This is a participatory, systems-oriented and collaborative research project that aims at improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in western Kenya through integration of promising multipurpose grain legumes into the farming system. The project is led by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in collaboration with Cornell University (USA), University of Nairobi (Kenya), Egerton University (Kenya), Appropriate Rural Development Agriculture Program – ARDAP and Rural Energy and Food Security Organization - REFSO (NGOs), and AVENE Community Development Organization (a CBO). The project is working with groups of smallholder farmers in Nandi, Vihiga and Busia Counties in western Kenya to develop, refine and scale-out promising legume options for improving the productivity of the systems.
High population pressure on land has led to farm fragmentation in western Kenya, resulting in continuous cropping in an attempt to ensure household food security. This has resulted in soil fertility degradation and a decline in productivity. The western Kenya smallholder systems are extremely variable with respect to rainfall, temperature, soil fertility, prevalence of pests and diseases, land and labor scarcity, income, market and preferences. These factors must be taken into account in the formulation of appropriate production options. Therefore, options available for enhancing productivity must be applied in context. In other words, options must be matched to contexts. This requires comprehensive site characterization to establish the contexts in which to apply the options. In order to describe the contexts for the application of the various legume production enhancing options, a GIS-based site characterization is necessary.
Grain legumes have the potential to improve the productivity of smallholder systems. The project’s strategy involves the incorporation of multipurpose grain legumes into the system to rejuvenate the system health and improve productivity. Agro-Ecological Intensification (AEI) refers to improving the performance of Agriculture through integration of ecological principles into farming system management. The project has adopted the AEI approach and matching of options to contexts to facilitate the improvement of the ecosystem and realize multiple benefits of multipurpose grain legumes. Some of the key AEI principles being addressed by the project include environmental resilience, use of local resources, facilitation of production under resource limitation, use of local and global knowledge, and functional diversity.