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Rangeland Degradation and Resilience: Insights from Laikipia, Kenya

Prof Andrew Dougill (SEE), Prof Lindsay Stringer (SEE)

Project partner(s): World Agroforesty Centre (ICRAF) (CASE)

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Drylands cover over 40% of the world’s land area and are home to many of the poorest people who are extremely vulnerable to ecological and climatic changes. Leeds research on semi-arid rangeland systems has highlighted the need for new forms of integrated assessments (e.g. Dougill et al., 2010; Favretto et al., 2016) and stressed the requirement for long-term monitoring linked to a new dryland development paradigm (Stringer et al., 2017).

Kenya is a particularly important study country given its extensive semi-arid rangeland cover (c. 80%) and the high profile threat from land privatisation which has inhibited the mobility of pastoralists and their livestock (Homewood, 2008). This project will extend ongoing monitoring undertaken by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) to investigate changes in ecosystem health and resilience in Kenya’s Laikipia County over the past 50 years, focussing on the Lolldaiga Hills Conservation Landscape by combining remote sensing data with local knowledge.

In Laikipia, one method used to rehabilitate degraded areas is through mobile bomas (livestock enclosures), which are highly appropriate for the local livestock-keeping communities. The effect of mobile bomas on plants and soil has been demonstrated over periods of months (Porensky & Veblen, 2015). However, the long-term impacts of bomas on vegetation is a key knowledge gap for assessing the sustainability of this pastoral management practice.

This study will address the following indicative research questions:

  1. How has ecosystem health and resilience changed in the Lolldaiga Hills Conservation Landscape and the surrounding areas during the past 50 years?
  2. How does satellite remote sensing data compare with local knowledge and can these two types of knowledge be integrated for improved modelling of ecosystem dynamics?
  3. Can frequently-moved bomas occupied for shorter periods enable larger areas of land to be rehabilitated per unit time, how does boma occupation period affect vegetation persistence over the long term, and how should management adapt to changing climatic conditions?
  4. What are the barriers to successful rehabilitation of Laikipia’s rangeland through mobile bomas and/or other land management techniques?

The project will build on a range of recent funded projects conducted in Kenya by both Leeds and ICRAF staff. For example, the NERC El Niño Programme study on ‘Agricultural Climate Resilience to El Niño in sub-Saharan Africa (ACRES)’ and GIZ-funded Economics of Land Degradation work on the ‘Costs and benefits of sustainable land management practices in Kenya’). ICRAF have been monitoring ecological changes across the proposed study region over the last decade and linking this to satellite remote sensing analyses (Vågen and Winowiecki, 2014) to build up an assessment of spatial and temporal patterns of change. This study will add to this ecological monitoring database and enable its interdisciplinary integration with historical insights gained from interviews with local communities across the region.

This project will enable integrated training and skills development across ecological, climate, remote sensing and qualitative methods as required for identifying sustainable land management solutions for dynamic dryland systems globally. It will allow quantification of resilience indices and assessment of the utility of remote sensing-derived insights to facilitate the targeting of restoration efforts which are becoming increasingly important in light of global targets of zero net land degradation by 2030. Project findings will support policy development as well as the evaluation of large-scale ecosystem restoration projects.


Dougill, A.J., Fraser, E.D.G., Reed, M.S. (2010). Anticipating Vulnerability to Climate Change in Dryland Pastoral Systems: Using Dynamic Systems Models for the Kalahari. Ecology and Society 15 (2): 17.

Favretto, N., Luedeling, E., Stringer, L.C., Dougill, A.J. (2016). Valuing ecosystem services in semi-arid rangelands through stochastic simulation. Land Degradation and Development.

Homewood, K. (2008). Ecology of African pastoralist societies. Woodbridge, UK: James Currey, p. 292.

Porensky, K.L., Veblen, K.E. (2015). Generation of ecosystem hotspots using short-term cattle corrals in an African savanna. Rangand Ecology & Management, 68(2), 131-141.

Stringer, L.C., Reed, M.S., Fleskens, L., Thomas, R.J., Le, Q.B., Lala-Pritchard, T. (2017). A New Dryland Development Paradigm Grounded in Empirical Analysis of Dryland Systems Science, Land Degradation and Development, . doi: 10.1002/ldr.2716

Vågen, T-G., Winowiecki, L.A. (2014). Northern Rangelands Trust: baseline assessment of rangeland health-Kalama and Namunyak Conservancies. World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi.

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Agriculture
  • Biodiversity
  • Botany
  • Conservation
  • Conservation biology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental conservation
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental science
  • Geography
  • Remote sensing