Originally published at: http://humidtropics.cgiar.org/nutrition-sensitive-landscapes-farm-and-landscape-modelling-to-improve-nutrition-in-kenya/
Mary Adoyo* is a Kenyan smallholder farmer in Masana sub-location, Vihiga county in Western Kenya. For much of the year, she manages the family farm alone while her husband works in Nairobi to support his family with monthly remittances. She produces enough maize on their one acre plot to supply her family with maize meals for only six months of the year. Their farm also produces beans, bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, mangoes, papayas, lettuce, kales and traditional Kenyan vegetables such as mitoo (Crotalaria spp.). Many of these products are sold locally to generate money to purchase food to feed herself and her six children. Often there is not enough money, and Mary supplements the family income by working on nearby farms.
Mary Adoyo feeding her cattle.
She also grows Napier fodder on about 10% of her land to feed her local Zebu cow and calf, and four goats. The cow produces one to two litres of milk per day of which about a litre is consumed by the family and the remainder is sold locally. Mary has a small flock of chickens and generates some income from the sale of about four chickens per year. Once a year, at Christmas, the family eats a chicken.
Baseline studies done by Bioversity International (2013, unpublished) in the region show that, on average, women only eat four out of nine food groups daily. Mary is no exception. The dietary diversity of her and her family is low. Sweet, milky tea is usually drunk in the morning with the daily lunch and/or dinner being maize in the form of ugali, usually accompanied by green leafy vegetables cooked with onions and/or tomatoes.
When the Humidtropics research team from the Farming Systems Ecology Group from Wageningen University (WUR) in the Netherlands visited her in November 2014, she explained that the small size of her land was a major constraint to their food security. This is a ubiquitous problem amongst many of the smallholder farmers in Vihiga county; population growth has meant that farm sizes have decreased as families subdivide their land among their children. That the answer lies in intensification of agricultural production is clear, but what are the options to intensify both the diversity and the production to be able to improve food production and close the nutritional and seasonal food gaps thereby reducing mal- and undernutrition? In addition, can this intensification be done in an ecologically sustainable manner?
In Kenya, a high focus on the intensification of maize, the staple crop, has led to low crop diversity in farmers’ fields. Increasing the agrobiodiversity on a farm has trade-offs, but possibly also synergies to improve the livelihood of the farmer households. Many factors need to be taken into account when trying to determine the optimal level of diversity: cultivation costs, production potential, nutritional quality, market opportunities, and farmer acceptance.
A whole farm bio-economic model can provide a way to evaluate new farm configurations of existing and novel crops and animal types under various future scenarios. These future configurations can be evaluated using a variety of indicators: agronomic, economic, nutritional, and environmental. For a broader view of the effects at the landscape level, the spatially explicit modelling tools can be used to evaluate the effects of the farm changes at a landscape scale to evaluate indicators such as dietary diversity on a landscape scale.
In order to set up such models, a diverse (and large) amount of data is required. This was collected during field work in November 2014 by the researchers from WUR. Detailed farm data was gathered from Mary Adoyo and the farmers who live on the neighbouring farms. Together, this data can be used to examine indicators on a landscape level for a group of neighbouring farmers.
However, the local knowledge of farmers is crucial to setting up and exploring future scenarios, and hence a follow-up visit was planned in May 2015. Two Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were organized for the same group of farmers that were visited in November 2014. In the first FGD, the farmers took part in a participatory mapping exercise to discover how resources from their landscape are used; their area of activity in the landscape where their resources are collected and bought; and where farm products are traded.
Left: first Focus Group Discussion in Masana, Participatory Mapping. Right: second Focus Group Discussion, farmers annotating maps showing future land use changes.
In the second FGD, farmers explored options for growing new crops and keeping new animal types. Discussions were held around the possible limitations of growing these new crops or of keeping these different animals, along with the potential benefits (economical as well as environmental) that could result. These discussions revealed much useful information that could be used to input data into the Farm DESIGN model to evaluate such new enterprises. The farmers also used maps of their own farms to illustrate how they would redesign their own farms if they were to grow these crops or keep these animals.
Further to the FGDs, all the farmers were visited personally to gather specific information regarding their farms that was missing in their farm models and to also discuss their personal challenges and objectives for their farms.
In the coming months, the researchers at WUR will be busy analysing the data collected and will explore the options discussed at the FGDs as well as the objectives provided by the farmers. This information will enable the researchers to determine whether a farm such as Mary Adoyo’s can be redesigned and become more ecologically intensive while, at the same time, providing her family with increased food security, additional diversity in their diets, and improving their nutrition and livelihoods. In addition, trade-offs and synergies on a landscape level, inherent in these new configurations, can be identified and explored thereby leading to improved ecosystem services and landscape coherence for these land-constrained farmers.
*Pseudonym used for privacy reasons.
Humidtropics is carrying out research to identify entry points for improving farming systems. Realizing that improved farming systems do not necessarily lead to improved diets, a nutrition component has been added to Humidtropics' integrated systems research.
Blog and photos by Carl Timler, Ph.D. Candidate, Farming Systems Ecology, WUR. Blog edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics.