Monday, December 7, 2020

0 Restoring rangelands for nutrition and health for humans and livestock - New Research Project


Drylands Transform is the new interdisciplinary research project starting up in the border region between Uganda and Kenya. The research team –coordinated by SLU – wants to modify the ongoing negative spiral of land, livestock and livelihood degradation into a positive transformation. The project aims to contribute to several of the United Nations global sustainable development goals.

Drylands cover 40% of the global land area and hosts 2 billion people of which 90% live in low- or middle-income countries. Drylands often face severe land degradation, low agricultural productivity, rapid population growth, widespread poverty and poor health. Livestock-based livelihoods, largely depending on seasonal migration are the norm.

Vulnerable to climate change

People and land are highly vulnerable to climate change, while there are also changes in land tenure, insecurity/conflicts and rapid infrastructure growth. Governance structures and institutions are often eroded.

In Drylands Transform we will investigate the links between land health, livestock-based livelihoods, human well-being, and land management and governance. We will contribute with new knowledge for transformative change and sustainable development of rangelands in the drylands of East Africa.

Stakeholder engagement

Through strong stakeholder engagement in interdisciplinary research, we set out to explore the challenges and pathways towards a social-ecological transformation in drylands that optimizes synergies among the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while minimizing the trade-offs. We will use innovative field research approaches focusing on livelihood improvement through rangeland restoration and governance interventions in some counties in the border region between Kenya and Uganda.

Sustainable development goals

The entry point of Drylands Transform is the urgent need to identify and enhance synergies between food and nutrition security (sustainable development goal, SDG, 2), land and ecosystem health (SDG15) and peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG16) for sustainable dryland development, while minimizing trade-offs between agricultural productivity (SDG2), natural resources management (SDG15) and climate change (SDG13). Interactions between the above SDGs and good health and well-being (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5) and access to clean water and sanitation (SDG6) will also be analysed.

For more information, please contact 

Professor Ingrid Öborn
Department of Crop Production Ecology, SLU

Ylva Nyberg
Department of Soil and Environment, SLU

More SLU researchers in the project

Aida Bargués Tobella, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Ewa Wredle, Department of Animal Nutrition and Management
Gert Nyberg, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Göran Bostedt, Department of Forest Economics

Researchers from other universities/organisations in the project 

Per Knutsson - School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University
Barbara Schumann - Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University
Agneta Hörnell - Department of Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science, Umeå University
Kristina Lindvall – Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University
Stephen Mureithi - Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology (LARMAT), University of Nairobi, Kenya
Denis Mpairwe – Department of Agricultural Production, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Alice Turinawe - Department of Agribusiness and Natural Resource Economics, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Dereje Wakjira – Resilience and Pastoralism, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Nairobi, Kenya
Leigh Winowiecki – Land Health Decisions, World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya
Tor-Gunnar Vågen – GeoScience lab, World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya

Drylands Transform 2020-2024

In Drylands Transform we will:

  • Assess land health at the landscape scale and explore the links with human health and well-being
  • Co-develop sustainable rangeland management options with local communities, and set-up knowledge sharing hubs (‘livestock cafés’)
  • Study impacts of seasonality and climate variability on food and livelihood strategies, well-being and resilience.
  • Identify innovative land governance mechanisms and practices that effectively address livestock-keepers’ dependence on both flexible and secure rights to land.
  • Co-design and evaluate alternative scenarios for sustainable dryland transformation in East Africa with local and regional stakeholder groups.

The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) is leading the multidisciplinary team with researchers from Umeå University, Gothenburg University, University of Nairobi, Makerere University, World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

This research project is funded by the Swedish Research Council, Formas, 2020-2024.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

0 Tracking Sources and Fate of Groundwater Nitrate in Kisumu City and Kano Plains, Kenya

Spatial distribution of the groundwater sampling points
Groundwater nitrate (NO3) pollution sources and in situ attenuation were investigated in Kisumu city and Kano plains. Samples from 62 groundwater wells consisting of shallow wells (hand dug, depth <10 m) and boreholes (machine drilled, depth >15 m) were obtained during wet (May–July 2017) and dry (February 2018) seasons and analyzed for physicochemical and isotopic (δ15N-NO3, δ18O-NO3, and δ11B) parameters. Groundwater NO3 concentrations ranged from <0.04 to 90.6 mg L−1. Boreholes in Ahero town showed significantly higher NO3 (20.0–70.0 mg L−1) than boreholes in the Kano plains (<10.0 mg L−1). Shallow wells in Kisumu gave significantly higher NO3 (11.4–90.6 mg L−1) than those in the Kano plains (<10.0 mg L−1). About 63% of the boreholes and 75% of the shallow wells exceeded the drinking water WHO threshold for NO3 and NO2 (nitrite) during the study period. Mean δ15N-NO3 values of 14.8‰ ± 7.0‰ and 20.7‰ ± 11.1‰, and δ18O-NO3 values of 10.2‰ ± 5.2‰ and 13.2‰ ± 6.0‰ in wet and dry seasons, respectively, indicated manure and/or sewage as main sources of groundwater NO3. However, a concurrent enrichment of δ15N and δ18O was observed, especially in the dry season, with a corresponding NO3 decrease, indicating in situ denitrification. In addition, partial nitrification of mostly sewage derived NH4+ appeared to be responsible for increased NO2 concentrations observed in the dry season. Specifically, targeted δ11B data indicated that sewage was the main source of groundwater NO3 pollution in shallow wells within Kisumu informal settlements, boreholes in Ahero, and public institutions in populated neighborhoods of Kano; while manure was the main source of NO3 in boreholes and shallow wells in the Kano and planned estates around Kisumu. Waste-water sanitation systems in the region should be urgently improved to avoid further deterioration of groundwater sources. View Full-Text or the Abstract

Sunday, September 15, 2019

0 Enclosures – a positive land management tool for food security or a driver of tenure conflicts?

AgriFoSe2030 researchers have investigated how enclosures can be used as a land management tool to support food security in the drylands but reveal that the benefits of enclosures differ with perspectives. 
Researchers Deborah Muricho and Stephen Mureithi,
two of the Authots behind the article
Pastoralist communities are widespread in the arid- and semiarid regions of Africa. In fact, 70 % of East Africa’s livestock population resides here. Pastoralists rely on livestock for their livelihood. The harsh conditions of the drylands with severe droughts, erratic rainfall and land degradation make it difficult to sustain on conventional agriculture or other activities. As a consequence, food security in the drylands record the lowest indices compared to other areas in Eastern Africa.
A new article from AgriFoSe2030 researchers means that enclosures – areas fenced off from grazing – have the potential to improve food security in the drylands, but a multidisciplinary approach for research as well as applied management is highly needed.

A breathing space for land

Enclosures have been suggested as tools to improve soil quality and enhance food security due to their provision of a “breathing space” for lands to recover from grazing pressure. The fenced off enclosures are eased from grazing during a period of time to provide for tree growing and land restoration together with feed and fodder production, while at other times open to livestock grazing.
However, the scientific literature reveals that there are two sides of this seemingly beneficial coin. From the natural science perspective, enclosures are great for food security through indirect effects of land restoration. From the social science perspective, the food security can even worsen due to land tenure conflict and elite capture.
- We have seen that households that have enclosures are more resilient to droughts, are losing less of their livestock and even don’t need external support such as relief aid. So, this becomes an important area of policy that should be looked into with a multidisciplinary approach so it can be monitored and evaluated, says Deborah Muricho, one of the researchers behind the article.
The pastoralist communities are facing challenges posed by a combination of environmental and socioeconomic factors such as population increase, climate change and resource conflicts. Hear Deborah Muricho and Stephen Mureithi, researchers at the University of Nairobi, outline how the pastoralists are transitioning from transhuman movement to a more sedentary form, and how enclosures should be supported by policy to ensure a sustainable development.

Key messages of the video above:
AgriFoSe2030 - AgriFoSe2030 contributes to sustainable intensification of agriculture for increased food production on existing agricultural land; the aim is to do so by transforming practices toward more efficient use of human, financial and natural resources.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

0 “The most difficult barrier to landscape restoration is the change of mindset”

AgriFoSe2030- affiliated researcher Stephen Mureithi presented in the Development Research conference, DevRes18, that took place in Gothenburg on the 22-23 of August. DevRes is a bi-annual international conference gathering hundreds of researchers at the forefront of development. He was part of the panel "Restore more – it’s all about Multifunctional Landscapes" and we’ve asked Stephen a few questions to understand more about restoring multifunctional landscapes.
Dr. Stephen Mureithi during the DevRes18
What is the most difficult barrier we face to restore more and create multifunctional landscapes?
 The most difficult barrier according to me is the change of mindset, be it the farmers’ mindset or the government’s. There is a way people are used to do things, and knowledge passes through generations or government regimes. However, to introduce something different from the regular flow of things is difficult. For instance, to convince the pure pastoralist communities to adopt grass as a crop, and grow it for their livestock requires persistence and patience. I have met many people, including scientists arguing that pastoralists should be left to migrate when grazing resources and water are exhausted in one place. That is OK, if, where they are moving to, has pasture.
– In northern Kenya, most areas now are bare. The herds end up in private property, and the pursuit for resources ends up in armed conflicts, loss of lives, property and livestock. I do not say that everyone should grow grass, but at least some people can invest in fodder value chain so that availability of quality fodder can be smoothened throughout the year, including drought periods. Restoring a degraded community’s grazing lands into productive grasslands is not difficult. As some would say; ‘the ecology always works, the elephant is in the pre-restoration management and governance!’, says Stephen Mureithi.
What are the most efficient way of building resilience in the drylands?
 Building resilience is complex and requires multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches. In my view, agricultural growth and comprehensive food and nutrition security cannot be attained without increasing the capacity of vulnerable people in the drylands to cope with disasters and crises such as drought and floods. There is a need to help countries, counties and institutions to increase this capacity. It can be done around four main areas; vulnerability analysis and resilience measurement; resilience policy and strategy development and implementation; vulnerability reduction at community and household level; and preparedness, coordination and response to crises.
– We need to work a lot with adaptation measures during the more stable periods, to then be able to pacify the effects and impacts of disasters when they strike. Together, we also need to facilitate exchange of efficient resilience practices and promote knowledge-sharing across countries.
How can enclosures work as a land management tool in African drylands?
– We have seen a trend of increasing adoption of enclosures in Eastern Africa where most of the arid and semi-arid areas are degraded. The adoption of enclosures is driven and sustained by a combination of factors such as tenure insecurity, pasture shortage and poor management of pastoral commons. In some counties in Kenya for instance, enclosures were mainly established to demarcate boundaries, provide grazing reserves, enable proper/judicious land management, and facilitate crop cultivation in a pastoral setup and to curb land degradation. Increasingly, they are being established spontaneously by the agro-pastoralist communities for fodder or crop production and livestock management. In this way, they become a key tool for range rehabilitation and improved grazing management which is multifunctional. It increases CO2 sequestration in biomass and soil leading to increased soil organic matter, which in turn have a positive impact on environmental, agricultural and biodiversity aspects of ecosystems.
– The results of an increase in soil carbon storage include increases in soil fertility, land productivity for pasture and food production and security, and prevention of land degradation, thus leading to economic, environmental and social benefits for the local agro-pastoralist communities. 
One last question: the DevRes conference is a biennial conference engaging in the debates at the forefront of development studies. What was your experience of the conference in general?
 The overall conference was very well-organized, and it was amazing on what was accomplished within the 2 days. The choice of venue was also great, and the walking from the main conference center to the School of Global Studies gave the participants a good health break with some physical exercise!

Interview by Anneli Sundin, AgriFoSe2030 Communication and Engagement.

See original post at SLU News 

Stephen Mureithi is a rangeland ecologist and soil scientist. His research focuses on the direct effects of disturbance on dryland ecosystems, their restoration, and its effect on land, livestock and pastoral livelihoods. He is currently serving as a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology (LARMAT), University of Nairobi, Kenya. 
See more details on his profile page at or read our interview with him about when he did a research exchange within the AgriFoSe2030 programme in 2017.

Monday, April 24, 2017

0 Growing Grass - An Interview


Ecology is most interesting for me, when it is about ecosystem restoration. But there is more to it than the shallow demand for more trees. How does one start something like this, what do you get and which surprises do such projects hold? Dr. Stephen Mureithi from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, made some time for me.

The problem

Isabella: How did you get the idea to do research about grass?
Stephen: During university I did some field trips where I started noticing that most of the dry lands we were taught about were being degraded. So my question was “How can I help the pastoral communities, which are living in those areas, to cope with drought?”
In places like Turkana, where people are still nomadic (yet in some places they are settled in villages) they really suffer when there is a protracted dry season. Their animals are dying, there is no milk. And that is their main livelihood. They do not have anything else. What if they would have a thousand acres with good grass and a well filled barn? They would be able to link up to the wet season.

The land during the dry season. During winter at home everything is white, here everything is red.

The cause

I: I have heard it was better before. How come that those range lands have been degraded that much?
S: Some areas had good grass, but because of the population increase and large herds of cattle the traditional grazing management structures have led to overgrazing. The elders where controlling few herds and people were listening to them. But nowadays young people are more learned, they have guns. They have a mindset of „What is this old man telling us, we can graze anywhere and you’ll do nothing about it.“ Of course that leads to problems.
I: So it does not have to do with the colonial government, which has brought a lot of problems in the rift valley?
S: Yes, the colonial government displaced some communities, but mostly in the highlands, where they wanted to farm or around Laikipia, where they wanted to have ranches. But the dry lands… the population of the pastoralist community was very low. If they were displaced the effect was small.
If you look at private ranches in Laikipia, they still have a good grass cover. But outside of the fence the community area is completely bare. That means something is not happening right in the community held land. The mindset of „Oh it’s free for all, I have to take something before someone else takes it“. That issue of competition is bringing the tragedy of the commons.

Behind the fences the land is still green.

After the solution

I: Some restoration projects have accidentally set of a wave of land privatization in some areas. What do you think about that?
S: If you look at satellite images of a pastoral communities in Laikipia, you see the whole place does not have herbaceous cover. And you wonder, are these people better off if they say “We want this nice communal field where our livestock has nothing to graze on.”?
By going this way, we are not saying they have to own individual plots, they can own it as a group or maybe as a number of households. So it’s still communal. But I think they are better off, if it is restored and they learn grass husbandry and the grass value chain as opposed to when it is only bare soil.

Nothing to graze. And in the coming years it might be even less.

I: In addition to the land restoration process you are teaching communities in capacity building. You are teaching them how to manage the restored land, how to make hay and sell it, you are adding value chains and link communities to markets. Why is it not possible to teach sustainable pastoralism without the capitalist side of selling everything?
S: Your question is good and it’s something that we keep thinking about. Pastoralists are interested in good and modern life like anybody else.
I think we can cheat ourselves that there is somebody who loves to stay in the dry, pastoral area. Without development, without taking their children to school. We can idealize on that. But if you listen to them closely, they also want an to have income to be able to do this, to educate their children, to afford stuff.

Livestock for the markets.

Money can come second, but it will come, because peoples lives are changing. We cannot have the world changing, going very fast like in Kenya, yet some groups of people are being left behind too much. So I think we have to talk holistically.
There is a lot of demand of meat and milk. If they are able to take a lot of lifestock to the market, it is an opportunity. Because the best crop for these drylands is grass and then they sell the cow and they can buy what they want. So we cannot seriously avoid to talk about money.
I: This is only the beginning of this development dynamic. Which means, right now a lot of resources are set free, which will be tied up again in the future. What do you think are future problems of these developments?
S: In pastoral areas there are people who are the lead farmers, who adapt new practices quickly, who are going to be the rich people of that area soon. Especially if they are a little bit educated and then they discover that there is wealth to be made. If you have money, there is power that comes with it. Then they can systematically aquire more land. Some of this land in those areas is not demarcated yet. Those farmers will start fencing it early and in the future people will say ‘Ok, that’s where his fence reaches, so that’s his land.” Also there will probably be people who will fall out of the system, because they adapt slowly. During draughts they crash, their livestock numbers go down and they are not able to recover.
And in the future with capitalism, growing and selling grass, market linked, there are people who are going to be poorer. But maybe there is also a group of people who are going to be very rich in the same system. So that is going to be a challenge.

Living fences protect „private“ areas from overgrazing.

Hard stuff…

I: And what were your biggest challenges during the project?
S: One of the most difficult things was governance. It is easy to restore land which belongs to a private person. They make decisions quickly and know what to do and implement. So if they decide to rehabilitate 5,000 hectares you can quickly do that.
But pastoral communities are not used to cultivating crops and now you are telling them „Look, we want you cultivate grass as a crop.“ Sometimes they told us, "Grass belongs to god.“ Then I told them „God grew grass, but you overgrazed everything. So please, we have to work with god to put it back.“
That change of mind is the biggest challenge that we face. Because it will take 30 years to completely have a generation that is thinking „Grass is money, we have to grow it.“ It is a slow walk and a long journey. So it cannot be within a normal project time frame of three years. Engage three years, plant some grass, then disengage. Of course that land will go bad again.
I: So another big challenge was your time frame?
S: Yes, the time frame is always a challenge. But what we are doing now is partnering. I was working on a project in Northern Kenya. It was funded only for one year.
We brought together all the players within the county. We sat down and said „Where my project ends, can somebody else, who has funding, start there?“ Now the original project ended, but we got another project funded through other organizations in the same area.

… and simple things

I: What was the easy part of your research?
S: There is nothing easy. The easiest part is to put grass seed down and wait for the rain and see it germinate. That means you have the money and the collaboration in the field. The land is prepared well already, maybe putting a temporary exclosure in place, which means we cut thorn bushes and dug water harvesting structures.
Eventually they are amazed to see something that was just bare becoming green. That is easiest. And then one of the most challenging things is to maintain that. Sustainability. And that’s when you come about with grazing systems. After the restoration, you start building the capacity of the people to manage the restored area. You teach them that you can get other benefits from grass, including grass seed that you can sell, 1000ksh (10€) per kilo. Then you can harvest the hay and then they can fatten their livestock.

How to do it

I: How did you finally manage to put the grass back?
S: I asked myself „What grass existed here before?“ Then we had a sitting with the herders, to find out what species existed. Sometimes I asked them to scout for me and bring evidence, for the grass species they claimed existed. Then they showed me grass species that used to be there but had disappeared. We knew some of them from other areas.
The problem is some of them propagate through rizhomes or stolons. Those are more difficult to rehabilitate, because they do not have seeds. But it still helped, because it showed the local species vis a vis the ones we can bring easily by using seeds from somewhere else. We have identified five grass species, among them Entropogon macrostachus and Cenchrus ciliaris, that we can use for rangeland rehabilitation.

Grass for the dry season or selling.

I: What ecological changes did you see after the project?
S: Surprisingly three grass species came back. Probably because the seeds were still in the soil seed bank. Because of degradation and over grazing the conditions were not good for their germination. If they germinated at all they were quickly taken out by the livestock. We have done some studies in other places and we saw that there is more biodiversity in the restored areas.
I: If you could do your project again, what would you do differently?
S: Except everything? I would do more scouting. For example, recently was in northern Kenya at a river bank where I found an ecotype of Sencreas egalis. I could try to propagate it and use it to rehabilitate the river bank there, locally, instead of bringing another ecopype from south-eastern Kenya.
So I would try to go that way, find seeds of ecotypes, multiply them locally and use them locally. That way we avoid genetically homogenizing the range lands.
If you have an ecotype for the mountains, one for the midrange and one for the lowlands you keep genetic heterogeneity. Because different ecotypes might respond differently to draught.

Surprise! That is already the restored area. Looks dry to us, but some ecosystems just are like this.

At the end

I: What was one thing during your project that surprised you?
S: A good surprise is the look on the face of a farmer when he or she gets the first money from grass.
They said „Now we have money from grass?! I can’t believe it. Earlier we had to sell a cow, now this is money from grass.“ It is amazing to see this.
And to deal with the people, to see that change in the mind of people. A chairman of a fodder group said „We are going to do this over and over again!“. And I think they are going to be rich. So I told them „You see, you only need to protect where the grass is growing and weed it a little bit.“.

See the original text here..

Functional Ecosystems Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates