The greatest amount of abandoned degraded land occurs in the western portion of the Block, particularly around clusters 1, 2, and 4. This area should be the focus for land rehabilitation work. Elsewhere in the block, soils are degraded, but still cultivated. These areas should be targeted for soil conservation and development of agroforestry systems that maintain more permanent vegetative cover. Additional erosion and hard setting on these sites could render them unfit for cultivation.
Interventions in this block should mainly focus on soil conservation and increasing soil cover, boosting soil fertility and enhancing biodiversity. When discussing interventions with communities, farm size and soil depth restriction need to be considered. Average farm size is 4.3 acres, which is considerable smaller than elsewhere in the river basin. More than 30% of the sampled points have soil depth restriction at 20 cm, hence it is important that soil depth is assessed before any activity is planned and implemented.
Soil erosion and hard setting is a major problem in this block and baseline data shows severe land degradation in the entire block, except for the river valleys (cluster 3). Hence, activities which halt the degradation of areas that are still being cultivated should be given priority. The Project should also promote rehabilitation of degraded areas, particularly in the western portion of the block. Such activities should include tree planting and control of free-grazing. Over 70% of the households practice conservation, and yet the entire block continues to experience soil erosion and large scale runoff. The project should assist the communities to improve soil conservation measures.
The areas adjacent to the tributaries of the Yala River need to be stabilized and interventions set up to protect the river banks. Recommended interventions are improved fallows and other leguminous cover crops such as Dolichos lablab and Mucuna spp. and planting of indigenous trees in riparian buffer zones.
In general, farmers are interested in agroforestry; however, most farmers have planted Markhamia lutea and Eucalyptus spp. and have poor knowledge of other indigenous trees and their purposes. The most common species besides these two are fruit trees, cCypress spp., Grevillia robusta, and Jacaranda mimosifolia, all exotics. There are a wide range of indigenous trees which are suitable for the area, which should be promoted through trainings and meetings with community groups and extension officers. Focus should be on species suitable for timber, fuel, fodder, and soil fertility. In order to successfully increase the tree cover of this block, there is a need to focus on the purposes and benefits of indigenous trees. More than 70% of the farmers are not self sufficient with firewood and under general comments many farmers asked for more knowledge on trees and especially inquired about access to seeds. Hence, there is an interest for tree planting which this project should capitalize on. This can be done through trainings of community groups, by tree planting in screening trials and degraded areas, and in schools.
Many farmers cite old age and ill health as a constraint. The project should evaluate the labour requirements of improved practices and assess the appropriateness of the activities given this constraint. The project might also look at the nutrition of the populationoino and find alternative food sources, that facilitate balanced nutrient intake.
Striga spp. Iinfestation is important in the block, but less important than elsewhere in the river basin. Striga weeds grow well on poor soils with low soil fertility. Studies in Western Kenya, by Boye (2005)1 and Gacheru and Rao (2005)2, show that relay-cropping maize and beans with improved fallows reduce Striga infestation after a few rotations. At the same time, soil fertility is improved and the farmer has additional benefits from the wood produced by the fallow crop, fodder and firewood.
Many farmers listed erratic rainfall as a major constraint at farm level. The erratic rainfall pattern of Lower Yala is likely to continue and perhaps worsening in the coming years because of climate change. Hence, interventions which increase soil cover and soil fertility, and which promote diversification should be given priority, since these interventions will buffer the variable climatic conditions. Secondly, the few but heavy rains should be harvested in ponds and dams to ensure better water availability throughout the year. Hence, establishment of ponds and dams is another priority activity for the project.
All households surveyed have livestock; however, 83% of the farmers are experiencing problems with their livestock. A large number of farmers report health problems and the lack of adequate veterinary services in the area. Ticks and tick-borne diseases are a problem in the area. The Livestock Officer of the Project should look into this and liaise with potential service providers to find affordable and appropriate solutions for these farmers. Fodder supply and quality is not as important a problem in this area as it is elsewhere. Free-grazing is a major problem in the entire block and is a threat to tree plangent activities. The project should therefore assist the communities in setting-up by-laws to control free-grazing and promote live fencing. It is imperative that free-grazing is controlled for the project to have any impact in terms of tree planting and rehabilitation of degraded areas. Several Acacia species can be planted as live fences since they are tolerant to browsing. Establishment of fodder banks and the encouragement of hay production might also be considered with communities. If farmers begin controlling grazing, an alternative fodder source needs to be provided. Planting trees at wide spacing (e.g. 4 x 10 m) on degraded sites would allow for both wood and grass production, where the grass could be used to augment fodder availability for farmers. Another option that needs to be explored with communities is intercropping food crops with a legume that can also be used as animal feed. One such system is improved fallows. The legume, Dolichos lablab can also be used as animal feed.
In general, few farmers have improved breed livestock. To upgrade the breeds, the project should introduce hybrid bulls and goats perhaps in collaboration with the Kenyan dairy goat association. Their regional office for the Western Kenyan branch is in Mbale. Rotating the hybrid sires in the area and controlling breeding with local bucks will be more cost effective compared to buying individual hybrid animals. However, a rotational system requires more management.
Finally, establishing and strengthening of community groups should also be an activity of the project. Most of the farmers who have received training are members of groups. Yet a significant number of farmers in the area do not belong to groups and have not received training. Also, for the scaling up of successful project activities, well functioning groups are imperative. Furthermore, the problems of flooding in the middle and lower parts of the block are mainly caused by activities up-slope. The link between the farmers up-slope and the farmers down-slope should be made through trainings for groups in both locations.