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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Linking farmer, forest and watershed: Understanding forestry and soil resource management along the upper Njoro River, Kenya


This paper presents research-in-progress to understand small farmers’ soil and forestry management techniques in the Upper Catchment of the River Njoro (UCRN) in Kenya. This paper seeks to answer the following questions: How do farmers in the UCRN view and manage soil and forestry resources? What does this imply for development and conservation planners concerned with watershed and environmental services? The study blends social science approaches and biophysical assessment. Interviews were conducted between July and September of 2003 with a sample of 15 hillside farmers located within 200 meters (m) of first order streams or springs. Questions addressed agronomic practices, economic issues, the use of local tree resources, soil management perceptions and practices, and farmer awareness of landscape ecology and hydrology. Biophysical data included inventory, frequency and use of on-farm tree species, soil samples, and GPS points for each farm. Laboratory tests revealed soil quality indicators. This paper presents UCRN farmer perceptions of soil fertility and yields from the interviews and compares these perceptions to an agronomic analysis of yield limitations. Use and perception of forestry resources by interview farmers in the UCRN is also described in relation to large-scale agroecological processes, such as altered hydrologic cycling and soil erosion under new land use and cropping patterns. This information is compared with biophysical data to identify “gaps” between local and scientific knowledge. Consideration of biophysical characteristics of these upland agroecosystems in tandem with farmer perception and management provides insight for environmental planners concerned with the promotion of improved farm and land use systems (LUS) in the highlands of East Africa.

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