Kenya: Rehabilitation of Semi-Arid Lands in the Ukambani Region


Agroforestry for Integrated Development in Semi-arid Areas of Kenya (ARIDSAK) is a project charged with the development, implementation and promotion of appropriate agricultural and agroforestry technologies and policies to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers and pastoralists in the semi-arid areas of the Ukambani Region. Apart from conservation and management of the environment, the project promises to play a critical role in the creation of employment opportunities, poverty alleviation, domestic wood production, food security and income generation. A major component to date has been the establishment and maintenance of small-scale tree nurseries to provide seedlings for the revegetation of surrounding areas. Many local farmers and community groups are actively involved in managing these nurseries, and their participation has afforded them a number of valuable skills. In addition to the nursery component, the project has placed much emphasis on developing effective strategies for widely disseminating new, field-tested technologies. In order to reach local communities, project staff works closely with a core group of farmers, and then entrusts these trainees to transmit the techniques to more peripheral beneficiaries. Individuals and community groups from other areas in eastern Africa, as well as areas in southern Africa, have also been trained in valuable agroforestry practices via extension materials created by project staff as a result of their work in the Ukambani Region. Thus, the project has met with success in the institutionalization of promising social forestry practices, and has been able to develop a forum for sharing outcomes with other communities throughout Africa.

Quick Facts

Project Location:
Ukambani, Kenya , -1.6832822, 38.31657250000001

Geographic Region:

Country or Territory:

Desert/Arid Land


Area being restored:
500+ hectares

Organization Type:
Governmental Body


Project Stage:

Start Date:

End Date:

Primary Causes of Degradation

Agriculture & Livestock, Urbanization, Transportation & Industry

Degradation Description

Land degradation by cropping and overgrazing has been a recurring theme throughout the last 70 years of colonial, and later national, agricultural and resource-management programmes. In this region, the high susceptibility of cropland to erosion derives from a combination of factors: concentrated settlement in fertile and well-watered hilly terrain; the tendency of the soils to “cap”; and the fact that 70 per cent of the most erosive rainstorms occur in the first month of the rainy season, before crops can establish an effective cover (Barber, Thomas, and Moore 1981; Moore 1979). Cattle, goats, and sheep also have pronounced effects on those Ukambani soils that have a propensity to form a pavement-like surface when denuded by overgrazing and physically compacted by trampling. The resulting land degradation, in turn, reduces future crop and livestock production.

Reference Ecosystem Description

The most widespread vegetation type in Ukambani, and especially in Kitui, is semi-arid deciduous woodland and bushland. Acacia/Commiphora associations are found in the 800-1,200 m elevation range; and in the dry areas below 900 m, Commiphora/Sanseveria thorn bush transitions into semi-desert vegetation (Ojany and Ogendo 1973; Owako 1971; Porter in prep.).

Project Goals

The project’s overarching goal is the rehabilitation of forest resources. However, before a comprehensive rehabilitation action plan could be formulated, the available technical tools and capacity for rehabilitation had to be expanded. Consequently, project partners created an initial programme to perfect the tools of rehabilitation intervention with the following objectives in mind:
– To improve capacity of extension service and farmers in dryland forest rehabilitation;
– To establish methods of seedling management and tree establishment;
– To establish restoration possibilities for degraded woodlands, soils and soil moisture regimes;
– To select, develop and promote high value timber and food trees to fit into alternative livelihood commodity development options; and
– To develop a social forestry extension model for arid and semi-arid areas.


The project does not have a monitoring plan.


This project adopts an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach involving all the stakeholders in the planning and implementation process. Specialists employed by the implementing agencies work closely with selected core farmers, local groups and organisations representing beneficiaries in order to disseminate information and practical techniques. Through on-site research and development, technologies are innovated and tested under field conditions, and then extension materials are created for use in training local farmers. This core group of trainees is responsible for providing information to neighbouring farmers, and in this way, the involvement of peripheral parties is ensured.

Description of Project Activities:
Fifty-four small-scale nurseries (22 of which were commercial) were established in three districts of Ukambani and Maasai (Kitui, Makueni and Kajiado). Women's groups managed 70% of these nurseries, while groups comprising both women and men managed the remaining 30%. The focus of these nurseries was propagation and nursery management of seedlings, tree planting in farms, and income generating opportunities. One notable accomplishment of the project's nurseries is a breakthrough on the germination, propagation, and rearing of a problematic tree species, Melia volkensii, which grows fast and produces durable timber of high value under local farming conditions. Nursery activities were promoted for ten years, from 1985 to1995, and five years after the end of this formal intervention period (2000), an evaluation was carried out to assess the role of the nurseries within the local context. The evaluation revealed that, although 25% of the original contact groups had stopped nursery activities, some 18% of the groups involved in nursery activities were new, and there were more individuals (some of whom were part of the fallout groups) that had taken up small-scale nursery activities. Of further interest was the fact that the estimated total annual seedling production by small-scale nurseries had changed from 550,000 (1993) to a total of 1,245,000 (2000). Moreover, among the seven activities of the women's and mixed men's/women's groups, nursery activities had acquired greater importance, moving from sixth position to third or fourth position. More than 500 ha of experimental and demonstration plots were established under the project. Several methods were proposed for use by farmers in enhancing establishment of tree seedlings under dryland conditions. One such method was to exclude plots from animal grazing in order to allow for a more expeditious revegetation. In these protected areas, the succession of vegetation recovery began with the quick re-establishment of a dense, shrubby layer comprised of the following dominant species: Hermannia oliveri, Aspilia mossambicensis, Solanum incanum, Chloris roxburghiana and Sporobolus fimbriatus. This layer then creates favorable conditions for the establishment of drought-tolerant woodland species dominated by: Commiphora africana, Acaica senegal, A. tortilis, A. mellifera, A. brevispica and Terminalia brownii. Within two to four years, some of the species had grown to heights beyond the browsing levels of goats. Because grazing exclusion proved to be such a successful approach to revegetation, it has been promoted in the Ukambani districts and is now being used by the animal range management farmers in the restoration of degraded woodlands to provide more foliage and tree resources for ecosystem users. In addition to selecting trees specifically for rehabilitation of degraded lands, a deliberate effort was made to select tree species of high economic value in order to provide an incentive for tree planting. Such trees included: Melia volkensii (indigenous, fast-growing, and resistant to termites); Dalbergia melanoxylon (indigenous and slow-growing, but highly valued for wood carving); Terminalia brownii (indigenous and favored for its good form and resistance to termites); Senna siamea (exotic and prioritized for its fast growth and, therefore, quick provision of fuelwood); Mangifera indica (a fruit tree that has become successful); and Citrus sinensis (for its adaptability and fruits). The main constraint to dryland forestry practice is inadequate moisture to ensure establishment of seedlings. Four water conservation/harvesting methods were widely tested, and an evaluation of these efforts indicated that the use of soil structures to concentrate water to the seedlings has been adopted by over 40% of tree-growing farmers. Unfortunately, the use of terracotta water-retention material, which had been promoted, proved too expensive for the small-scale farmers. Where water is available, recommended watering regimes and watering schedules are used by almost 100% of the tree growing farmers. As part of the project's technology development component, some extension approaches were tested for their effectiveness in disseminating new technologies to local farmers. One approach used to demonstrate emergent technologies was organizing mobile shows. Over the course of 30 such shows at different venues, some 7,345 participants were reached in about one third of the Ukambani district. Another effective approach was to train a core group of farmers in different techniques and then entrust them with the task of sharing their knowledge with neighboring farmers through friendly, productive visits. A random survey carried out by the project found that more than 50% of the people who received technical information on tree planting made use of such knowledge.

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
Commercial tree nurseries have taken root with farmers producing over 1.5 million seedlings annually. Fast-growing local and exotic species have been introduced, and farmers have planted many of these in their farms. Over 500 ha of demonstration and experimental trials have been established in public land within farming areas and are accessible to farmers and schools for training. Several extension methods and approaches have been tested, and a social forestry extension model has been developed through the project experience. A dryland tree technology development and demonstration Centre, covering over 1 000 ha was established and gazetted and continues to provide excellent transfer of dryland tree planting and conservation technologies. Although it has not been possible to achieve a total areal cover of species planted under the auspices of the project, it estimated that during the last 5 or so years, M. volkensii has gained a collective cover of about 50 ha, D. melanoxylon a cover of 5 ha, 5 ha of S. siamea, 3 ha of T. brownii and over 60 ha of M. indica.

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
Over 2,000 farmers, teachers, women's groups, and frontline extensionists were trained in dryland tree planting, conservation and management through a programme of 80 courses developed under this project. In addition to national courses, regional courses on social forestry were conducted covering dryland tree technologies, extension methodologies, policy formulation to promote social forestry in drylands, and the role of forestry in aiding conservation and mitigating desertification in other areas of eastern and southern Africa. Regular participants in these annual Regional Social Forestry for Drylands training courses include: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. To date, approximately 160 individuals from eastern and southern Africa have been trained in social forestry.

Key Lessons Learned

The capacity of farmers to rehabilitate degraded drylands has been improved not only in the area of the project but throughout eastern and southern African. Several intervention technologies have been developed, and their use has made verifiable strides toward reversing degradation and encouraging more sustainable use of ecosystem resources.

Long-Term Management

As a result of an experience on social forestry and tree planting technologies development in dry areas of Kitui, Makueni and Kajiado Districts of Kenya since 1985, a Social Forestry Extension Model has been developed by the Kenya-Japan supported dryland initiative. The model comprises of the foundation of continuous development of technologies to support changing management needs with time, a framework of assimilation of new technologies by farmers through on-farm adaptive trial-cum-production trials and a thatching of extension approaches, a number of which have been mentioned in the sections above. It is expected that extension service and farmers would benefit from the model. The project proposes to develop soon appropriate guidelines for handling and putting in practice the various aspects of the extension model. A Belgium supported drylands forestry intervention has taken to the use of the project experience to develop district management plans for sustainable use by the extension service and farmers in the Ukambani and Maasai districts.

Other Resources

Dr. Jackson Mulatya
Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI)
P.O. Box 20412

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)

Primary Contact

Organizational Contact