Creative Commons

Friday, September 14, 2007


Cheryl A Palm, Pedro Sanchez, Sonya Ahmed and Alex Awiti

In general the increased provisioning of food, fuel and fiber realized over the last four decades [3] has resulted in the degradation of soils and several supporting and regulatory services provided by soils [3]. This decline in soil properties and regulating ecosystem services will ultimately impact the ecosystem provisioning services. Understanding the factors that affect the stability and resilience of soils upon disturbance is one of the frontiers of soil science [77].

Soil degradation can be defined as the adverse changes in soil properties and processes leading to a reduction in ecosystem services. Through such changes in soil properties and processes, soil degradation undermines the sustainability of many of the ecosystem services. There are innumerable studies on soil degradation, such as loss of soil organic matter, increased erosion, and nutrient depletion [78] but there are relatively few studies that have quantified the linkages and thresholds between the change in soil properties and the associated change in soil processes. In other words, how much change in soil aggregation is required before there is a change in soil porosity and water infiltration? What level of soil organic matter, relative to the initial condition, is needed to maintain soil aggregation at sufficient levels? The studies rarely provide quantitative assessments on the impacts of soil degradation on the provisioning ecosystem services of soils. The connection to and impacts of soil degradation on the regulating services of soil have only recently begun to be considered [3, 39]. Until such quantitative links are made between the magnitude of changes in soil properties, to the magnitude of change in soil processes, and ultimately integrated to ecosystem processes it will be difficult to assess or redress soil degradation in a meaningful way.

Types and process of soil degradation

Globally, the five principal anthropogenic causes of soil degradation in order of magnitude are considered to be overgrazing, deforestation, poor land management, harvest of fuelwood, and urbanization [79]. Soil degradation almost invariably begins with the removal of the natural vegetative cover through deforestation, biomass burning, nutrient depletion and overgrazing. The soil surface is exposed to impacts of rainfall that disrupts soil aggregates, and higher temperatures that increase SOM decomposition rates; in addition, litterfall and roots, the major sources of organic inputs that maintain SOM are removed or diminished considerably. Subsequent rates and types of soil degradation are determined by the type and intensity of land use. Soil degradation can occur quickly depending on the combination and feedbacks between management practices, initial soil conditions, vegetation, and environmental factors such as climate [80-82] Soil degradation is usually categorized by physical, chemical and biological processes; the division provides a means of establishing links between land management, degradation processes, and soil processes (Table 6).

Soil physical degradation

Physical degradation involves the structural breakdown of the soil through aggregate disruption, surface sealing, and compaction – these degradation processes result in reduced infiltration and increased water runoff and soil erosion.

The impact of raindrops leads to surface sealing and compaction. The formation of a structural seal results from two complementary mechanisms: (i) physical disintegration of surface aggregates caused by wetting raindrop impact energy; and (ii) physicochemical dispersion of clay particles which migrate into soil with infiltrating water, and clog the pore immediately beneath the surface forming a zone of decreased porosity [83]. Soils with intermediate (loamy) clay content (200 g kg-1) are the most susceptible to seal formation because the amount of clay is too low to stabilize aggregates but sufficient to clog pores at the surface. Cultivation further affects soil structure by destroying soil aggregates that result in loss of SOM [28, 84].

Soil erosion is often highlighted as the major type of soil degradation, it is also the most visible. The impacts of soil erosion ramify throughout the soil processes and ecosystem services by the loss of soil depth, soil nutrients, biota, organic matter, and water resources; these integrated changes translate into reduced primary productivity potential of ecosystems. The extent of soil erosion are usually estimated from experimental Wischmeier erosion plots [85]; this methodology overestimates erosion losses due to the small size of these plots and do not account for redistribution of soil in the same field, which result in no net losses at the field scale [86]. These point measurements have been extrapolated to different soils, climates, and landscapes to give estimates of global soil erosion. Erosion risk does not automatically imply productivity losses or land degradation, something that is often assumed. There are however landscape level models that estimate erosion in an integrated manner taking into account climate, soil properties, and topography and are being used to look at impacts on other ecosystem services [87].

Physical degradation processes other than erosion were found to be more common in temperate region agriculture because of more intensive use of heavy machinery [88]. Unfortunately none of these estimates were related to changes in agroecosystem productivity.

Soil chemical degradation

Soil chemical degradation processes are associated with soil chemical imbalances due to chemical reaction or pH, declines in availability of plant nutrients (nutrient depletion) and excessive build up of nutrients (eutrophication), salts (salinization in the root zone and beyond), or toxic materials.

Nutrient depletion, or soil fertility decline, is the predominant form of chemical degradation in much of the tropics, particularly Africa, where nutrient losses through crop residue removal and harvested products, erosion and leaching are not replaced with sufficient external inputs [89]. Nutrient depletion results in lower productivity of crops and biomass in general that lead to further declines of soil organic matter. Soils with low initial nutrient capital, low cation exchange, capacity, low activity variable charge clays, and low soil organic matter become depleted more quickly than soils without these properties and include Ultisols, Oxisols, and sandy Inceptisols. There is a growing body of literature that will be useful in making the links between nutrient depletion and reduction in plant productivity as has been done for soil erosion and declines in productivity [90]. Soil eutrophication on the other hand is a degradation process that is found primarily in developed countries in temperate regions where excessive amounts of fertilizer, manures,(and pesticides) are applied in large scale agriculture [91].

Soil biological degradation

Many key soil functions are underpinned by soil organic matter and soil biota so biological degradation is often synonymous with decline in soil organic matter and loss of soil biota. The depletion of soil organic matter when natural systems are converted to agriculture and the intensification of agriculture with tillage is the most comprehensively studied form of biological degradation [8, 26, 32, 92-99].

Rates of changes in soil organic matter content and the level of change depends in part on the soil type (slower in clayey soils), land use type, and climate (slower in colder or drier climates and water logged condtions) among other factors. The body of literature on soil carbon changes when natural systems are converted to annual croplands is extensive and sufficient to provide the pedotransfer functions needed for relating loss of soil properties to many ecosystem processes [22, 97]. Information on changes following other land use transitions, including natural systems to pastures or tree plantations or annual cropping systems to pastures or tree based systems, or even changes in management of annual cropping systems is more recent. A meta analysis of soil carbon changes with land use change in both temperate and tropical soils shows decline of soil carbon by 50% in the top 30 cm when forests were converted to cropland; a decline of 15% when forests were converted to coniferous plantations, no decline when forest were converted to broadleaf plantations; and an overall increase of about 10% when forests were converted to pastures [99].

Assessment of soil degradation

There are three significant assessments of the global extent of land degradation: the Global Assessment of Human Induced Soil Degradation (GLASOD) map of 1991, research work [100], and more recent assessments [101]. GLASOD is the most comprehensive and widely quoted assessment. Though the initial framework set up for GLASOD was sound and based on scientific information, due to time and resource constraints, the final methodology and assessment was based on expert opinion from 250 soil and environmental scientists. The quality of the GLASOD data is extremely uneven [102] and the estimates indicative at best [103]. Furthermore, dating from 1991, the estimate of total land area affected by soil degradation at 2 billion hectares is now out of date. This dataset should no longer be used for quantifying the extent of soil degradation and just like the FAO-Unesco soil map of the world there is a need for up-to-date and accurate information on soil degradation and global soil information.

One assessment was based on anecdotal accounts, research reports, travelers’ descriptions, personal opinions, and local experience [100]. The most recent assessment [101] has the benefit of combining multiple sources of information including regional data sets derived from literature review, erosion models, field assessments, and remote sensing. However, it did not have complete spatial coverage and was limited to 62% of drylands, with some areas relying on a single data set.

These assessments of land degradation all have major weaknesses. Literature on soil degradation assessments are replete with gross extrapolations based on limited data, often outside the regions from which the data were obtained [86]. These data cannot be used for baseline development, assessment and monitoring of soil degradation, and are unsuitable for land use planning and identification of conservation/restoration policies [102]. A major indictment of the GLASOD land degradation assessment was delivered by its exclusion from the Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index for the reasons that the data are outdated and not comparable enough to permit cross-country performance assessments [104].

Conventional methods of soil assessment rely on direct laboratory measurements that are time consuming and costly. Temporal and spatial variability in soil attributes presents formidable challenges for soil survey design. There is a global surge towards developing time-and cost-efficient techniques for soil evaluation [105, 106]. This demand is driven by the need for large amounts of good quality, inexpensive soil data for use in monitoring, modeling, precision agriculture and risk assessment [107, 108].

The inherent methodological weaknesses can only be removed using a combination of in situ data on soil parameters at the “pedon” or “soilscape” and satellite information at multiple resolutions [76, 109, 110]. Current advances in pedotransfer functions (PTF), reflectance spectroscopy, statistical inference, and remote sensing can overcome the great limitations of conventional methods of soil analysis. PTF research has focused on the development of functions for predicting soil physical and chemical properties for different geographical areas or soil types. Soil inference systems (SINFERS) have been developed [76] where pedotransfer functions are the knowledge rules for inference engines. A soil inference system takes measurements that are more-or-less known with a given level of (un)certainty, and infers data that is unknown with minimal inaccuracy, by means of properly and logically linked pedotransfer functions [111, 112]. Near infrared spectroscopy is rapid, inexpensive and single spectrum permits simultaneous characterization of various chemical, physical and biological properties [113-119]. In addition the repeatability over time and reproducibility among different laboratories of this technique far exceeds the performance of conventional soil analysis. Soil properties predicted from spectra may be used in an inference system to predict other important and functional soil properties using PTFs].

Research has demonstrated that regional patterns of soil degradation can be reliably mapped using automated or supervised digital information extraction, based on spectral and/or structural pattern recognition techniques. Extrapolation of this approach to other regions where soil degradation features are correlated with spectrally distinguishable surface characteristics is feasible. For instance, the state of land degradation in a small Mediterranean watershed was characterized using (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection radiometer) ASTER data and ground-based spectral reflectance measurements [120].

A combination of pedotransfer functions, reflectance spectroscopy, statistical inference, and remote sensing offer the best opportunity for developing dynamic digital soil maps that would include the types and extent of soil degradation, transforming the way soil information is obtained and produced.

The challenges of halting and reversing the degradation of the provisioning, regulating, and supporting ecosystems services on which will all depend are daunting. The challenge must be met if we are to attain the Millennium Development Goals and particularly to provide an environment that can continue providing these services into the future. Many of these ecosystem services are dependent of soils and therefore the reversal of ecosystem degradation starts with the rehabilitation of soils. Our understanding of the links between specific soil properties, soil processes, and ecosystem services is incomplete to meet this challenge. Renewed and directed efforts and partnerships among reductionist soil science that links soil properties to processes; ecosystem ecologists that link soil processes to ecosystem services; and landscape ecologists and agronomists that put these processes into a broader and relevant context for planning and management decisions are the way forward.

Soil Condition Classification using Infrared Spectroscopy: A Proposition for Assessment of Soil Condition along a Tropical Forest-Cropland Chronosequence

Alex O. Awiti, Markus G. Walsh, Keith D. Shepherd and Jensio Kinyamario


Soil fertility depletion in smallholder agricultural systems in sub-Saharan Africa presents a formidable challenge both for food production and environmental sustainability. A critical constraint to managing soils in sub-Saharan Africa is poor targeting of soil management interventions. This is partly due to lack of diagnostic tools for screening soil condition that would lead to a robust and repeatable spatially explicit case definition of poor soil condition. The objectives of this study were to: (i) evaluate the ability of near infrared spectroscopy to detect changes in soil properties across a forest-cropland chronosequence; and (ii) develop a heuristic scheme for the application of infrared spectroscopy as a tool for case definition and diagnostic screening of soil condition for agricultural and environmental management. Soil reflectance was measured for 582 topsoil samples collected from forest-cropland chronosequence age classes namely; forest, recently converted, RC (17 years) and historically converted, HC (ca.70 years). 130 randomly selected samples were used to calibrate soil properties to soil reflectance using partial least-squares regression (PLSR). 64 randomly selected samples were withheld for validation. A proportional odds logistic model was applied to chronosequence age classes and 10 principal components of spectral reflectance to determine three soil condition classes namely; “good”, “average” and “poor” for 194 samples. Discriminant analysis was applied to classify the remaining 388 “unknown” samples into soil condition classes using the 194 samples as a training set. Validation r2 values were: total C, 0.91; total N, 0.90; effective cation exchange capacity (ECEC), 0.90; exchangeable Ca, 0.85; clay content, 0.77; silt content, 0.77 exchangeable Mg, 0.76; soil pH, 0.72; and K, 0.64. A spectral based definition of “good”, “average” and “poor” soil condition classes provided a basis for an explicitly quantitative case definition of poor or degraded soils. Estimates of probabilities of membership of a sample in a spectral soil condition class presents an approach for probabilistic risk-based assessments of soil condition over large spatial scales. The study concludes that reflectance spectroscopy is rapid and offers the possibility for major efficiency and cost saving, permitting spectral case definition to define poor or degraded soils, leading to better targeting of management interventions.

Keywords: Infrared spectroscopy; Tropical rainforest; Chronosequence; Soil condition class; Case definition; Probabilistic risk-based assessment

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Foreign Aid Will Not Make Poverty History

There is an innate paradox in the global conversation about poverty alleviation that eludes even the most astute scholars. Proponents of foreign aid are advocating for a big push, featuring an increase in foreign aid through which billions of dollars could be transferred to the poor. Yet $2.3 trillion in foreign aid and nearly sixty years later, over one billion people around the world are still hungry, infirm, illiterate and homeless.

According to Prof. Sachs, out of every dollar of aid given to Africa, an estimated 16% went to consultants from donor countries, 26% went into emergency aid and relief operations, and 14% went into debt servicing. How much of the remaining 40% escaped corrupt officials to benefit the intended recipients is unknown. The challenge is to make sure that aid reaches the poor. Otherwise the new epoch of global compassion toward the poor will be a repetition of the experience of the last six decades.

Proponents of aid believe that the poor cannot create wealth. Hence the need, they argue, to give aid, an act of wealth substitution. An alternative, less popular view, advocates for wealth creation through the development of market-oriented ecosystems comprising producers, small and medium enterprises (SME), large enterprises financial institutions, multinational companies, research organizations, foundations and aid agencies.

Innovative engagement with markets can stimulate wealth creation, especially if the focus is on a creative combination of quality service, local capacity and local needs. Whenever a high willingness to pay intersects with affordable costs for a commodity or a service, markets will work for the poor.

Rural Kenya is festooned in the colours of the two mobile telephone companies. Today in a country of about 34 million, nearly 9 million use mobile phones. The bottom of Kenya’s economic pyramid is part of this consumer group. As a result, smallholder farmers can find out the market price their produce with a text message or phone call. Cash transfer across the country can be done painlessly via text message. This perspective gives poverty alleviation a new dimension.

The private sector has successfully created a market-oriented ecosystem for cell phone connectivity. Why not market-oriented ecosystems for affordable health services, reliable safe water and clean energy supplies? Entrepreneurs can catalyze sustainable economic growth by identifying market opportunities and business models that meet the needs of underserved communities in emerging economies. In essence, entrepreneurs can be true allies in poverty alleviation through market solutions, employment and wealth creation as opposed to aid and subsidies.

Proponents of foreign aid often think of poverty as a technical problem they can be solved using a universal blueprint or Big Plan and huge dollars in financing. If it were that simple poverty would be history. Efforts to alleviate poverty must recognize that poverty is a complex labyrinth of social, institutional, political, historical, geographical and technological factors.
We must refrain from seeing foreign aid and charity as the only way out of poverty. We must test other approaches. Wealth creation through entrepreneurship must replace wealth substitution through foreign aid. We need to regard the poor as “undercapitalized and unsupported entrepreneurs,” and view poverty as the absence of opportunity and growth.

A coalition of local entrepreneurs, NGOs, multinational companies, foundations, aid agencies, and governments can create a market-oriented ecosystem, providing poor people with skills, technology, information, credit, infrastructure, and markets necessary for sustainable development.

An evolutionary perspective can help to clarify the meaning of sustainable development. Sustainability can be viewed as the capacity to differentiate, select and maintain adaptive capability. Development is the process of creating growth and maintaining opportunity. Hence Sustainable development is the goal of fostering adaptive capabilities, creating growth and maintaining opportunities.

Alleviating poverty through wealth creation is essentially an evolutionary process. It proceeds through differentiation of homegrown solutions, selection according to a criterion of fitness, and amplification or scaling up of successful solution to the next level-creating growth and maintaining opportunity. In this context, fitness can be viewed as value-adding economic transformations and transactions that produce goods and services that meet the needs of the poor.

It is time to question the role of foreign aid in stimulating and sustaining economic development. However, I do not think that there are no circumstances when aid is appropriate. Smart aid that is strategically targeted will undoubtedly alleviate distress among many desperate people. But clearly, foreign aid is not the universal panacea for poverty alleviation.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fighting Poverty with Equitable Development

Nearly five decades ago, Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta declared war on Poverty, disease and illiteracy. But progress stalled immediately thereafter: corruption, skewed public policy and ethnic patronage produced political disciples and civil servants baptized in the spirit of “what can I do for myself?”

Today we see tiny islands of prosperity in a vast ocean of poverty and misery. Instead of hearing the biblical admonition that “the poor will always be with us” as a call to action, we feel an obligation to explain regional disparities using unhelpful and patronizing ethnic stereotypes that obstruct honest and dispassionate public discourse.

Politically ordained regional disparities mean that neighbourhoods we call home determine the quality of our lives.

Picture this dichotomy. Region A struggles with decrepit roads, lack of markets for crops/livestock, lack of access to affordable credit, under achieving schools, lack of access to clean water, high infant mortality and low life expectancy. Conversely, region B benefits from increased political clout, decent roads, proximity to large urban markets, rural electrification, affordable credit, high achieving schools, access to health services and high life expectancy.

The average life expectancy of a Kenyan living in the heartland of central Kenya is about 62 years while that of a Kenyan living in Western, Coast, Northern Kenya, Nyanza or Eastern province is about 50 years. 12% of households in central Kenya have piped water compared to less than 2 % coverage in other regions.

What are the odds that a child raised in the livestock rich “low potential” district of Garissa will gain admission at Alliance High School? The irony is that good education is a veritable prerequisite to participating in Kenya’s opportunity and innovation market place. Equal opportunity is at best empty rhetoric without policies and programmes that address practical barriers to economic and social parity.

Poverty traps greatly limit the potential of pure market solutions to tackle poverty. The poorest populations in Kenya rely on the natural resource base to eke out a living. A distressingly large proportion of the poor suffer chronic rather than transitory poverty.

Free market did not create these inequalities. Bad policy and partisan politics did. For instance, in the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965, the government decided that “development money should be invested where it will yield the largest increases in net output”. This seminal paper inadvertently spawned the untenable myth of “high potential’ and “low potential” areas that continues to misguide public spending and investment priorities.

Environmental deterioration augments these factors. Not only do the poor suffer disproportionately from ecological decline, they have unwittingly become a major cause of it. In their struggle to feed their children they degrade their soils, clear forests and woodlands, put hill slopes under the hoe and drain wetlands.

Poverty and extreme suffering in Kenya, whether rural or urban, is therefore not random in distribution or effect. Poverty and under-development are symptoms of pathologies of power, politics and policy and are linked to the socio-economic conditions that determine the distribution or effect of inequality.

Equitable development seeks to integrate social and economic development. Equity embraces social justice and consistently examines who benefits from policy, resource allocation, public spending and public investment.

What is needed is a new generation of public policies and programmes that take into account the inherent potential in the diverse geographical regions of the country. Kenya’s development paradigm must depart from the unhelpful labels of “high” and “low” potential. By harnessing the geographic diversity and fully engaging local communities in decision making, we can build regions vibrant with opportunity where all citizens can participate in wealth creation and share in the prosperity.

But whatever the pathway, elimination of chronic poverty through equitable development requires mechanisms to harness resources and create economic opportunity. Policies and programmes must enhance access to health care and quality education to enhance human capital of the next generation and break the inequitable intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Public policy-public investment-and socio-economic programme cycles that shape our society must ask, who pays? And who benefits? Equitable development outcomes must answer unequivocally that the Kenyan people pay, the Kenyan and all Kenyans must benefit. Only equitable development can make real the promises of social justice and national cohesion

Monday, July 9, 2007

From Shamba Systems to Forest Resource Stewardship: New Partnerships for Forest Management in Kenya

Alex Awiti, and Thomas Yatich


The management of forests in Kenya has evolved from pre-colonial times to the present, reflecting changes in internal political, socio economic conditions and international policy dialogue processes. The pre-colonial modes of resource management were organized around communal resource ownership and governed by cultural and religious norms with binding regulations and sanctions. Low human population density, use of simple tools and limited trade ensured that communities met their subsistence livelihood requirements without undesirable impacts on forest resources. The dawn of the colonialism adversely transformed the relationship between local communities and “their resources”. This transformation was driven by changes in resource ownership, access and user rights. Through gazettement, the colonial appropriated forest resources, declared forests off limits for local communities through ordinances. This effectively extinguished the rights and most importantly, local community stewardship over forest resources.

A significant feature of forest management in both colonial and post-independence Kenya was the establishment and subsequent expansion of government owned plantations of exotic tree species. These plantation reserves were invariably created through excision of significant portions of native hard wood forests. Human labour was required both to clear native forests and to plant and manage exotic plantations. To keep the cost of establishing forest plantations low, the colonial government introduced Taungya system in Kenya in 1910 (Barrow et al., 2002). Taungya was first introduced in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1860 as a system for replanting teak. Under the Taungya system in Burma, local farmers would provide labour for clearing, planting and weeding teak plantations. In return, they would be allowed to plant crops between the trees for the first few years.

In Kenya, where Taungya become known as Shamba system, non resident farmers, often drawn from neighbouring communities, were allocated land on previously clear felled forest land for subsistence cultivation of maize and beans on condition that they provide the labour needed to replant and tend tree saplings. After three to five years the trees would be grown enough to shadow the agricultural crops. The farmer would then have to move out of the allocated forest land and would be eligible for another forest plot to be cleared. Evidently, the goals of the Shamba system can were to reduce the establishment cost of exotic commercial softwood plantations and to improve the survival rate of young tree stands through intensive weeding. The contribution of the Shamba system to the overall welfare of local communities in the long term was clearly subsidiary.

The Shamba System and Forest Management in Kenya

There was a general perception among many reviewers that the Shamba system played a significant role in establishment and management of softwood plantations during the colonial period and up to the mid 1980s. The same cannot be said of Shamba system over the last fifteen years. A majority of clear felled plantation reserves are under subsistence agricultural crops (mainly maize, beans potatoes and vegetables), either because replanting was not successful or was not undertaken at all. A recent study by the Kenya Forest Working Group and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) revealed that over 75 % of clear-felled plantations in Mt Kenya, Imenti and Ngare Ndare have not been replanted with tree seedlings, although these areas are under the Shamba system (Kenya Wildlife Service, 1999). Similarly, only 21% of clear felled plantation forest land on the margins of the Aberdare Range Forest was replanted with tree seedlings (Kenya Wildlife Service, 2003). Significantly too, mortality rates of tree saplings have been very high. For instance tree survivorship in Shamba zones declined dramatically in the second and third year of cultivation.

Farmers deliberately manipulate tree seedling survivorship to ensure continued tenancy of the land for subsistence crop production. Surveys in the Shamba system zones around the margins of Kakamega, South Nandi and Mt. Elgon Forests show that tree sapling survivorship declined from 90% in the first year to less than 40% in the third and fourth year (Awiti, et al, 2004). Replacement planting efforts are often constrained by lack of tree seedlings. The margins of indigenous forest in the neighbourhood of the Shamba system zones are also the most active frontiers of deforestation. For instance, 4 % and 19% of forest cover has been lost in Aberdare range and Mt. Kenya respectively due to cultivation encroachment (Kenya Wildlife Service, 1999; Kenya Wildlife Service 2003). Awiti et al (2004) observed that farmers cultivating Shamba zones contiguous to Kakamega and South Nandi Forests had extended “their farms by about 30 metres into the forest between 1990 and 2003.

In 1985 the government banned the Shamba system in some parts of the country. In 1986, the government, through the Nyayo Tea Zone Development Cooperation (NTZDC) established tea plantations on the margins of natural forest to act as buffers between people and forest. It was hoped that these tea buffers would stem the rising tide of cultivation encroachment. A subsidiary benefit was that local communities would be gainfully employed to work in the tea estate. In 1993 the ban on the Shamba system was lifted by a ministerial pronouncement. In 2003, the government pronounced yet another ban on all farming activities in the Shamba zones. The government acknowledges that the Shamba system is responsible for widespread deforestation and the problem of squatters in forest land. However, in what now appears to be a classical case of paralysis in policy reform and innovation, the government commissioned a Shamba system pilot project in Ndundori Forest in the Subukia area of Nakuru in September 2004.

This seesaw between bans and lifting of bans illustrates eloquently, what has been a “hit and miss” policy, legal institutional response to the challenges of forest management in Kenya for nearly two decades. The proponents of the Shamba system; politicians and forestry professionals, have advanced three reasons in support of its re-introduction:

  1. Inability of the Forest Department to finance afforestation programmes. That the recent ban on the Shamba system has caused a reforestation backlog of 30,000 hectares. The Chief Conservator of Forest revealed that it cost only Ksh. 3, 000 to plant a hectare of trees under the Shamba system, as opposed to Ksh. 27, 000 per hectare if the department were to directly finance the establishment of the plantations.
  2. The Shamba system offers an interim solution to the potentially explosive and unresolved squatter crises around forest areas in central Kenya and Rift Valley, especially in the Mau and Subukia areas. It is hoped that it will also solve a nagging land crisis occasioned by the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people following the ethnic clashes between 1991 and 1993, and again in 1997 to 1998 (Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004).
  3. The Shamba system has become integral part of the national food security. It is feared that the once food sufficient communities around the Shamba zones will become net food deficient zones. For instance, the shortfall in the supply of Irish potatoes, carrots and beans to urban areas has been attributed to the 2003 ban on the Shamba system (Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004).

Ironically, the reliance on forest land for agriculture and the tendency by farmers to agitate for extended tenancy have been cited as the main reasons for the failure of the Shamba system.

The Shamba system and the Principles of Sustainable Forest Management

As an offshoot of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, many countries have endeavored to align their forest policies to sustainable development goals and strategies. Kenya is committed under international conventions and other agreements to promote the sustainable management of forests. Part VI of the Forests Act, 2005 declares that “the Act is binding on the Government and is a recognition of its international obligations under any treaties relating to forests to which the Government of Kenya may be a party”. It is therefore important to examine the extent to which the Shamba system is consistent with UNCED framework for sustainable forest management. The framework is based on the following principles;

1. Maintaining stable levels of economic growth and employment for local communities

While the contributions of the forestry sector to the national economy are clear, the benefits to local communities of forests established under the Shamba system are minimal and ephemeral. Beyond the subsistence production of maize and beans on forest land during the prescribed tenancy period, there is seldom any flow of tangible economic benefits to local communities. The labour offered at harvest to logging companies is often compensated at very low rates. The Forest Department does not put back any revenue collected from licenses and permits into projects that would benefit the local communities. Given the transitory nature of the Shamba system, whatever benefits accrue from the Shamba system are momentary and hence cannot guarantee stable and sustained economic benefits to local communities.

2. Social inclusion, social equity and social progress

The Shamba system is a temporary association between crops and trees. The rules of the practice dictate that cultivation must cease after three to five years, at which time use and access right pertaining to the forest are exclusively vested in the Forest Department. Hence the Shamba system does not guarantee a steady flow of products and services to the local communities. The system in fact, creates an unsustainable dependency on forest land among the rural poor who also face acute scarcity of productive agricultural. The cessation of the cultivation therefore stirs up vigorous social resentment and despondency, and with good reason. The elements of social injustice perpetrated under the Shamba system, relate to unequal partnership in matters of rights, power and authority between the participating communities and the forest administration, lack of legal and policy backing to the practice and inadequate benefit-sharing.

3. Effective environmental conservation

While the Shamba system encourages participation of local communities in establishment of plantation forests, it falters badly in guaranteeing long-term economic stakes to communities in the forest management. Five years of crop production on forest land is unlikely to elicit intensive and sustained enthusiasm among the communities to nurture the forests back to good health. This provokes a perverse behaviour on the part of communities to abuse the resource since the future benefits are uncertain. As illustrated previously, the Shamba system has been seen to contribute to an overall reduction in the area of forest successfully regenerated over the past two decades. High prevalence of disturbance has been observed in natural forests that are adjacent to Shamba system zones. In a ministerial statement in 2003, the government noted the Shamba system was to blame for the destruction of 70% of forest cover in the country (Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004).

Against a backdrop of population growth and mounting human needs, preventing further frontier losses will require a new and balanced approach to forest management; one that protects forests' biodiversity and other assets while simultaneously providing for people and ecosystem services. A stewardship approach to forest management would achieve such badly needed balance.

Principles of Stewardship

Aldo Leopold’s concept of a land ethic provides the philosophical underpinning of stewardship. In his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold provided the first articulate expression of the relationship between people and the land. Worrell and Appleby (2000) defined stewardship as the responsible use and conservation of natural resources in a way that takes full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations, and other species, as well as of private needs, and accepts significant answerability to society.

In the context of SFM, stewardship can be used to build the holistic view of forests sustaining the communities and the communities sustaining forests. Stewardship captures the full spectrum of long-term benefits offered by forest- from carbon sequestration, high quality watersheds, wildlife habitats, timber and fibre, to providing a continuing source of local income and employment. Stewardship emphasizes the vital role of local residents, through strong partnerships with state agencies, in formulating the goals of forest management. It seeks to engage local stakeholders and state agencies in a long lasting commitment to the land (Leopold, 1949).

The current state of Kenya’s forest resources clearly illustrates that stringent enforcement of legislation and prosecution of farmers for encroachment cultivation and illegal extraction of wood and non wood forest products. New paradigms of co-management between local communities and the government must emerge and evolve in order to arrest the current deforestation trends and ensure sustainable forest management (SFM). In exchange for socio-economic benefits from forest resources and products, local communities can “re-posses the forests”. This does not mean that communities become outright owners, but custodians or stewards of forests. The Forest department becomes facilitator and technical advisor, with supervisory responsibilities to monitor and assess compliance with negotiated joint management or stewardship contracts.

Stewardship Contracting

The intent of stewardship contracts is to develop a process of broad-based community participation in land management that is open, transparent, and inclusive. The concept of stewardship contracts began in the 1980s in the US, when land service management contracts were first introduced in response to shrinking federal budgets, reduced personnel, and demands from the public for a broader range of outputs from federal forests and rangeland (O’Laughlin ,2003). Although these contracts were initially developed to facilitate traditional timber management objectives, they soon evolved into a more comprehensive approach, supporting the many tenets and practices defined within ecosystem management.

Natural resource stewardship contracts and agreements between local communities and governments have emerged as a new feature on the legal and institutional landscape of several developing countries. For instance in the Philippines, certificates of stewardships gave settlers “rights” to the land for 25 years, renewable in exchange for agreements to restore trees on fragile soils and to cultivate land in a sustainable fashion (USAID,1996). In the Gambia, USAID supported a project aimed at involving the local community directly in the stewardship of trees and tree crops. Originally intended to promote woodlots, the management agreements have formalized and expanded local community control and accountability over common-property forest resources (USAID, 1996).

Forests Act, 2005: Assembling the elements of forest resource stewardship

Arising from the recognition that legitimate interest groups must have a voice and role in the use and protection of forest (World Bank, 2002), Kenya has re-drafted national policies and laws on forests to grant communities and individuals authority over management and use of forest resources. For instance, the Kenya Forests Act, 2005 provides for public consultation, community participation and establishment of management plans for forests.

The Forests Act, 2005 recognizes the potential of forests to reduce poverty, to integrate

forests into the overall sustainable development of client countries, and protect vital local and global environmental services and values from forests. The Act provides for a broad-based public collaboration, it recognizes a forest community as a group of persons who have traditional association with a forest for purposes of livelihood, culture or religion. The act takes a comprehensive approach to ecosystem management by making provisions for Environmental Impact Assessment, and includes multi-year result oriented forest management agreements.

More specifically, the Forest Act, 2005 provides for the following;

  1. Section 13(1) and 13(2) allow for the creation of Forest conservancy areas and Forest conservation committees respectively. Section 3(3) provides that one of the functions of the committee shall be to inform the Forest Board on the ideas, desires and opinions of the people living in the Conservancy area in all matters relating to conservation and utilization within the area.
  2. Under section 36(1), The Director of Forests may, with the approval of the board enter into an agreement with any person for the joint management of any forest.
  3. Section 37(5) specifies the elements of the management agreement which shall include among other things (a) duration of agreement; (b) terms and conditions under which the applicant shall manage the forest; (c) a management plan to be followed by the applicant; (d) mechanisms for settlement of disputes arising in respect of the agreement.
  4. Section 37(6) provides that the Forest Board shall, before entering into an agreement call for an independent inventory of the forest and other relevant data to enable it determine the true value of such forest.
  5. Section 40(1) provides that utilization of a forest can be done through concessions and license subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment License in accordance with the Environment and Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999.
  6. Section 46(1) allows a member of the forest community together with other persons resident in the same area to register a community forest association under the Societies Act. Section 46(2) provides that an association duly registered under 46(1) may apply for permission to participate in conservation and management of forest under jurisdiction of state or local authority. Section 46(3e) the application shall contain the association’s proposal relating to; (i) the use of forest resources; (ii) methods of conservation of biodiversity; (iii) methods of monitoring and protecting wildlife and plant populations.
  7. Section 47(2) stipulates that management agreement may confer the association such user rights as: (i) collection of medicinal herbs; (ii) harvesting of timber or fuel wood for domestic use; (iii) harvesting of timber or fuel wood.;(d) grass harvesting or grazing; (iv) undertaking of Agroforestry practices; (v) plantation establishment through non-resident cultivation (vi) contracts to assist in carrying out specified silvicultural operations (vii) development of wood and non-wood forest based industries community based industries.
  8. Under Section 48(1) an association may with the approval of the Director of Forests, assign all its rights under a management agreement to a suitably qualified agent on mutually agreed terms.
  9. Section 13(3d) and 13(3e) make provisions for setting charges and retention of income from forest resources at the local level. Section 18 makes provisions for the establishment of a Forest Management and Conservation Fund. One of the purposes of the Fund is to promote community-based forest projects.
  10. Section 49 stipulates the grounds for termination or variation of a management agreement. This section outlines the procedures for initiating termination and provides for an appeal process by the affected association.

Forest resource stewardship

Evidently, the Forest Act, 2005 makes provisions for the institutional and regulatory procedures necessary for reorienting forest management from command and control to forest resource stewardship through;

  • Identification and adoption of specific mechanisms for implementation of stewardship policy mandates, including community participation through community forest associations, mechanisms for joint management of forests, and concessions over state forests;
  • Delegation of direct authority to and imposition of responsibilities on, forest officials and individuals and entities operating within the forest sector;
  • Empowering implementation, oversight and enforcement of stewardship contracts;
  • Multi-year joint management agreements that allow different combinations of user rights or bundles; and
  • Financial incentives through retention of income from forest resources at local level to finance community projects.

Financing mechanisms for forest resource stewardship

While section 18 of the Forest Act, 2005 establishes a Forest Management and Conservation Fund and stipulates fifteen purposes for which the Fund will be used, it does not provide a robust financing mechanism to finance forest management. Section 19 (b) indicates that the Fund shall consist of monies levied upon forest beneficiaries. There is opportunity under this provision to interpret forest benefits in the broad context environmental services (ES).

Clearly, as forest reserves shrink, environmental services (ES) such as carbon sequestration, and storage, biodiversity conservation and watershed protection previously provided are becoming increasingly threatened. This emerging scarcity makes ES potentially suitable for trade. The core idea behind market based incentives for stewardship is payments for environmental services (PES). At the core of PES is that external beneficiaries of ES make direct and contractual payments to local land owners in return for adopting practices that secure ecosystem conservation and promote restoration.

Local land owners in the forest margins give priority to benefits arising from direct, often extractive uses of the forest such as fuel wood, charcoal, timber poles and other non-timber forest products. Watershed, biodiversity and carbon sequestration functions often do not accrue to local communities but instead city water users and to the global society. Past stewardship initiatives have included a variety of reforestation and Agroforestry projects, a variety of initiatives that seek to educate local land owners about uses and benefits of forests and integrated conservation and development projects. The record of these projects has been mixed. They have also proved difficult to implement and financially unsustainable.

Market based mechanisms for forest stewardship can generate funds that can be used either: (i) to increase the private benefits of conservation to forest managers , and so change their incentives ; or (ii) to generate resources that can be used to finance conservation efforts by public or private conservation groups.

Strategies for implementing forest resource stewardship

Goergen (2003) cautioned that Stewardship pilots may not always lead to success, but are valuable experiments with mechanisms that allow us to learn and strive for continual improvement (Goergen, 2003).

  • Implement legislation and policies to provide involvement of forest-based communities in sustainable forest management decision making and implementation;
  • Implement institutional arrangements between local communities and government which reflect a spirit of sharing responsibilities and benefits for the management, conservation and sustainable use of forest lands and resources; and give effect to land claim settlements, treaties and formal agreements on forest resource use and management;
  • Support capacity building in local communities so that they can effectively participate in processes that lead to community sustainability;
  • Create and maintain policies and programs that encourage human capacity, investment, productivity, innovation and competitiveness in:

• Existing and potential primary and value-added timber industries;

• Non-timber and service-based industries, such as tourism and recreation, hunting and fishing, trapping and wild foods; and

• Specialized forest products and services; for example, medicinal plants, ethno-botanicals, carbon sinks, water regeneration.

The objectives of the monitoring programme should be to evaluate the extent to which the forest resource stewardships achieve the goals of SFM, namely;

  1. Maintenance of stable levels of economic growth and employment for local communities
  2. Social inclusion, social equity and social progress
  3. Effective environmental conservation.


Forest stewardship agreements appear to be the most appropriate approach for ensuring that forests are managed to meet social, economic and ecological needs for the present and future generations. However, fear and distrust of government officials pose a potential obstacle to formation of stewardship agreements. Forest department officials must begin to view their role not as policing public forests but as partners working with local communities to promote sustainable forest management. They must evolve from enforcers to co-stewards.

Forest stewardship is a long term commitment with risks of failure. In the absence of mechanisms for delivering short term economic benefits, many communities will be unable to take part. This is especially true for resource poor communities living on the margins of ecologically significant indigenous forests, where stewardship agreements may have the most desirable outcome for the people and the environment. Stewardship agreements with a large number of Forest community associations will be required for sustainable forest stewardship. Because Forest communities lack basic skills of forest management, community organization, financial management, the Forest service must make budgetary provisions for training and extension if forest stewardship is to succeed and gain widespread adoption.

Locally developed, well designed and carefully monitored stewardship pilot projects can test innovative ways for the Forest Service to collaborate with Forest communities and build public understanding, trust, and support for improving deteriorating forest resources while meeting internationally established goals for sustainable forest management. Successful pilot projects can promote further refinement and implementation of land management practices at a broader scale.


Awiti, A. O. M.G. Walsh and K.D. Shepherd. 2004. Opportunities for sustainable management of nutrients in agricultural lands and conservation of forest ecosystems: assessment of biogeochemical variables across the Kakamega Forest Ecotone. Final Technical Report Submitted to the Rockefeller Foundation.

Barrow, E., J. Clarke, I. Grundy, K. Kamugisha-Ruhombe and Y. Tessema. 2002. Analysis of stakeholder power and responsibilities in community involvement in forest management in Eastern and Southern Africa. Nairobi, IUCN-EARO.

Goergen, M. 2003. Stewardship contracting: Experiment for continual improvement. Western Forester 48(1):1-3

Kenya Wildlife Service. 2003. Aerial Survey of the destruction of Aberdare Range Forests.

Kenya Wildlife Service. 1999. Aerial Survey of the destruction of Mt. Kenya, Imenti, and Ngare Ndare Forest Reserves.

Leopold, A.1949. A Sand and County Almanac

O’Laughlin, J. 2003. Stewardship contracting: A brief overview. Western Forester 48(1):1

Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004

Worrell, R. and M. Appleby. 2000. Stewardship of Natural Resources: Definition, Ethical and Practical Aspects. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. Vol 12(3):263-277.

World Bank. 2002. A revised forest strategy for the World Bank Group.

USAID 1996. Win-Win Approaches to development and the environment


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