Regenerative farming in East Africa: from soil health to economic growth

In Kenya and Rwanda, the shift towards regenerative agriculture (RA) is not just about sustainable farming—it's a lifeline for smallholder farmers. The Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Improved Livelihoods and Markets (REALMS), supported by the IKEA Foundation for over 2.5 years, has begun to chart an innovative course. Through its work, REALMS has surfaced key insights: the power of participatory learning, the tangible benefits of RA practices on soil health, and its economic appeal to smallholder farmers.

Embracing new beginnings

While factors like environmental conditions, demographics, and financial and social capital influence the adoption of RA practices, a common thread in REALMS’ approach has been its adaptability across regions. Farmer Field Schools (FFS) have proven to be instrumental, turning theory into practice, as farmers eagerly ‘learn by doing’. The proof is tangible: a growing number of farmers are purchasing regenerative products and integrating practices such as mulching, composting, and using locally made biopesticides. This proactive shift, fuelled by the practices' effectiveness against pests and diseases, is commendable.

Yet, change is never without its challenges. Limited land resources, biomass shortages, reluctance to diversify crops, and unfamiliarity with certain practices, such as crop rotation or leaving land fallow, posed barriers. To navigate these obstacles, farmers proposed context-specific practises, continuing access to knowledge and resources, and standardised RA technologies.

Nurturing prosperity through cost-effectiveness

While a cost-benefit analysis of RA practices is on the horizon, preliminary findings are promising. RA seems to be a ticket to optimise output. Comparatively, it slashes production costs when weighed against conventional farming, considering aspects like labour, time, and resources. Techniques like mulching and minimum tillage reduce labour, energy, and time required for land preparation.

A demonstration of a regenerative agriculture practice: mulching.

A demonstration of a regenerative agriculture practice: intercropping.

It’s not only farmers reaping the rewards. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have witnessed a business boom, collaborating closer with farmers, providing them with diverse regenerative and circular products and tapping into the growing demand for regenerative agricultural products. For SMEs, this trajectory suggests brighter horizons—expanded markets, strengthened partnerships, and diversified revenue streams.

The role of Civil Society Organisations in promoting RA

The power of collective advocacy cannot be understated. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play a critical role in lobbying for policies that promote regenerative agriculture. Engaging with national policymakers and locally owned evidence-based advocacy organisations such as the Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisors of Kenya (SOCAA), RDO, and Imbaraga, as well as research institutes such as Great Lakes University of Kisumu, underscores this commitment in both countries. The collective insights, especially concerning soil health, have potential sway, beckoning both farmers and policymakers to rally behind RA.

Policy advocacy necessitates strategic engagement. For REALMS, this translated into Indigenous Seed Systems and Waste Management. In Rwanda, continuous capacity building of CSOs' advocacy skills is crucial. Building coalitions is vital to amplify the collective voice and ensure streamlined efforts and maximise impact. Leveraging the power of CSOs, engaging policymakers, promoting research-driven evidence, and fostering collaboration will deliver a more sustainable and regenerative future in agriculture.

A compost manure heap.

A blooming vegetable garden that has been farmed using organic fertilizer (Boomax).

Regenerative agriculture is more than a practice; it’s a pledge – a commitment to empowering smallholder farmers, safeguard the environment and nature, and preserve our delicate ecosystem. By implementing regenerative agricultural practices, farmers can significantly boost yields while ensuring soil integrity and environmental harmony. On the journey towards a sustainable future, the REALMS project will promote regenerative practices, support learning models, and encourage climate-smart techniques, paving the path for a greener, more prosperous East Africa.

With the REALMS project steering the way, East Africa looks towards a horizon where farming isn't just about yield, but also about nurturing the land and our environment for generations.

By Hannah Mwangi-Jnr. Communications Consultant

Learn more about the REALMS project: