Applying the concept of agrodiversity to indigenous soil and water conservation practices in eastern Kenya

Anna Tengberg, Jim Ellis-Jones, Romano Kiome, Michael Stocking

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Agrodiversity - the diversity of cropping systems, crop species and farm management practices has received increasing attention in recent years as a way of spreading risk and supporting food security in resource-poor farming systems. This paper discusses the dynamic aspects of indigenous soil and water conservation (ISWC) practices in a semi-arid part of Kenya. The objective is to show the range of sources of variability and diversity that prevail in this environment, the responses of farmers to this variability, and the way farmers' rationalise the heterogeneity of soil and water management practices. Methods used included participatory surveys and evaluations, on-farm monitoring, soil and rainfall data analyses, and questionnaire surveys. Sources of variability affecting cropping systems and land management practices included rainfall, soil fertility, farmer resource level and farm productivity. A decision-tree was developed to examine how biophysical and socio-economic variability affected farmers' choice of ISWC. Different ISWC structures dominated on sandy and stony soils, respectively. Low resource farmers tended to choose cheaper and less labour demanding techniques, and constructed smaller ISWC structures than better endowed farmers. The largest diversity of ISWC practices was found on newly-opened land with mixed soils. Moreover, on-farm productivity levels indicated that costly investments in SWC are unfeasible, as this would further increase the risk for negative returns to farming. The wider implications of the results are that SWC interventions in marginal areas should build on the existing agrodiversity and an understanding of the complex interactions between environmental and socio-economic factors that give rise to differences in fanning systems and land management practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-272
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 1998


  • Agrodiversity
  • ISWC
  • Kenya
  • Land management
  • Mbeere
  • Semi-arid

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