Stephen Mureithi looking over a Kenyan agricultural landscape. (Courtesy of Stephen Mureithi)
Dr Stephen Mureithi from the Department of Land Resources Management and Agricultural Technology, at the University of Nairobi, has been visiting Sweden.He is part of theme 2 in AgriFoSe; Multifunctional landscapes for increased food security and visited University of Gothenburg, Linköping University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences for workshops and writeshops.
AgriFoSe decided to take the opportunity to ask him a few questions before his arrival.
Q: What is your area of research and what are you investigating at the moment?
SM: My research area focuses on the direct effects of disturbance in dryland ecosystems.
My main interests are:
- Sustainable land, soil and water management,
- Rehabilitation of degraded drylands
- Desertification, a phenomenon often equated to a reduction in the biological and economic potential of land to support human populations, livestock and wildlife and which, ultimately, is linked to global climate change, biodiversity loss, pastoral livelihoods patterns, and land use change.
At present, I am carrying out an IGAD funded project as a Co-PI on “enhancing the resilience of livestock-based production systems in northern Kenya’’ in a consortium of researchers from the University of Nairobi, African Dryland Institute for Sustainability (ADIS), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), an NGO called PACIDA, and the County Governments of Isiolo and Marsabit in northern Kenya.
Q: What will you be doing in the AgriFoSe programme?
SM: I am part of theme 2 in AgriFoSe; Multifunctional landscapes for increased food security, led by Madelene Ostwald. We are conducting science-based syntheses and analyzes aimed at understanding the role of multifunctional landscapes (Parklands in Burkina Faso, enclosures in Kenya and home-gardens in Sri Lanka) in promoting food security. In so doing, we will address the gaps in science and policy with the goal to make these landscapes sustainable and resilient.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in the coming years with your research?
SM: Almost all of my research is now action-research, mainly in the rehabilitation of degraded grazing lands as a way of enhancing land productivity and livelihoods. The hardest nut to crack in this equation is the management of the restored lands, which is a governance issue. In the coming years, I look forward to demonstrating clearly that a household can live only on grass-livestock value chain as a main source of their livelihood. I also look forward to fostering greater partnership for action-research, innovation and technology development and transfer among the University of Nairobi, the dryland communities, County Governments and other stakeholders including NGOs and private business practitioners.
Q: Do you have a research team, who are they?
SM: I have no reserch team, but try to always reach out to others. Of course, I also work together with my students. I believe in networking and creating strong collaborations. I am currently in a number of research consortiums and collaborations. These include:
- Land, Livestock & Livelihood (Triple L Initiative) Dynamics in East African Drylands - started in 2012 in collaboration with SLU, Lund University, JKUAT, University of Nairobi, ILRI and ICRAF, with planning grants from ILRI, SLU and GCGD.
- Research Scientist in the Government of Kenya’s Systems for Land Based Emissions Estimations for Kenya (SLEEK) funded by the Clinton Foundation with funds from Australian Government.
- Application and development of isotope techniques to evaluate human impacts on water balance and nutrient dynamics of large river basins. A Research Co-ordinated Project supported by IAEA.
Q: Why are you passionate about your research, why is it so important?
SM: Imagine you are a pastoralist, majorly depending on livestock as a source of livelihood. Then you wake up one day and the grass is gone, literally! This is how I feel and imagine when I visit most of our dryland counties, especially those in northern Kenya. Either there is no grass or the vital herbaceous cover is missing.
Land degradation negatively influences vegetation structure and density. Consequently, it impacts on carbon assimilation, storage and transport in ecosystems, and cycling of water and nutrients. Range rehabilitation and improved grazing management is an example of ‘a multi-use ecosystem carbon sequestration’, addressing loss of ecosystem function and productivity, and would bear a two-fold benefit:
- Increased CO2 sequestration in biomass and soil leading to increased soil organic matter contents, which in turn will have a positive impact on environmental, agricultural and biodiversity aspects of ecosystems through the subsequent improved land-use and management practices;
- The benefits of an increase in soil carbon storage can include increases in soil fertility, land productivity for pasture and food production and security, and prevention of land degradation, thus leading to economic, environmental and social benefits for the local agro-pastoralist communities.
I love to convert such degraded community grazing lands into productive grasslands. ‘The ecology always works, the elephant is in the management!’
Degraded landscapes are common phenomena in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there are proven methods for turning them into productive grasslands, Mureithi points out. (Courtesy of Stephen Mureithi)
Q: What are you hoping to achieve with your visit to Sweden?
SM: I hope to strengthen the collaboration between the University of Nairobi and the Universities in Sweden, and also the networking among the Triple L researchers.
Q: What are your expectations of the programme? What do you think makes the programme important, and why and to whom does it matter?
SM: I expect that AgriFose will generate knowledge and information that will feed into policy processes in the programme areas, in a way that will make the lives of the communities more food secure, and more resilient and adapted against global environmental changes. It is also my expectation that the knowledge generated will be shared across the study sites, in a way that the lessons, innovations and technologies and best practices can be replicated by the communities. My ultimate goal as a researcher is to contribute in making the lives of people better.
Q: How did you come to be a researcher? Was it a childhood dream? Did you want to solve something?
SM: I knew I wanted to be a plant scientist in high school. I loved biology and chemistry. I ended up in ecology. There is nothing as intriguing as watching a plant grow – you do not see it, but you see the result!
Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?
SM: I enjoy nature travelling with my family, mentoring the youth and agripreneuring – I market healthier coffee, tea and chocolate with the King of Herbs (Ganoderma lucidium) Check it out!
Q: Is this your first visit to Sweden?
SM: Yes, and I am excited about it. I have been to many European Countries in the West, but this is a first to a Scandinavian Country.