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Community / Land projects / Unraveling complexity: Understanding the land-water-food nexus in Elgeyo-Marakwet, north-west Kenya

Unraveling complexity: Understanding the land-water-food nexus in Elgeyo-Marakwet, north-west Kenya


08/16 - 03/17


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The communities of Elgeyo-Marakwet, northwest Kenya reside across the ecological continuum of the temperate Cherangany Hills and arid Kerio Valley. Heavily reliant on the land-water-food nexus, they offer a well-studied example of resilience in the face of multiple environmental changes over the last 200 years (Davies and Moore 2016). Earlier research by the PI, CoI and team has focused on management of water through a network of built water channels used for agricultural and domestic purposes; the sophisticated management of agricultural soils through complex patterns of tenure and fallowing; management of botanic resources including diverse indigenous and imported crops; and the importance of forests which serve hydraulic functions and as reserves of gathered medicines and foodstuffs. However, recent work indicates growing apprehension of the impact of new ecological changes, including general concerns over climate change, as well as a shift towards water-intensive mono-cropping, the introduction of new crops, and the installation of piped-irrigation which is exacerbating unequal access to water resources. While these latter changes were meant to help mitigate food insecurity, research suggest that they may have had the opposite effect by increasing soil degradation, introducing unfamiliar weeds and crop diseases, and placing pressure on existing water sources. Related to this are concerns about the loss of traditional natural resource management, the loss of culturally valuable biodiversity, and the implications for food security. Compounding these tensions are land-use changes within the Cherangany Forest catchment, especially deforestation resulting from increased agricultural and pastoral activities. This has raised concerns of fertilizer runoff, land degradation, biodiversity loss, and decreased water quality and quantity across the upland-valley ecological continuum. There is pressing interest among local communities and the County government, to understand the implications of these new challenges and develop practical solutions. We focus on disentangling the complex and interdependent land-water-food nexus across the Cherangany Forest reserve and the semi-arid Kerio Valley. Using ethnography, interviews, botanic survey, aerial photography, GIS mapping and building on existing collaborative strengths, we will effect these aims along two axes: 1. Forest Management and 2. Agriculture. We will collate, review and extend existing data to understand the land-water-food nexus in relation to both historic and potential future environmental changes. We will also examine existing literature on regional climatic change and collate local weather station data to produce a practical understanding of how these key axes (forests and agriculture) have and may respond to climatic fluctuation. Production of more highly resolved analyses of potential climate induced impacts seems especially important since current predictions for Eastern Africa are spatially heterogeneous and often of low certainty. To produce localized and grounded knowledge for practical policy making we will partner with Elgeyo-Marakwet County Council, nearby Eldoret University (UOE), the Marakwet Research Station (MRS), British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA), National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) to produce research to be directly incorporated into new county-level environmental and conservation planning. We have undertaken preliminary meetings with County officials and established MOU's with UOE and MRS. This work will advance longer-term goals of developing local research capacity, encouraging appropriate resource management, and devising policy frameworks that track and address emerging climate change and other ecological impacts by bringing together experts, civil society, and policy makers. Davies, M.I.J and Moore, H.L. 2016. Landscape, time and cultural resilience. Journal of Eastern African Studies 10:67-87


The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. The fund addresses the UN sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.

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