Name: Agricultural systems in the Mount Kenya region: Sustainable practices, adaptation, and participatory learning
Project: Environmental consequences stemming from climate change produce extensive livelihood adjustments, particularly for people in acutely vulnerable social-ecological systems. Water scarcity resulting from climate change is a major global sustainability challenge. Livelihood systems in the Mount Kenya region rely on small-scale agriculture and are directly dependent on water availability. However, climate change, population increase, and water scarcity make livelihoods particularly vulnerable. To cope with difficult environmental conditions, such as water-scarcity, poor soil quality, and high temperatures, farmers apply principles of sustainable agriculture, such as mulching and intercropping. Effective water governance within the Mount Kenya region is increasingly important as population pressures increase and irrigation becomes more prominent. Water management at the local and regional levels involves multiple actors and rules which ensure that water is used efficiently in times of both water scarcity and abundance. This research investigates the water governance structure as well as the sustainable agricultural practices throughout the Mount Kenya region in an effort to understand systems that may be better equipped to cope with changing water availability. The research takes a participatory approach where both researchers and farmers actively exchange ideas and knowledge through workshops, community meetings, and participatory video making initiatives.
What were the first steps that you took to start your research?: To start the research, we needed to develop surveys to administer to households and water managers within the Mount Kenya region. After testing questions and revising many times, we finalized the two survey products. Upon arriving in Kenya during the summer of 2013, immediate obstacles such as securing the appropriate means of transportation and training the enumerator team needed to be overcome. Fortunately, these challenges were effectively resolved and a successful three month fieldwork campaign resulted.
What are your working conditions?: Fieldwork in Kenya takes place in rural villages on the northwestern slopes of Mount Kenya. Our research team visits agricultural homesteads in locations near the more populated upper-slopes of the mountain as well as more remote downstream locations, where infrastructure is poorly developed and roads are, at times, difficult to traverse. Typical working days included seven to eight hours of interviewing farmers, collection of extensive GPS data sets, and data cleaning and recording of notes upon returning from the field.
Do you have a mentor that you are working with?: My mentor is Dr. Tom Evans in the Department of Geography, and I am collaborating on this project with Jampel Dell’Angelo, a post-doctoral fellow from Italy.
How has the grant helped you? How are you using the funds?: The grant helped cover the cost of revising and printing surveys while in Kenya, which summed to a total of 750 surveys printed. The grant has also helped pay for camera equipment, which aided in the filming of a documentary on Kenya’s water governance system during the 2013 fieldwork campaign. The video is currently being edited, and we hope to provide it to the IU community soon.