Conservation Agriculture with Trees (CAWT) policy in Kenya: An incentive or disincentive for smallholders?

The adoption of Conservation Agriculture with Trees (CAWT)—despite its technical efficiency—is constrained by policy and institutional factors in Eastern Kenya. This is according to an article by Ngendo et al in the African Journal of Agricultural Research, published June 2013. It would also appear that even if there are more incentives than disincentives in existing policies, the incentives targeted to smallholder farmers remain limited.

Boab-tree-and-crops-in-Burkina-FasoConservation Agriculture (CA) has three main principles: reduced tillage or no-till; the maintenance of soil surface cover; and crop rotation or associated practices. Conservation Agriculture with Trees (CAWT) combines CA with the principles of agroforestry, in essence adding a fourth principle to the three CA principles—that of tree-crop integration.

Although conservation interventions reverse degradation and boost agricultural productivity, their adoption in Africa is generally low—with less than one per cent of the continent’s land estimated to be under CAWT. Why so? In many Sub-Saharan African countries and particularly Kenya, a number of policy aspects influence the adoption of CAWT. Most agricultural policies favour farming methods that rely more on external inputs and technologies than on locally adapted technologies and practices. Institutional weaknesses and inappropriate policy formulation are other key constraints. A sound insight of the market, policy and institutional environment would be needed to understand farmer decisions and address the issues that prevent the adoption of CA. However, few attempts have been made to analyse the policy environment of CAWT or to advocate CAWT technologies in national policy processes.

Do current policies favour or discourage the adoption of CAWT among smallholders? Researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre and Kenyatta University set out to find out exactly that. Improving policies and institutions that affect land issues for the rural poor is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.

The study hypothesized that there are more disincentives than incentives in existing policies for the promotion of CAWT among smallholders in Kenya. In the context of CAWT, incentives aim to increase adoption of CAWT. Disincentives refer to those that discourage, hinder or deter the adoption of CAWT. Six agricultural policies related to CAWT were reviewed to identify incentives and disincentives promoting or hindering large scale adoption of CAWT among smallholders in Kenya. Relevant government officials and technical people were interviewed, and 120 farmers were surveyed in Kibwezi and Meru counties in Eastern Kenya. The survey was carried out between May to August 2011 in Meru and Kibwezi divisions of eastern Kenya. Since there were no policies specific to CAWT, the study focused on policies governing the agriculture, land and forestry sectors, as they were related to CAWT. They included:

     i.  Agriculture Act (Chapter 318)
     ii. Agriculture (Basic Land Usage) Rules
    iii. Agriculture (Farm Forestry) Rules
    iv. Forests Act 2005
     v. National Land Policy
    vi. Agricultural Sector Development Strategy


At the local level the following regulations were examined:

(i)   The policy that requires one to acquire a permit before cutting down trees.
(ii)  Restrictions on cutting and transporting timber products.
(iii) The directive to have at least 10% tree cover on every farm, otherwise referred to as the Agriculture Farm Forestry Rules of 2009.
(iv) The lack of restriction on minimum land size cultivated.
(v)  The promotion of irrigation agriculture.
(vi) Extension officer-farmer trainings.

Respondents showed a relatively high awareness of tree planting and harvesting regulations, and benefits of trees. It was noted that agricultural activities in the sites were mainly carried out by retired and older members of the community. This may shed some light on the low uptake of newly-introduced farming techniques. Older people may not be willing to engage in a ‘trial and error’ situation. In general, it appears that even if there were more incentives than disincentives in existing policies, incentives targeted to smallholder farmers remain limited. Awareness of various policies was quite high, but compliance by farmers had more to do with the direct personal benefits they derive, than the external incentives they provide. Some policies were considered as neither encouraging nor discouraging. This could be due to the fact that some policies are still nascent, poorly implemented, or not exclusively targeted to small scale farmers. In view of policy propositions, farmers prefer indirect enabling incentives such as security of land tenure, provision of improved extension services and market development to direct incentives.

Although, this study is limited to Meru Central and Kibwezi districts, the findings provide insights to addressing the specific needs of farmers and to improving the overall policy environment—to promote wide-scale adoption of CAWT in Kenya.

Read the full journal article:
The policy environment of conservation agriculture with trees (CAWT) in Eastern Kenya: Do small scale farmers benefit from existing policy incentives?
Mary Ng’endo, Delia Catacutan, James Kung’u, Jonathan Muriuki, Judy Kariuki and Jeremias Mowo'

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on

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