Integrated analysis of land use changes and their impacts on agrarian livelihoods in the western highlands of Kenya

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Land degradation is affecting rural livelihoods across sub-Saharan Africa. Promoting sustainable land management requires a thorough understanding of land use change drivers, processes and effects. However, in most African countries reliable data for such investigations are missing. We therefore test an integrated approach to analyse land use dynamics, combining remote sensing images, an in-depth quantitative survey, stakeholder interviews and local statistics. We analyse land dynamics and agricultural production over a 25-year period in Vihiga District, Western Kenya. Specifically, we examine how land use has changed in this period, the main drivers for land use change, and the main effects of these changes on agricultural production. Vihiga District is one of the most densely populated rural areas in Africa. We find that the district has undergone rapid land use change in the past 25 years. In particular, there has been a major conversion of forest and bare land to agricultural land use. Often, it is stated that increasing population pressure triggers agricultural intensification; however, we find little evidence of such a process in Vihiga District. Productivity of tea and, to a lesser extent, vegetables increased but the yields of maize and beans, the most common crops, fluctuated around a ton per hectare. Overall, per capita food crop production dropped by 28% during the past two decades. Our study shows that high and increasing population pressures do not necessarily lead to agricultural intensification, and that there is a need to consider more explicitly off-farm income in development and land management policies and projects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • soil fertility management
  • proximate causes
  • cover
  • deforestation
  • africa
  • sustainability
  • expansion
  • dynamics
  • district
  • growth

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