Farmers in East Africa are prioritising climate action in food systems

Embracing regenerative practices for climate-smart agriculture.

Scaling innovative solutions, such as regenerative agriculture, has a critical role in facilitating the necessary shift required to address climate change and its effects on fragile food systems.

Farmers in East Africa are making the choice of adopting this approach of agriculture, in combination with new technologies and organic inputs to improve crop yields and replenish soils. This renewed understanding of the interplay between soil health and healthy yields is enabling the transition to sustainable agricultural practices and policy in the region.

The relevance of regenerative agriculture in East Africa

Regenerative agriculture, a holistic land management practice, aims to restore soil health, increase biodiversity, and improve the water cycle. Given East Africa's susceptibility to climate-induced challenges such as drought and soil erosion, this approach is particularly vital. It promises not only to improve crop yields but also to fortify the very fabric of these agro-ecosystems against future climate adversities.

Mostly, knowledge gaps and evidence of practical examples are some of the barriers that hinder the wider adoption of regenerative farming at the community level.

The REALMS (Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Improved Livelihoods and Markets) project, funded by the IKEA Foundation and implemented by SNV along with local partners in Rwanda and Kenya, serves as a pioneering model in this regard. The project promotes the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices such as reducing the use of chemical fertilisers, integrated pest management, and setting soil and water conservation to stop erosion.

‘As a result of climate change, a growing population and a rapid degree of urbanisation, the pressure on the shoulder of farmers and food producers is getting bigger and bigger, while farming and food security has become more and more unpredictable. So, we must find a new balance in which food producers can thrive, based on regenerative practices in combination with reliable data’, says  Nico Janssen, Programme Manager for Agricultural Livelihoods at the IKEA Foundation.

To help realise this, the four-year project works with smallholders and their communities, support local service providers, SMEs, and with relevant stakeholders, to co-create the necessary enabling environment for the application of regenerative agriculture.

From the ground up: successes of learning by doing

Irene Wairimo, a young farmer in Kenya shares her experience with regenerative agriculture and how it’s improving her business; ‘In my farm, I actively practise regenerative agricultural techniques such as the use of biofertilisers, compost manure, bokashi – a process that converts food waste and similar organic matter into a soil amendment – and the improvement of crop biodiversity, which have led to a substantial increase in yield. By reducing the use of chemicals, I can now produce healthy food. Likewise, the quality of my soil is further improving, you can see the worms that are there.’

The REALMS project not only supports farmers with the technical aspects of farming, but also ensures that established knowledge is being shared with farmers through learning by doing.

Farmers participate in farmer field schools (FFS) allowing them to learn from each other, share best practices, as well as witness the impact of regenerative agricultural practices first hand through demo-plots and hands on demonstrations. Three years into this four-year project, farmers are already seeing the positive impact of adopting regenerative practices. ‘I want to use my experience and skills to inspire my fellow farmers into adopting this agricultural approach, which will contribute positively towards sustainable agriculture in our community,’ adds Irene.

Similarly, Stephen Nginya Mwangi, a Kenyan farmer and facilitator at a Farmer Field School, echoes Irene’s sentiment and is convinced of the sustainability of this farming technique, ‘since implementing the techniques learned at the farmer field school, I have witnessed remarkable improvements on my farm, particularly in avocado production. Not only have I achieved higher yields but saw an improvement in soil quality. By producing my own inputs such as compost and bokashi, I reduced the cost of production and am making extra income by selling bokashi to fellow farmers and offering services to produce it for others.'

To date, the project has established over 50 farmer field schools in the region and has been training around 10,000 farmers in regenerative agriculture techniques to combat soil erosion through agroforestry, terracing and conservation.

Learn more from Patrice in the video on the right, a Rwandan farmer and regenerative farming trainer, as he shares his valuable insights and experiences in advancing sustainable agriculture through the REALMS project, bringing a real change in crop yield and community income.

Beyond borders: scaling and replicating regenerative agriculture

The REALMS Project creates opportunities for regenerative agriculture to be researched, adopted, scaled and replicated throughout Rwanda and Kenya. This is improving livelihoods for farmers, increasing market share for innovative African agri-businesses, and contributing vital data for research and policymaking on regenerative agriculture. Equally, the commitments of the Governments of Rwanda and Kenya to environmentally sustainable policies provide a vital foundation to transition to effective systems of agriculture by widely embedding regenerative agriculture in countries.

Certainly, climate adaptation requires a multifaceted approach in strengthening the resilience of agri-food systems. Regenerative agriculture offers one approach to farming communities, particularly in highly vulnerable to extreme soil degradation, to improve yields and nutritional variety.

As we move together in our collective journey towards sustainability, the transformative power of regenerative agriculture becomes ever more apparent. This approach, championed by farmers and supported by projects like REALMS, is one way to accelerate climate action and transform vital sectors. By strengthening agricultural resilience through sustainable farming and landscape management, revitalising agri-food markets with inclusive business models and climate-smart solutions, and empowering youth with necessary skills and resources, we are paving the way for a sustainable and just future. Together, with partners like the IKEA Foundation, we are not just adapting to change – we are driving it, shaping a world that is resilient, equitable, and sustainable for all.

Learn more about the REALMS project