Restoring African degraded landscapes with plant biodiversity and livestock management

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre

Abstract

Across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) approximately 660 million hectares of land is degraded, leading to low land productivity, poor and variable biomass production, inability to graze livestock and lack of resilience of agriculture to climate extremes. Land degradation is a major factor in the instability of crop and livestock production, leading to a significant burden of food and income security.

Extensive forest areas of East Africa have been converted to grasslands and to agriculture, largely driven by the expansion of crop-livestock farming, a preferred livelihood option in these regions to minimize the impacts of climatic risks. Once land is converted for agriculture, a combination of low input of nutrients and high grazing pressure, with social and climatic changes leads to this land becoming degraded. Once degraded is it extremely difficult to recover the functionality of the land leading to a downward spiral of productivity and resulting in systems that are less resilient to climate extremes. Local farmers, who rely on livestock for their livelihoods, seek new land for grazing within natural ecosystems. As a consequence, high livestock densities have led to larger loads of nutrients and sediments entering water systems and are releasing greater emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.

Land restoration must be a priority if we are to secure future food supplies, and protect high carbon and high biodiversity ecosystems across East Africa. This project seeks to explore the use of a novel combination of different local grassland plants species, coupled with new livestock management models to help farming communities in Kenya to recover degraded grazing lands. Working in partnership with local farmers and community based organisations, the project team aims to improve grassland productivity, thereby increasing the quality of livestock fodder, and nutrient content of manure. This will lead to restored functionality of soils for future plant production and a greater degree of resilience to future climate shocks.

Specifically, this interdisciplinary project will use a multi-scale approach to:

1) Study the primary productivity and state of degradation of land at two contrasting sites of the densely populated highlands of Kenya;

2) Explore the biological and socio-ecological characteristics of these different sites and use complimentary field and plot scale studies to identify the mechanisms involved in a process of successful restoration using plant biodiversity and;

3) Explore alternative management and regulatory scenarios with local farmers and stakeholders, highlighting the benefits for livestock production and for ecosystem conservation.

4) Engage key stakeholders to understand restoration needs and constraints and to build the necessary capacity

Halting and reversing land degradation in Africa is urgent given the projections of human population increase, the large proportion of the African population living in a rural setting, and the prominence of agriculture as a source of income across the continent. Single interventions such as increasing mineral fertiliser use or the supplementation of livestock feeds are unlikely to be sufficient to achieve nutritional security given the large scale of the problem, and the increases in productivity and new land that may be required. Protecting natural ecosystems such as forests and grasslands, and restoring soil resilience is also needed to reduce negative feedbacks on the regional climate system including livestock production of greenhouse gases and buffering negative impacts of climate change on the water cycle.

Technical Summary

The large extend of degraded land across Africa leads to stagnation in food production, poor livestock feed quality and lack of resilience of farming to climate shocks. In areas of high agro-ecological potential like the East African highlands, there is an urgent need to design and implement restoration approaches alongside agricultural intensification. This project aims to reverse trends of land degradation by exploiting plant biodiversity and livestock management to accelerate restoration, and boost livestock productivity. We hypothesize that mixtures of species with different functional traits combined with moderated grazing, can be successfully used by communities in the highlands of Kenya to restore their degraded grasslands.
This interdisciplinary project will use a multi-scale approach to i) study primary productivity and landscape-level degradation in two contrasting sites; ii) characterise the biological and socio-ecological determinants of degradation and use complementary field and plot scale studies to identify mechanisms involved in a process of restoration exploiting biodiversity; and iii) explore alternative management and regulatory scenarios quantifying the benefits for livestock production and ecosystem conservation. WP1 will identify stages degradation and their association with ecosystem functioning, and livestock management measuring soil and vegetation characteristics, feed quality, and livestock management. WP2 will test the potential for selected plant species and species mixtures to accelerate and restore the functioning in degraded soils. WP3 will define opportunities to manage landscape-level interactions to support restoration and livelihoods through a validation of alternative scenarios. WP4 will ensure that the research addresses farming communities needs and that findings feed into appropriate fora at multiple levels. The project will design a multi-scale action plan for restoration, a model relevant for the highlands of East Africa.

Planned Impact

We aim to reverse trends of grazing land degradation by exploiting plant biodiversity and livestock management to accelerate grassland restoration, and boost livestock productivity and ecosystem conservation. To achieve this, we designed an impact pathway that identifies stakeholders, and envisaged intermediate and end-of the project outcomes. The impact plan will to enable key stakeholders to use the knowledge, tools and analysis developed to deal with the restoration of degraded grazing lands. The core impact of this project will be based on the combination of excellent biophysical research, the development of metrics to diagnose and monitor land degradation, new knowledge on plant species diversity and traits, and dedicated knowledge exchange (KE) to map needs and constraints and to build capacity. The impact pathway is built on the idea that land degradation affects livelihoods by reducing livestock productivity and the value of livestock assets, increasing feeding costs and by increasing competition for arable land between food and feed crops. In addition, degradation affects neighbouring ecosystems by increasing pressures due to grazing, creating competition with wildlife and preventing regeneration. We hypothesise that the poor management of grazing lands is the result of capacity and knowledge gaps.

To increase the likelihood to achieve impact, the research will address real needs from the farming communities of the study area; the findings will feed into appropriate fora at national and regional, and international levels, and the project will monitor the impact of activities. We will target stakeholders from five categories: i) grassland users and grassland managers, ii) community based organisations (CBOs), iii) ecosystem-level managing actors, iv) universities who provide training in natural resources management, v) research organisations.
The current mapping of project stakeholders comes from the project partners and their ongoing projects in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The partners have in addition a network of implementing partners including government officials, legislators, NGOs and community-based organizations. This list of stakeholders will be expanded through surveys purposively designed to focus on grazing land degradation.

Key knowledge outputs for impact activities will include: i) Land degradation maps used during stakeholder meetings to discuss institutional factors that may drive degradation processes; ii) Metrics of restoration used during KE events to build capacity to recognise landscapes that can be restored; iii) New knowledge on plant traits will be used to show the potential for restoration using local plant biodiversity. We will produce infographics to be distributed through social media to increase awareness on the connection between livestock productivity and land degradation. From the institutional analyses, stakeholders will be able to understand variations in degradation status with tenure/property rights, investments in grazing management and land management and implications of land degradation on gender.

To measure the impact of the activities, stakeholders should have: i) increased their capacity to select landscapes that can be restored, ii) CBOs understood recommendations emerging from the project, iii) stakeholders learnt how to monitor a recovering soil and the plant species that can help the process, and iv) stakeholders recognise the properties that dictate whether a grassland is recovering or not. During the community feedback workshops participants will diagnose knowledge gaps to be addressed through dedicated KE events and training, outreach through engagement with the media, and the co-development of multi-stakeholder future action plan for restoration. KE at international level will be done by project members attending conferences and organising one dedicated stakeholder session in 2020 at the Global Landscape Forum organised by CIFOR and partners every year.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Although it is too early to communicate findings, the project has already started a conversation with local farming communities which is drawing attention to the value of plants and the biodiversity of vegetation in combination with livestock management as a way to address land degradation and ensure long-term livestock viability. In addition, we have developed new links with a range of national government and education organisations, including through representatives on the Advisory Board. These networks have already helped to tailor certain aspects of the research, and they will be critical to wider dissemination of the project's findings, not least by informing our approach to this, and how best to frame the findings in response to existing local, regional and national concerns and priorities. One particular area of potential impact is by developing a systematic knowledge of the grassland species, which is currently lacking in this area of Africa. For instance, we have already been in discussion with the National Museum of Kenya regarding their collections, and how we might be able to supplement them. Another important area of impact that is underway is building capacity for soil and plant-related research within Kenya. The project has established a new soil lab and greenhouse at the University of Kabianga, in a region affected by land degradation. Along with training technicians and researchers as they work on the current project, the facility provides a lasting opportunity to train others and conduct research. We are initiating courses using these facilities, which it is expected the University of Kabianga will continue in the future.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Livestock and land management survey 
Description The CIFOR and ILRI teams have developed a specialized questionnaire to gather information on farm property, herd characteristics, livestock management practices, management of grazing lands and property rights. This survey tool will provide a baseline for understanding the research sites and identify topics that require more in-depth data collection, through further specially developed questionnaires. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The survey allows for an initial understanding of land-management affecting the research sites, what land owners know and how they respond to the questions, revealing potential gaps in understanding of, and the basis for modelling, significant factors in land degradation, that will be addressed in follow-up surveys and focus groups. 
 
Title Plant species database 
Description An initial database of plant species in the Kericho area of Kenya has been compiled, based on book by A.D.Q. Agnew in combination with other databases and online sources, to detail habitat preferences, morphological characteristics, and the grazing tolerance of these plant species. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This has so far made possible the identification and selection of local plant species for the mesocosm experiment. 
 
Title Timeseries Satellite Mapping 
Description We have also compiled a database of very high to high resolution satellite imagery between 2008 and 2018 for two sites within the project area. This imagery was used to determine the different states of degradation in TIMESAT algorithm (Eklundh and Jönsson, 2015) and to classify the natural vegetation responses to environmental change over time. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This has allowed for the selection of potential sampling sites across the different states of degradation. Potential sites were then ground-truthed and the states verified against a list of vegetation and land characteristics (such as patches of bare soil or amount of grass cover) before a final determination of Ecological Response Units (ERUs) or sites. 
URL https://dx.doi.org/10.17635/lancaster/researchdata/347
 
Description ReDEAL project team 
Organisation Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
Country Indonesia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Lancaster University provides the overall leadership and project management. The PI is also responsible for achieving deliverables, implementing the impact pathway and disseminating outputs. In addition, she leads the landscape-level mapping in WP1 and the modelling in WP3, supervising the PDRA. The Co-I based at Lancaster (John Quinton) is responsible for the soil assessments in WP1 and leads on training of the research assistants at partner organisations. The PDRA is conducting spatial modelling of landscape change and dynamic modelling of management and restoration scenarios. Lancaster University also provides the main administrative function covering agreements, financial management, activity monitoring and reporting, the website and organising meetings.
Collaborator Contribution ILRI are leading WP1 and are carrying out the vegetation and livestock mapping, feed quality analysis and supported the selection of research sites and gain consent from landowners and local communities. The University of Manchester is leading WP2 and providing guidance on vegetation analyses in WP1, as well as guiding data analyses and interpretation, and the design of high impact publications. The team at Manchester will also participate in the training and knowledge exchange events organized by WP4. The PDRA is responsible for the mesocosm experiments and is contributing to soil assessments of WP1. CIFOR are leading WP3 and focusing on household recruitment, surveys and focus groups to assess land-use and livestock practices, review of policy and institutional frameworks, and participatory prospective analysis to assess alternative management scenarios. The University of Kabianga leads WP4 on engagement and capacity building including outreach and knowledge exchange events for practitioners, community and students in Kenya. It also hosts and helps to organise project workshops and advisory board meetings. In addition, a PDRA contributes actively to the soil assessments of WP1 and a technician support the work in WP1 and 2, including hosting and helping with the mesocosm experiments.
Impact The primary collaborative outputs so far have been in the engagement of local communities, including village elders, land-owners and stake-holder organisations, which has been key to gaining participation in the project and will also be instrumental in future outreach and dissemination work. The project is multi-disciplinary and involves soil science, microbiology, plant ecology, environmental science, livestock and agricultural systems and social science, including anthropology.
Start Year 2019
 
Description ReDEAL project team 
Organisation International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Country Kenya 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Lancaster University provides the overall leadership and project management. The PI is also responsible for achieving deliverables, implementing the impact pathway and disseminating outputs. In addition, she leads the landscape-level mapping in WP1 and the modelling in WP3, supervising the PDRA. The Co-I based at Lancaster (John Quinton) is responsible for the soil assessments in WP1 and leads on training of the research assistants at partner organisations. The PDRA is conducting spatial modelling of landscape change and dynamic modelling of management and restoration scenarios. Lancaster University also provides the main administrative function covering agreements, financial management, activity monitoring and reporting, the website and organising meetings.
Collaborator Contribution ILRI are leading WP1 and are carrying out the vegetation and livestock mapping, feed quality analysis and supported the selection of research sites and gain consent from landowners and local communities. The University of Manchester is leading WP2 and providing guidance on vegetation analyses in WP1, as well as guiding data analyses and interpretation, and the design of high impact publications. The team at Manchester will also participate in the training and knowledge exchange events organized by WP4. The PDRA is responsible for the mesocosm experiments and is contributing to soil assessments of WP1. CIFOR are leading WP3 and focusing on household recruitment, surveys and focus groups to assess land-use and livestock practices, review of policy and institutional frameworks, and participatory prospective analysis to assess alternative management scenarios. The University of Kabianga leads WP4 on engagement and capacity building including outreach and knowledge exchange events for practitioners, community and students in Kenya. It also hosts and helps to organise project workshops and advisory board meetings. In addition, a PDRA contributes actively to the soil assessments of WP1 and a technician support the work in WP1 and 2, including hosting and helping with the mesocosm experiments.
Impact The primary collaborative outputs so far have been in the engagement of local communities, including village elders, land-owners and stake-holder organisations, which has been key to gaining participation in the project and will also be instrumental in future outreach and dissemination work. The project is multi-disciplinary and involves soil science, microbiology, plant ecology, environmental science, livestock and agricultural systems and social science, including anthropology.
Start Year 2019
 
Description ReDEAL project team 
Organisation University of Kabianga
Country Kenya 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Lancaster University provides the overall leadership and project management. The PI is also responsible for achieving deliverables, implementing the impact pathway and disseminating outputs. In addition, she leads the landscape-level mapping in WP1 and the modelling in WP3, supervising the PDRA. The Co-I based at Lancaster (John Quinton) is responsible for the soil assessments in WP1 and leads on training of the research assistants at partner organisations. The PDRA is conducting spatial modelling of landscape change and dynamic modelling of management and restoration scenarios. Lancaster University also provides the main administrative function covering agreements, financial management, activity monitoring and reporting, the website and organising meetings.
Collaborator Contribution ILRI are leading WP1 and are carrying out the vegetation and livestock mapping, feed quality analysis and supported the selection of research sites and gain consent from landowners and local communities. The University of Manchester is leading WP2 and providing guidance on vegetation analyses in WP1, as well as guiding data analyses and interpretation, and the design of high impact publications. The team at Manchester will also participate in the training and knowledge exchange events organized by WP4. The PDRA is responsible for the mesocosm experiments and is contributing to soil assessments of WP1. CIFOR are leading WP3 and focusing on household recruitment, surveys and focus groups to assess land-use and livestock practices, review of policy and institutional frameworks, and participatory prospective analysis to assess alternative management scenarios. The University of Kabianga leads WP4 on engagement and capacity building including outreach and knowledge exchange events for practitioners, community and students in Kenya. It also hosts and helps to organise project workshops and advisory board meetings. In addition, a PDRA contributes actively to the soil assessments of WP1 and a technician support the work in WP1 and 2, including hosting and helping with the mesocosm experiments.
Impact The primary collaborative outputs so far have been in the engagement of local communities, including village elders, land-owners and stake-holder organisations, which has been key to gaining participation in the project and will also be instrumental in future outreach and dissemination work. The project is multi-disciplinary and involves soil science, microbiology, plant ecology, environmental science, livestock and agricultural systems and social science, including anthropology.
Start Year 2019
 
Description ReDEAL project team 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Lancaster University provides the overall leadership and project management. The PI is also responsible for achieving deliverables, implementing the impact pathway and disseminating outputs. In addition, she leads the landscape-level mapping in WP1 and the modelling in WP3, supervising the PDRA. The Co-I based at Lancaster (John Quinton) is responsible for the soil assessments in WP1 and leads on training of the research assistants at partner organisations. The PDRA is conducting spatial modelling of landscape change and dynamic modelling of management and restoration scenarios. Lancaster University also provides the main administrative function covering agreements, financial management, activity monitoring and reporting, the website and organising meetings.
Collaborator Contribution ILRI are leading WP1 and are carrying out the vegetation and livestock mapping, feed quality analysis and supported the selection of research sites and gain consent from landowners and local communities. The University of Manchester is leading WP2 and providing guidance on vegetation analyses in WP1, as well as guiding data analyses and interpretation, and the design of high impact publications. The team at Manchester will also participate in the training and knowledge exchange events organized by WP4. The PDRA is responsible for the mesocosm experiments and is contributing to soil assessments of WP1. CIFOR are leading WP3 and focusing on household recruitment, surveys and focus groups to assess land-use and livestock practices, review of policy and institutional frameworks, and participatory prospective analysis to assess alternative management scenarios. The University of Kabianga leads WP4 on engagement and capacity building including outreach and knowledge exchange events for practitioners, community and students in Kenya. It also hosts and helps to organise project workshops and advisory board meetings. In addition, a PDRA contributes actively to the soil assessments of WP1 and a technician support the work in WP1 and 2, including hosting and helping with the mesocosm experiments.
Impact The primary collaborative outputs so far have been in the engagement of local communities, including village elders, land-owners and stake-holder organisations, which has been key to gaining participation in the project and will also be instrumental in future outreach and dissemination work. The project is multi-disciplinary and involves soil science, microbiology, plant ecology, environmental science, livestock and agricultural systems and social science, including anthropology.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Advisory Board 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In October 2019, we held our first meeting with an Advisory Board consisting of representatives from key national and regional stakeholder organisations: Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO); local government representatives from Narok County and the Lake Region Economic Block and is chaired by a Professor at the University of Nairobi. The Board is due to meet again in October 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description ReDEAL presented at a side session at the World Food Prize event (USA) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The PI presented ReDEAL in a session organised by UK FCO to showcase research conducted under the Global Challenge Research Fund. FCO has organised such a session at the World Food Prize together with the N8AgriFood programme (https://www.n8agrifood.ac.uk/) to improve the visibility of Bristish Science in the Global South on matters related to Agri-Food. The session was well attended and received positive feedback from the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Relationships with local communities and participants 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact To initiate the fieldwork and seek community support the project team has visited, and is developing relationships with, 26 village elders and other community leaders from across the two study areas in Western Kenya. Village elders represent the base of administrative structures in Kenya and have been key to accessing households and gaining their consent to participate. They will also be key contacts for our community outreach activities as well as facilitating the communication of concerns and questions from the community to the project team. This engagement is helping to identify potential areas for capacity building around topics such as livestock nutrition and disease control, as well playing an important role in disseminating findings in the future.

In addition, the research directly involves 60 households from 31 villages who have agreed for the research to take place on their land and to participate in a survey. To date, 59 households have taken part in an initial survey. These households form an important user group for whom the research findings will be directly relevant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description Relationships with stakeholder organisations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Through personal visits, email and telephone calls the team has established contact with local stakeholder organisations, including: a) the Community Forest Association (CFA) in the Kuresoi forest block whose members live adjacent to the Mau forest and are important stakeholders for grazing management in thise area; b) the Initiative for Sustainable Land Management (ISLA), which is a consortium of organizations working to conserve the Mau forest, including NGO, representatives of Kenyan Forest Service, government agencies and the County governments of Kericho and Bomet, likely to become an important partner for validating research findings and disseminating recommendations; c) a community based organization known as Friends of Katuk Odeyo (FOKO), which coordinates the activities of 31 community groups with approximately 300 members in Nyakach, which falls within the project area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
 
Description Website and Twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The project has a website (www.lancaster.ac.uk/redeal) and twitter feed (@restoregrazing). It has also published a leaflet and poster to support further engagement with local communities and stakeholders in Kenya.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
URL http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/redeal