Positive signs as rural women embrace adaptive agroforestry

Centre staff Anne Mbora and Moses Munjuga show how to plant tree seedlings

A recent article by environmental writer David Njagi addresses a welcome trend happening in parts of rural Kenya, especially around the Mt Kenya area. The female farmers who in many cases are part of women farmer groups are “increasingly adopting of agroforestry” claims David. Studies carried out at the World Agroforestry Centre show that adopting agroforestry not only increases climate resilience, but also improves livelihoods.

One of the farmers interviewed, Philista Cianjoka, who owns a two-acre farm in Muiru village, says,

“This new method of farming is very interesting. It not only protects the crops from withering, but trees which we are being told to grow are also earning us income.”

A possible catalyst for the trend could be the changes in Kenya’s new constitution, suggests David.  It has made it easier for female farmers to have equal access to and profit from the land. In the article, Odenda Lumumba, the National Coordinator of the Kenya Land Alliance, says, “In the new system, the government is expected to subsidise community development projects through a revolving fund (and) there have been repeated calls for those (projects) owned by women to be given priority.”

Dr Alice Muchugi from the World Agroforestry Centre notes that these trends are very encouraging but cautions that it is very important to concentrate on planting the right tree species in the right place to avoid such cases as seen with Eucalyptus which had a negative impact on the region. She added, “The groups based around the Mt Kenya region are lucky because due to reasons such as relatively better soil health, the farmers can choose between a variety of multipurpose trees to plant.”

In his article, David highlights the Muiru Women Self Help Group which has built three community water-harvesting tanks in their village, and is close to completing the first water pan (a pond for collecting surface water runoff) in Tharaka Nithi county. Fidelis Ciamwari who is a member of the group says, “The water pans will be used for water harvesting which we will use for irrigation and domestic use.”

According to Alice, it is becoming increasingly important for farmers to integrate agroforestry into their farms. “We must advise them to practise water harvesting and other climate resilience measures. An important part of my team’s work is to let farmers know that even if the forests are cleared they are custodians of important germplasm.” Alice works with the Centre’s GRP1 team which concentrates on domestication, utilization and conservation of superior agroforestry germplasm.

For more on the important role the Centre plays in germplasm research.

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Christopher Mesiku

Chris Mesiku is a science communicator volunteering at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. In the last 5 years, he has worked as a communicator for various scientific institutions. He holds a Bachelor of Science, Graduate Diploma in Science Communication (ANU) and a Masters in Philosophy of Science (UQ).

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