Monday, April 24, 2017

0 Growing Grass - An Interview


GRAS DRÜBER WACHSEN LASSEN – EIN 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..

Monday, April 25, 2016

0 Dr Mureithi from University of Nairobi – AgriFoSe2030’s first visiting scientist

Dr Stephen Mureithi from the Department of Land Resources Management and Agricultural Technology, at the University of Nairobi, has been visiting Sweden.
He is part of theme 2 in AgriFoSe; Multifunctional landscapes for increased food security and visited University of Gothenburg, Linköping University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences for workshops and writeshops.
AgriFoSe decided to take the opportunity to ask him a few questions before his arrival.
Stephen Mureithi looking over a Kenyan agricultural landscape. (Courtesy of Stephen Mureithi)

Q: What is your area of research and what are you investigating at the moment?

SM: My research area focuses on the direct effects of disturbance in dryland ecosystems.

My main interests are:

  1. Sustainable land, soil and water management,
  2. Rehabilitation of degraded drylands
  3. Desertification, a phenomenon often equated to a reduction in the biological and economic potential of land to support human populations, livestock and wildlife and which, ultimately, is linked to global climate change, biodiversity loss, pastoral livelihoods patterns, and land use change.
At present, I am carrying out an IGAD funded project as a Co-PI on “enhancing the resilience of livestock-based production systems in northern Kenya’’ in a consortium of researchers from the University of Nairobi, African Dryland Institute for Sustainability (ADIS), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), an NGO called PACIDA, and the County Governments of Isiolo and Marsabit in northern Kenya.

Q: What will you be doing in the AgriFoSe programme?

SM: I am part of theme 2 in AgriFoSe; Multifunctional landscapes for increased food security, led by Madelene Ostwald. We are conducting science-based syntheses and analyzes aimed at understanding the role of multifunctional landscapes (Parklands in Burkina Faso, enclosures in Kenya and home-gardens in Sri Lanka) in promoting food security. In so doing, we will address the gaps in science and policy with the goal to make these landscapes sustainable and resilient.

Q: What do you hope to achieve in the coming years with your research?

SM: Almost all of my research is now action-research, mainly in the rehabilitation of degraded grazing lands as a way of enhancing land productivity and livelihoods. The hardest nut to crack in this equation is the management of the restored lands, which is a governance issue. In the coming years, I look forward to demonstrating clearly that a household can live only on grass-livestock value chain as a main source of their livelihood. I also look forward to fostering greater partnership for action-research, innovation and technology development and transfer among the University of Nairobi, the dryland communities, County Governments and other stakeholders including NGOs and private business practitioners.

Q: Do you have a research team, who are they?

SM: I have no reserch team, but try to always reach out to others. Of course, I also work together with my students. I believe in networking and creating strong collaborations. I am currently in a number of research consortiums and collaborations. These include:
  • Land, Livestock & Livelihood (Triple L Initiative) Dynamics in East African Drylands - started in 2012 in collaboration with SLU, Lund University, JKUAT, University of Nairobi, ILRI and ICRAF, with planning grants from ILRI, SLU and GCGD.
  • Research Scientist in the Government of Kenya’s Systems for Land Based Emissions Estimations for Kenya (SLEEK) funded by the Clinton Foundation with funds from Australian Government.
  • Application and development of isotope techniques to evaluate human impacts on water balance and nutrient dynamics of large river basins. A Research Co-ordinated Project supported by IAEA.

Q: Why are you passionate about your research, why is it so important?

SM: Imagine you are a pastoralist, majorly depending on livestock as a source of livelihood. Then you wake up one day and the grass is gone, literally! This is how I feel and imagine when I visit most of our dryland counties, especially those in northern Kenya. Either there is no grass or the vital herbaceous cover is missing.
Land degradation negatively influences vegetation structure and density. Consequently, it impacts on carbon assimilation, storage and transport in ecosystems, and cycling of water and nutrients. Range rehabilitation and improved grazing management is an example of ‘a multi-use ecosystem carbon sequestration’, addressing loss of ecosystem function and productivity, and would bear a two-fold benefit:
  1. Increased CO2 sequestration in biomass and soil leading to increased soil organic matter contents, which in turn will have a positive impact on environmental, agricultural and biodiversity aspects of ecosystems through the subsequent improved land-use and management practices;
  2. The benefits of an increase in soil carbon storage can 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.
 
Degraded landscapes are common phenomena in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there are proven methods for turning them into productive grasslands, Mureithi points out. (Courtesy of Stephen Mureithi)

Q: What are you hoping to achieve with your visit to Sweden?

SM: I hope to strengthen the collaboration between the University of Nairobi and the Universities in Sweden, and also the networking among the Triple L researchers.

Q: What are your expectations of the programme? What do you think makes the programme important, and why and to whom does it matter?

SM: I expect that AgriFose will generate knowledge and information that will feed into policy processes in the programme areas, in a way that will make the lives of the communities more food secure, and more resilient and adapted against global environmental changes. It is also my expectation that the knowledge generated will be shared across the study sites, in a way that the lessons, innovations and technologies and best practices can be replicated by the communities. My ultimate goal as a researcher is to contribute in making the lives of people better.

Q: How did you come to be a researcher? Was it a childhood dream? Did you want to solve something?

SM: I knew I wanted to be a plant scientist in high school. I loved biology and chemistry. I ended up in ecology. There is nothing as intriguing as watching a plant grow – you do not see it, but you see the result!

Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?

SM: I enjoy nature travelling with my family, mentoring the youth and agripreneuring – I market healthier coffee, tea and chocolate with the King of Herbs (Ganoderma lucidiumCheck it out!

Q: Is this your first visit to Sweden?

SM: Yes, and I am excited about it. I have been to many European Countries in the West, but this is a first to a Scandinavian Country.

Contact information

If you want to find out more about Stephen Mureithi’s visit to Sweden, please email Madeleine Oswald: madelene.ostwald@chalmers.se
If you want to know more about Stephen Mureithi’s research contact him at: stemureithi@uonbi.ac.ke

Published by: Anneli Sundin & Cajsa Lithell
 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

0 BENEFITS DERIVED FROM REHABILITATING A DEGRADED SEMI-ARID RANGELAND IN COMMUNAL ENCLOSURES, KENYA

ABSTRACT

Combating land degradation in the semi-arid rangeland of sub-Saharan Africa is essential to ensure long-term productivity of these environments. In the Lake Baringo Basin in Kenya, communities and individual farmers restored indigenous vegetation inside enclosures in an effort to combat severe land degradation and address their livelihood problems. This study quantified the benefits of rangeland rehabilitation using yearly communal enclosures’ utilisation data compiled by Rehabilitation of Arid Environments (RAE) Trust over a 6 year period (2005–2010). Results showed that communal enclosures provide a source of income through the sale of fattened livestock, harvested grass seeds, hay, honey and charcoal, among other products. Regression analysis showed an increasing total enclosure income with time. The enclosures also provide grasses for thatching, livestock feed and dry season grazing. Indirect products like milk, blood and meat are essential for household nutrition and food security. These benefits reinforce the management through incentive to maintain existing enclosures and establishing new ones, and therefore, the increasing trend in rangeland enclosure. Increased soil and biomass carbon storage could come with other indirect environmental benefits including improvement in soil quality, land productivity for pasture production and food security, and prevention of land degradation, thus leading to economic, environmental and social benefit for the local agro-pastoralist communities. Copyright: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Keywords:

  • environmental services;
  • Kenya;
  • land management;
  • pastoral livelihoods;
  • reseeding;
  • semi-arid rangeland

See Full Paper in Land Degradation & Development




Sunday, September 21, 2014

0 IMPACT OF COMMUNITY CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT ON HERBACEOUS LAYER AND SOIL NUTRIENTS IN A KENYAN SEMI-ARID SAVANNAH

ABSTRACT

The impact of community conservation management on a semi-arid savannah herbaceous vegetation and soil nutrient status was studied in the conservation and grazing zones of two community ranches in Laikipia County, Kenya. Land zoning was carried out in 1999 using participatory approaches to demarcate conservation areas excluded from livestock grazing, buffer areas for grazing and high-intensity use zones for both grazing and settlement. Collected data included cover, grass species composition, standing grass biomass and topsoil chemical characteristics using line transect and quadrant methods. The conservation zones had significantly higher herbaceous diversity, species richness and relative abundance of both annual and perennial grasses, basal cover and herbage and a lower percentage of bare ground compared with the continuously grazed zones. The conservation zones also had higher total organic carbon, organic nitrogen and exchangeable basic cations content, indicating improved soil nutrient status. The grazing zones exhibited loss of vegetation cover and reduction of forage production, with a decline in rangeland condition, whereas the conservation zones showed recovery and improvement of the rangeland condition. Long-term implementation of Natural resource management programme in community wildlife conservancies seems to drive the semi-arid savannahs to exist in two steady states and transitions under the influence of grazing. We recommend long-term monitoring of the impact of the community conservation model on the rangeland and timely incorporation of remedial measures such as shifting bomas (cattle corrals) across the grazing zones, aggressive rangeland rehabilitation of severely degraded areas through reseeding and random grass seed broadcast along stock routes. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords:

  • conservation management;
  • herbaceous vegetation;
  • land zoning;
  • livestock–wildlife interface
  • rangeland condition
Cite as: Mureithi S. M.Verdoodt A.Njoka J. T.Gachene C. KK.Warinwa F. and Van Ranst E., (2014), IMPACT OF COMMUNITY CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT ON HERBACEOUS LAYER AND SOIL NUTRIENTS IN A KENYAN SEMI-ARID SAVANNAHLand Degrad. Develop., doi: 10.1002/ldr.2315


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

0 Kenya makes headway in accessing lucrative global carbon market



By BERNICE MBUGUA and GEORGE KEBASO

Kenya is destined to benefit from a National Carbon Accounting system, which will support the country’s access to carbon markets, through practical Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, the government has said. Speaking during the opening session of the East African workshop on National Carbon Accounting Systems, Environment principal Secretary, Dr Richard Lesiyampe said this seeks to strengthen national capacities of East African Community (EAC) countries to implement national climate change policies and strategies.

“In Kenya, the forestry sector and REDD+ emission have been identified to strongly support realisation of our climate change mitigation and adaptation goals,” he said in remarks delivered on his behalf by Conservation Secretary, Gedion Gathaara. “A lot of preparatory activities to support its implementation have been initiated with support from my Ministry, the FCPF, UN-REDD and other bilateral partners,” he added.

Forests in Kenya provide critical ecosystems goods and services, including prevention of land degradation, and also help in regulating water supply; and support biodiversity, the PS noted. These forests, he said, are indiscriminately being cleared and degraded, and as a result creating negative impact that is contributing to food insecurity and climate change vulnerability.
The programme, under System for Land Based Emission and Estimation in Kenya (SLEEK) will seek to help Kenya to meet the national development goals and international reporting obligations. The principal secretary further added the government has launched a multi-stakeholder driven SLEEK programme to provide comprehensive estimates in GHG profiles from land sector.

“Kenya is keen to share lessons learned as Sleek is being implemented to enable other EAC countries to have an advantage and better starting point as they embark on development of their own national systems,” he said. Sleek will also establish sustainable economic development through improving food security via improved agricultural productivity, infrastructure and access to the market.

It also plans to reduce climate change and other environmental factors through both mitigation and adaption activities. The programme will run for three years with the Australian support after which the intent is for it to transition to the Government of Kenya for continued development and operational responsibility.

It is expected the system will be generating results and able to be fully operated by the Government of Kenya within three years, while recognisng it may take longer than three years for full SLEEK implementation. Government of Kenya will evaluate progress and re-assess feasible outcomes in the remaining time frame.

The System for Land-based Emissions Estimation in Kenya (Sleek) would enable the country to estimate; report and establish a basis for verification of her greenhouse gas emissions data from the land sector.  Valued at Sh1 billion (US$12.5 million) through the Australian government support, Sleek will help the country be able to use this data to reduce the GHG emissions.

During the launch of the project last month the Australian Ambassador to Kenya, Geoff Tooth said the system will boost economic growth and food security through improved land management, increased agricultural productivity and better water availability.  “We hope that our experiences in developing our own system, including the lessons we have learnt along the way, will help the Government of Kenya to develop Sleek as a world class system,” he said.

CCI Country Director, Jackson Kimani said the system will have a critical impact on the way Kenya responds to climate change.  “It will allow this country to understand its emissions in the past and to analyse what is likely to occur in the future,” added Kimani.  He, however, said the implications of SLEEK are far more wide-reaching than simply addressing emissions.

Source: The People
 

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