has planted a total of 475 assorted varieties of tree seedlings and grasses. We have also held dialogues on the common future that will involve holistic management; smart designs to form diverse and self-sustaining production systems.
We have also set up a tree nursery at the LPC, which will supply tree seedlings for the project as well as serve as a training ground on tree nursery management. It is hoped that the system will be strong enough to withstand drought and pests which have caused the failure of conventional systems in the past.
Protecting the young seedlings from animals remains a challenge. Wildlife and specifically elephants wreaked havoc on two sites, namely: Muramati and Lekiji. The Lekiji site was damaged extensively with all the seedlings either by browsing or being trampled on. The fence was also severely damaged. There is a need to develop a strategy to ensure tree survival amidst elephants by installing solar-powered electric fences.
Another challenge is rainfall unpredictability. In the month of November, the area experienced extremely hot weather for two weeks, which threw us off balance in regards to tree planting. At some point, we were worried about survival and encouraged farmers to put in place irrigation measures. The situation suddenly changed towards the end of the month with more than normal rainfall patterns experienced.
We remain hopeful that 2021 will bring with it good tidings, that more trees will be planted and survive to change the landscape that is so dear to the communities of Laikipia. It is also the year where we hope to initiate some value addition of various tree products. From our end, it can only get better, if not best in our zeal to change our ecosystem.