From aridity to prosperity: transforming Kenya's ASALs
In the heart of Kenya's arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), a pivotal project is transforming lives and landscapes. The Integrated & Climate Smart Innovation for Agropastoralist Economies and Landscapes (ICSIAPL) is a collaborative effort by SNV and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO). The project's central mission is to uplift agro-pastoral communities, by bolstering forage production, livestock husbandry, and climate-smart innovation practices, as they navigate challenges around climate variability, poverty, and food security.
As the project reaches its midway point of the three-year implementation, its impact is profound.
Empowering communities through education and innovation
So far, the ICSIAPL project, funded by the European Union (EU) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (DGIS), has made substantial progress. The project reached over 50% of the 10,000 targeted agro-pastoralists who have benefited from comprehensive training and hands-on support.
Training methods have been as diverse as they are effective. From innovative demo plots, field days, and Farmer Field Schools to an impactful Innovation Fund and Seed Fund, these interventions are empowering individuals to become architects of their own success.
A key component of the project's success has been the innovative use of funding mechanisms. Specifically, the Innovation Fund, Seed Fund, and Small Innovation Fund have been instrumental in stimulating value chain actors and promoting market-led solutions to the challenges faced by agro-pastoralists. These funds, designed to support the development of sustainable market systems and business models, have not only fuelled the uptake of project innovations but have also fostered the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), cooperatives, and enterprises led by women and youth.
These initiatives have resulted in a significant increase in the number of trained agro-pastoralists, rising from 40% at the project's onset to an encouraging 67%. Moreover, the majority of these trained agro-pastoralists have reported the usefulness of these training sessions.
The project has also broadened the agro-pastoralists' skills and knowledge spectrum through a Training-of-Trainer's approach. The training encompasses general fodder and livestock production instruction to more nuanced aspects, including beef and dairy production practices, fodder plot establishment, fodder preservation, and landscape rehabilitation.
A testament to change
The early impact of the project is evident, with 84% of trained agro-pastoralists actively growing fodder compared to just 57% at the project's inception. This increased engagement is improving livelihoods and diversifying local agriculture, with a wider variety of nutritious grasses and legumes now in cultivation.
One of the most exciting signs of progress comes from Narok, where farmers have reported a whopping 50-60% surge in milk production. This significant increase is directly translating into increased income for the communities involved.
The project's innovation fund has also played a key role, stimulating small and medium enterprises in the fodder value chain to offer market-led solutions that meet the needs of agro-pastoralists. It is anticipated that the benefits of the fund will also bolster integrated landscape management approaches, fostering inclusivity for women and youth and nurturing sustainability.
Addressing challenges and looking forward
Despite this progress, the project faced some challenges. The adverse effects of climate change, including prolonged droughts, has slowed down the success of some demonstration plots and on-farm fodder variety trials. These challenges also reduced the production of beef and milk and made it difficult to implement holistic management practices, including reseeding.
In response, the project is poised to implement wider, systemic solutions to tackle the broader climate variability challenges faced by agro-pastoralists. This includes adopting climate-smart approaches like soil management and water conservation practices, including manuring, minimal tillage, and intercropping. As we progress into 2023, these integrated landscape management interventions will be further bolstered by the established multi-stakeholder platforms in each county.
The journey ahead includes strengthening these platforms and speeding up capacity-building activities among county governments and community-level actors. This will ensure that the outcomes and impacts of the ICSIAPL project are not only realised but also sustainable beyond the project's lifespan.
The ICSIAPL project's transformative power is already evident as we reach the halfway mark. Despite the challenges faced, the project continues to drive change, creating more resilient, empowered agro-pastoralist communities in Kenya's ASALs, one intervention at a time.
Written by: Bibiana Wanalawenge, Communications Coordinator, SNV in Kenya.