Cover Image
close this bookObstacles to Tree Planting in Arid and Semi-Arid lands: Comparative Case Studies from India and Kenya (UNU, 1982, 63 p.)
close this folder3. Kenya
View the documentLand Tenure and use
View the documentDefinition and distribution of the arid and semi-arid zones
View the documentGovernment policy on arid zone development
View the documentForestry organization and policy
View the documentRural afforestation and extension
View the documentNeeds for forest products and services in the arid zone
View the documentCurrent programmes of afforestation in the arid zone
View the documentOvercoming the major obstacles to tree planting

Land Tenure and use

The total area of Kenya is 583,000 kmē, and of this only 17,000 kmē (2.7 per cent) are statutorily dedicated forest areas (gazetted forests). About half of the forest is on Government land and the other half on trust land (County Council land). With a population of 15 million, the forest area per head of population is approximately 0.12 ha and, with a population growth rate of nearly 4 per cent (the highest in the world), this proportion may be expected to decline unless drastic steps are taken to curtail forest destruction and to increase afforestation.

The forests are generally found in the areas with high potential for agriculture, and there is continual pressure to convert forest area into farms. Approximately 70 per cent of Kenya's forests occur in water catchment areas on the slopes of high mountains and mountain ranges, e.g., Mt. Elgon, Mt. Kenya, Cherangani Hills, Nandi Hills, and the Nyandarua and Mau ranges; the remaining 30 per cent occur outside catchment areas as small isolated blocks from 1,000 to 40,000 ha in extent. During the 1970s, approximately 5,000 ha of forest land were lost by gazetted excision for agriculture, national park development, and urbanization. Some of the indigenous forests have been converted to plantations, mainly of pines and cypresses with some eucalypts, and approximately 300,000 ha of plantation now exist, divided almost equally between the Government Forest Department and private owners (on non-gazetted lands). Virtually all of these plantations exist in the high rainfall areas (over 800 mm) at altitudes of 1,800 to 2,700 m above sea level.

The bulk of the production of the country (excluding marine products) is essentially agricultural since there are few known mineral resources. However, some four-fifths of the country consists of arid or semi-arid lands (ASAL). Of the total population of 15 million, 10 per cent live in ten districts in the arid zone (248,000 kmē), and altogether 20 per cent live in the ASAL (473,000 kmē or 82 per cent of the total land area).

Although certain generalizations can be made about the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, the term masks the great variety-social and ecological-that is found in the area. A series of spectra is useful to illustrate the complex variations and shadings that actually exist. These might be:

- Control over land: communal to individualistic
- Production system: pastoralism to agriculture and subsistence to commercial
- Settlement patterns: nomadism to sedentarization

Land Control: Communal/Individualistic

Although much literature refers to shifts from communal to individual title, the reality is always more complex, as communal lands were never open to everyone with equal rights. There was always some restriction: for example, a particular kinship group might have rights of grazing on particular lands.

In the 1950s, the colonial government of Kenya started a process of land reform, continued after independence in 1963. Emphasizing first the more heavily settled areas, land reform is now being extended and has affected many parts of the ASAL. But, even when individual title has been given, the land often continues to be used by a lineage or other traditional social group rather than exclusively by an individual.

In the semi-arid areas of Kenya where individual land titles have been given there has already been a noticeable increase in tree planting as landowners wish to secure for themselves an assured supply of fuelwood and building poles.

Instead of using inappropriate labels, it is better to ask "Who has which rights over what lands?" with special reference to rights over trees.

Production: Pastoralism/Agriculture

Most residents of the ASAL have control over some livestock, and most (especially in the semi-arid areas) grow some crops. The precise mix and the specific production system depend on a combination of ecological, historical, and social factors. Of those who own livestock, a distinction must be made between cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys as some references exaggerate the importance of cattle, whereas other forms of livestock may equal or surpass cattle in significance and/or numbers.

Production: Subsistence/Commercial

Both agricultural and pastoral systems of production usually include both subsistence and commercial (cash) sectors. Again, wide variations are found: some farmers may plant large fields of cotton for sale; some herders will regularly sell livestock at the markets, while others enter few cash transactions unless they have a pressing need for money.

Settlement: Nomadism/Sedentarization

This is another misleading dichotomy, because some form of transhumance is common for those whose livelihood derives primarily from their herds, and true nomadism is seldom found. Transhumance involves a seasonal pattern of migration in search of grazing and water within a defined area. Even those residents of the semi-arid areas who are predominantly agriculturalists frequently have dispersed farm plots, in an attempt to minimize risk of crop failure. Other variable factors include the following.

Adaptive Strategies

Recently, anthropologists and other micro-level social scientists have paid particular attention to adaptive strategies or risk-aversion behaviour of people who live in marginal environments such as the ASAL. Given that people live in an area that is subject to all sorts of risks and hazards-crop failure, insect and bird pests, animal marauders, livestock disease, and, in some cases, hostile neighbours-how do people cope? Whenever detailed and systematic studies have been made, it is clear that each society has evolved successful mechanisms of coping. This is not to say that local people have completely mastered their hazards, nor that their strategies are necessarily appropriate today with major changes in population density or technology. But it does mean that an understanding of indigenous knowledge systems (see Brokensha et al. 1980) is essential before preparing any specific proposals for development.

Social/ Stratification

What is the degree of rural inequality? (See Castro et al. 1981 for a discussion of indicators.) Who controls wealth and resources -livestock, pasture, water, credit, good land? What is the degree of occupational specialization? What is the number and influence of teachers (and other government officials), of traders (especially livestock traders) and shop keepers and lorry owners?

Degree of Modernization

This can be measured by basic figures on schools, clinics, and other services or especially in the semi-arid areas) by such proxy indicators as the proportion of dwellings that are at least partly roofed with corrugated iron.

Rural-Urban Links

None of the societies concerned is a closed system. All have links with the outside world, which include export of cash crops, livestock, and migratory labour to plantations and cities. Labour migration varies from place to place. In some areas, migration is a well-established adaptive strategy for coping with recurrent periods of food shortage. There is also a steady stream of imported goods, people, and ideas, so that any ASAL society must be considered in its total socioeconomic setting.

One important rural-urban link consists of charcoal production. With growing demand by townspeople for charcoal as a relatively cheap and preferred fuel, charcoal production increases in the ASAL. Driving along main highways in the ASAL (Mombasa-Voi, Meru-lsiolo, and, further north, Mtito Andei-Kitui), one sees stack after stack of charcoal sacks piled up on the roadside and waiting collection by one of the specialist lorry owners. Poor people treat charcoal as a cash crop, and it is indeed a useful source of cash, but the long-term effects of charcoal production are usually disastrous, in terms both of reducing trees available for fuelwood and of accelerating soil erosion. Some observers (e.g., Kokwaro 1974, p. 18) have suggested the use of improved kilns rather than the traditional covered hod, but kilos are too costly for most producers.


Trees have many uses, some of them conflicting. They are a source of fodder for livestock, wood fuels, shade, building poles, and tool handles. Some trees are multipurpose. People's perceptions of trees vary, with the agriculturalists often having more negative attitudes, desiring to clear their arable land of all trees. Some pastoralists also like to clear trees because they harbor tsetse flies.

Marginal Lands

A major problem results when pressure of population drives people to attempt cultivation on the drier lands, many of which are both very vulnerable and also often unsuited to rainfed agriculture.


How well is the area served by all-weather roads, and by regular markets? How many people have access to a transistor radio? (Radios are likely to be an important source of information, as there are virtually no television sets in the ASAL, and very few people read a daily newspaper.)

Settlement Patterns

What is the density of population, and to what degree is it concentrated or dispersed? How many small towns or market centres exist ?

To summarize, the ASAL population consists of a range of agricultural and pastoral types. There is some commercial agriculture in the ASAL, but it has tended to be limited by physical resources, such as lack of rainfall and poor soils, as well as by socio-economic considerations, including poor transport facilities and a shortage of capital. Subsistence-oriented production, supplemented by seasonal labour migrations and various non-farm activities, continues to be important There is some landlessness, and it is being accentuated by rapid population growth. The pastoral population is comprised of sedentary, transhumant, and nomadic groups who are involved in varying degrees of subsistence and commercially oriented production. The bulk of Kenya's cattle, sheep, and goats are found in the ASAL (Kaufman 1976, p. 255).

Demographic and socio-economic changes have produced important consequences for the ASAL population and environment. (See Hecklav 1978.) The ASAL population has always been subject to periodic fluctuations in rainfall, with the constant threat of livestock losses, crop failures, and food shortages. Traditional responses to seasonal and periodic droughts included temporary migration of both humans and livestock, relying on local wild game and vegetation and exchanges with other areas of stock and labour for food. Within recent decades wage labour, non farm commercial activities, the establishment of commercial livestock and agricultural markets, and improvement in roads and transport, allowing for the easier importing of goods, have reduced in some areas the levelling effect of droughts. People can now purchase food in stores. Moreover, the growth of commercial livestock and agricultural markets have created incentives for intensifying production, increasing herd sizes, and expanding farm operations (see O'Leary 1980).

These changes have not been experienced in all areas of the ASAL. Transport facilities and involvement in labour, livestock, and farm markets remain limited. However, population growth in itself has led to an intensification of resource use, with herd sizes increasing and agriculture pushed into marginal areas.

As in other areas of the sub-Saharan belt, environmental deterioration is occurring in Kenya's ASAL. Over-grazing, soil exhaustion from intensive or continuous cultivation, the expansion of grazing or farming into environmentally sensitive areas, and the general over-exploitation of vegetation and soil resources have been in large part the result of demographic and socio-economic changes and pressures.

Land degradation in areas with such harsh ecological conditions is difficult to repair, and trees and forests have a major role in protecting the rural environment for current and future generations. Yet at present virtually no protected forests exist.

Perceptions of Trees

All detailed studies of uses and perceptions of trees by rural peoples show that there is an extensive ethnobotanical knowledge, with a keen appreciation of species" properties, and that trees are used for a wide variety of purposes. Settled agriculturalists, who have more material culture, probably have more uses than do the transhumant pastoralists. Parts of trees are used for fuelwood and construction timber and also for tools, weapons, musical instruments, dyes, glues, medicines, poisons, fibres, fences, clothing, adornment, ritual purposes, hanging beehives, and other needs.

People in these regions vary in their knowledge and experience in growing and managing tree crops. One example from Kenya indicates that local people knew more about the techniques of propagating one species (Melia volkensii -the seeds must pass through a goat's intestines) than did government forestry officials (Brokensha et al. 1980, p. 123). Generally, people show an unusual degree of resilience in coping with changes in an important resource base. However, experience shows that certain individuals - women, the elderly, ill, handicapped-are likely to suffer more than those who have more effective control over societal resources.