Farmers restoring drylands in Kenya

Gulley caused by erosion in Mwingi, Kenya. Photo: World Agroforestry

Smallholders and governments commit to restoring land through innovative, climate-smart agriculture.

In Kenya, dryland makes up over 80% of the country. They are home to about 60% of the nation’s livestock. Poverty in these areas is relatively common, largely due to unsustainable use of natural resources resulting in low agricultural productivity.

To address this, the Drylands Development Programme since it began in 2013 has worked with rural communities to implement agricultural innovations designed to increase food and water security, improve access to markets and financing and create an enabling environment for supportive policy.

Participants of the National Scaling Workshop in Nairobi. Photo: World Agroforestry/Lydia Spilsbury

After five years, the programme has realised its vision in which households in its working areas have made the transition from subsistence farming and emergency aid to sustainable rural economic development. By the end of December 2018, DryDev in Kenya had reached 35,363 farmers – 20,004 of whom were women — surpassing the initial target of 34,500, and rehabilitated 8201 hectares.

Phosiso Sola, DryDev Programme Coordinator speaking at the National Stakeholders Workshop. Photo: World Agroforestry/Lydia Spilsbury

As DryDev draws to a close, workshops have been held in Makueni, Kitui and Machakos counties, with over 300 farmers and other members of the communities sharing experiences, lessons and understanding of the mechanisms necessary for large-scale restoration and improved resilience in the face of climate change. The three county workshops culminated in a national workshop, held at World Agroforestry headquarters in Nairobi, where representatives from government, private sector, local NGOs, and farm community groups discussed the opportunities and mechanisms necessary to increase the scale of DryDev’s innovations.

‘First, leveraging resources for capacity building, technology and information access is key to land restoration,’ said Phosiso Sola, DryDev coordinator for East Africa. ‘Second, generating and understanding evidence about what works where and for whom is critical for the adoption and scaling of technologies. And lastly, successful scaling of technologies requires massive local participation.’

A particular challenge identified in the workshop in Machakos County was the lack of youth engagement, at all levels. The agricultural industry is often perceived by young people as neither competitive nor able to provide quick, high returns. DryDev targeted this challenge through supporting youth-friendly policy, development of agribusiness strategies, and the incorporation of climate-smart technologies that improve productivity and are less labour intensive.

Members of the Sweat is Sweet youth group in Mwala, Machakos have been using climate-smart technology and conservation agricultural practices, with a particular focus on rainwater harvesting and management.

‘Water availability has completely changed my livelihood’, said Alphonse, a member of Sweat is Sweet. ‘With the use of technology such as the household pond protocol, I have been able to diversify the crops I grow, growing extra to sell at the market and making my livelihood more secure’.

Lined farm pond helping to irrigate farm land. Photo: World Agroforestry

The expansion of crops and the diversification of farm activities has generated sustainable livelihoods and contributed to the nutrition and food security of the entire community. Members of Sweat is Sweet stated together at the end of the workshop that, ‘We have learned a lot about using new technology in agriculture and aim to be ambassadors for drylands development after DryDev has finished’.

In Kitui County, farmers had recognised the need for better links between themselves and support networks, including

Mangos, a high-value crop growing in Kitui. Photo: World Agroforestry

financial services. Government officials also recognised that funding for development initiatives and farm inputs was dwindling. By focusing on the development of farming as agribusiness through high-value crops, such as mango and pawpaw, and creating market links, farmers have been able to greatly improve their annual income.

‘I don’t have to depend on my children in the city for food,’ said Timina Mwangagi, a 64-year-old mother of three. ‘I have surplus to sell’.

The people n Makueni County had identified the need for resource leveraging by the county government and policies to improve agricultural extension services. Resource leveraging helps smallholders access funds to increase farm inputs and support the transition to climate-smart agriculture. Government confidence in DryDev’s vision was built from the programme’s beginning because it clearly contributed to the Kenyan Government’s Big Four Agenda that includes achieving Kenya Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Expressing similar confidence, the county government has stated that ‘farmers will not be left behind because we will move on a journey with them to increase livelihood resilience and land restoration’.

The recommendations for expanding the scale of DryDev’s innovations were to continue developing synergies with other people, projects and programs; and to give special attention to policy and governance, and land and tenure rights to ensure sustainability and continued restoration.


About Drylands Development Programme (DryDev)

The Drylands Development Programme (DryDev) was a six-year initiative (August 2013–July 2019) funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, with a substantial contribution from World Vision Australia.  World Agroforestry (ICRAF) was the overall implementing agency, coordinating a consortium of five national lead organizations and 13 implementing partners in selected dryland areas of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali and Niger. 

Through DryDev, 242,227 households made the transition from subsistence farming and emergency aid to sustainable rural development through proven interventions in food and water security leading to enhanced productivity at both watershed and farm levels.


World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of science and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Leveraging the world’s largest repository of agroforestry science and information, we develop knowledge practices, from farmers’ fields to the global sphere, to ensure food security and environmental sustainability. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.'

Lydia Spilsbury

Lydia Spilsbury is a communications intern for the Eastern and Southern Africa regional office and is based at the headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. She provides communication support at both programme and country levels, producing communication materials, covering events and writing blogs and success stories. She has been with ICRAF since January 2019 and holds a Master's degree in Environment and Development from the University of Edinburgh

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