The project seeking to produce more food in eco-friendly way

Initiative boosts food production while protecting key ecosystems

In Summary

• It is designed to support farmers and herders to safeguard food production

• The programme envisions 100k tonnes per year of reduced carbon dioxide

Samson Githinji in his Kilimambogo farm
Samson Githinji in his Kilimambogo farm

Samson Githinji’s farm in Kilimambogo, Timau blossoms with snap peas.

Githinji is a beneficiary of a new pilot programme seeking to produce food sustainably without negatively impacting on the environment.

His farm is contracted by Keitt Exporters to plant snap peas, having been provided with technical services by the company.

“They provide us with seeds and advise on how to use the inputs, such as fertilisers and chemicals, for the good market,” Githinji, who has more than 20 acres, says.

Keitt Exporters Limited prides itself in being the leading exporter and importer of fruits and vegetables to markets in Europe and the Middle East for more than a decade now.

Githinji says he has subdivided his farm to keep on growing to sustain the market.

He said the market is good as a single kilo of snap peas can fetch Sh250 to Sh300.

“We have a contracted company that provides us with seeds and markets,” Githinji says.

Samson Githinji's flourishing farm of snap peas
Samson Githinji's flourishing farm of snap peas

Githinji says the type of farming has transformed his life.

“This farming has helped me to tap my own water from the source. I have transformed my house from timber to stone and educated my children in good schools,” Githinji says, adding that he employs on contract up to 14 people to help during the harvesting.

He says even as he farms crops for export, he also ensures that there is enough for his consumption as well as for sale locally.

Githinji is one of the beneficiaries of a pilot programme known as known as Central Highlands Ecoregion Foodscape (Chef).

It is designed to support farmers, herders and agriculture businesses to safeguard food production, while protecting key ecosystems, water supplies and wildlife habitats.

Some of the activities of the new project are geared towards helping people and environments adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The new project, set to be launched soon, shows that it is possible for the country to increase its food production and support farmers’ livelihoods while protecting its environment, climate and key water sources.


The 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Results showed that the country’s population was 47.5 million.

It is projected that the population in the country could hit over 60 million by 2030.

The 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey showed that households in Kenya have an average of 3.7 members.

The survey showed that women in Kenya have an average of 3.4 children.

Experts are now worried that the increase in population is set to put pressure on natural resources, such as land, especially with the growing concerns of climate change, population explosion and food security.

But how can the country increase its food production and support farmers’ livelihoods while protecting the environment, climate and key water sources?

On October 16, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN will be highlighting the crucial role that water plays when it leads the global community to commemorate World Food Day Ceremony under the theme 'Water is Life, Water is Food. Leave No One Behind'.


The theme of the October 16 event aims to highlight the critical role of water for life on earth and water as the foundation of food.

Lack of water often invites deadly conflicts.

The water availability per capita in the country in 2010 was 647 cubic meters and is projected to decline to 475 cubic meters by 2030.

This is against a global benchmark of 1,000 cubic meters due to poor agricultural practices and climate change.

The Nature Conservancy Director for the Chef project Michael Misiko said the environment cannot be conserved without fixing agriculture.

“It becomes very important to invest not just skills or resources but also partnerships that are necessary to ensure that agriculture as a tool fixes the environment,” Misiko says.

The project seeks to ensure that water is used in an efficient way and ensuring that they are not polluted.

Farmers must grow their crops or tend to their livestock in a sustainable way.

The programme is designed to support farmers, herders and agriculture businesses to safeguard food production while protecting key ecosystems, water supplies and wildlife habitats.

John Maina with grafted hass avacado in nursey. Image: Gilbert Koech.
John Maina with grafted hass avacado in nursey. Image: Gilbert Koech.


The expected outcomes of the programme include helping herders to sustain or improve their livelihoods, more livestock grazing or fodder available, rangelands protected, more carbon sequestered and fewer greenhouse gasses emitted, and wildlife habitat protected, including for endangered species.

Misiko said the programme not only builds the capacity of farmers but also finds a market for their yields.

“Crops and livestock that adapt to the shocks due to the impacts of climate change are also adopted. Farmers are also supported to harvest water,” he said.

Misiko said the initial budget for putting up the project was $3 million (Sh442 million).

“For the next five years beginning next year, we are beginning to work on a budget of $20 million (Sh29 billion),” he says.

Misiko said agriculture must be practised in a sustainable way that protects the soil by reducing erosion and enhances biodiversity below the ground and above the ground to ensure productivity is achieved.

The new programme brings together 11 counties, ranging from those around Aberdares and Mount Kenya Water Towers, the origins of crucial rivers.

Water sources are very critical for agriculture and wildlife, which are found within some of these biodiversity areas around Isiolo and Samburu, some of which are heavily fragmented.

“We started with market elements and moved on to do the water component, which is very important. We then moved to work on the last component, which is the farmer hub,” Misiko says.


Misiko says the Syngenta Foundation is working on farmer hubs and aggregation centres, which bring farmers together and enable them to access markets for their produce.

“We have prepared about 200 hubs, and each hub brings on board around 150-200 farmers. This comes to a minimum of 30,000 smallholders that we are targeting at the moment in a coherent way,” he says.

Different organisations are doing different things for the farmers.

The smallholder farmers have their capacity to produce enhanced, their produce aggregated and linked to the markets.

Producers dealing in crops as well as livestock are targeted under the programme, whose first phase runs for five years.

Misiko says at the end of the first phase, some 300,000 producers will have been reached.

“If we reach 300,000 producers, it will enable us to have an effect that is self-sustaining through the markets, government systems and private sector,” he says.

Some of the expected outcomes of the Chef programme include helping herders to sustain or improve their livelihoods, more livestock grazing or fodder available, rangelands being protected, more carbon being sequestered and fewer greenhouse gasses emitted, and wildlife habitats being protected, including for endangered species.

Under the programme, it is envisioned that 1,500km of streams and rivers will be under improved management, 100,000 tonnes per year of reduced carbon dioxide will be achieved, and 150,000ha of land will be under improved management.

Misiko hopes the project covers 150,000 hectares, with huge ripple effects.

He says the potential is huge if rivers come from higher areas and the biodiversity is sustained as this will also help to sequester carbon.

Cetrad director Boniface Kiteme praised the new initiative, saying it is very consultative.

“We arrange our research and training activities around five main areas,” Kiteme said.

“The first one is on water and land resources management and governance, rural development and agrarian transformation, centre-periphery ingredients to understand dynamics in rural livelihoods.”

Kiteme said other areas of research include integrated knowledge management systems that help to foster evidence-based decision-making, planning and project implementation.

He said they have a number of activities that are ongoing.

“We emphasise very much on water governance structures at the grassroots level because of the argument that we have serious water scarcity,” Kiteme said.

"The problem can be addressed if the governance structures are effectively functioning."

He said the role that the Water Resource Users Associations play is crucial in enhancing participatory water governance activities on the ground.

“It is important that these institutions are supported to be able to function,” he said.


Keitt production manager John Madadi said climate change has hurt farmers.

He said Mount Kenya Forest used to be well protected with a lot of snow, which would melt and provide water. The snow has however been disappearing at an alarming rate.

“Farmers who used to produce five tonnes are now producing three tonnes.”

Madadi said they help farmers practise sustainable farming to help reverse some of the impacts.

He said the active farmers in Timau are 50, covering 300 hectares (741 acres).

“We have trained farmers with the help of stakeholders to understand that as they go about their agribusiness, they need to ensure that the environment is kept safe and clean and secure because at the end of the day, we are part of the environment,” Madadi said.

Madadi said one acre of land can give around six tonnes.

He said water from farms is directed into soak beats to clean water before being released into the environment.

“When we contract the farmers, we agree with them on the price,” he says.

Madadi said during the low season, they will pay as little as Sh160 and Sh250 during the high season per kilo.

He said the market has been rising steadily, adding that countries such as Europe are very keen when it comes to food safety.

“They do frequent testing and once they do so and realise that your product is not safe for human consumption, they will delist you,” Madadi said.

He said they narrowed down to the individual farmers to score well in food safety.

He said even as the contracted farmers plant for overseas markets, they also plant crops for local consumption.

Madadi said farmers are vetted to find out if they know about food safety and quality.

MESPT Partnership and fundraising coordinator Margaret Miano said they are working on agri-enterprises development space for value chain development and financial inclusion.

“Our key focus areas are agri-enterprise development, access to finance and financial inclusion, productivity and food safety and green transformation,” she said.


The pilot for Chef, which was part of co-creation, ran in Laikipia for six months.

“We were working in three value chains: one is avocado value chains, Irish potato and export vegetables,” she said.

Miano said they work with partners using a market system approach.

“The engagement with smallholder farmers is driven by the private sector which in our case is the market,” she said.

“In all the value chains that we intervened in this pilot, we identified the market first and then worked backwards to see what are the needs and the gaps.”

Miano said within the avocado value chain, they worked with Keitt Exporters not only to buy avocados but also to offer extension support to farmers.

Keitt was also their partner in exporting vegetables, such as snap peas, the snow peas that they buy from farmers.

“They support also compliance issues and training of smallholder farmers,” Miano said.

The county government was their focal point as they work closely with the community and they know the gaps.

“The county government supported the identification of the value chains for the region. It supported identify producer groups,” she said adding that they work with organised farmers in groups that are registered.

Miano said having farmers organised in groups that could be cooperative or Community-Based Organisations is crucial for outreach and ease of capacity support.

“We got in from a point of seed system, production, all the way to the market,” she said.

Miano cited the avocado value chain, saying it is new within the region.

“We realised that we did not have a lot of farmers engaged in the value chain, and the ones who were there had a small population of avocado trees, and they did have a steady or contractive market,” she said.

“One of the things that we promote as an organisation is contract farming.”

She said contract farming gives farmers the confidence to invest since they have a guarantee of off-take by the buyer.

“The buyer also helps to guide on the qualities and varieties that are required, and we work with them step by step,” she said.

To increase the number of farmers in the avocado value chain, Miano says they started by identifying seed entrepreneurs.

Miano says one seedling could go by up to Sh250.

One such entrepreneur is John Maina, who has been grafting hass avocado in Mutethia, Meru county.

Initially, Maina who moved from Nyeri, said he found maize, beans and potatoes being the cash crop.

He says he is the first farmer to put up an avocado nursery after he was supported with seeds.

“Before I sell my avocado seedlings, Kephis (Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service) has to come and certify that I’m selling the correct seedlings to farmers,” Maina says.

He says that one seedling of hass avocado goes for Sh150.

In Maina’s nursery, there are 850 grafted hass avocados set to be ready for planting in the next two months.

He has also planted some of the hass avocados on one and a quarter of his farm.

To water his seedlings, Maina has in place a water pan that can water his farm for more than three weeks.

Ephantus Mwai is another farmer who has embraced avocado farming.

Mwai, who has been trained, has already planted 72 trees and is still planting more.

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