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Low cost, farmer-led, community-based program to restore dryland ecosystems through sustainable agricultural and agroforestry practices that increase crop yields, improve soil and water resources, and generate income.

About the Implementing organization

Name: Drylands Natural Resources Centre (DNRC)

Country: Kenya

Year of establishment: 2008

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status / Community enterprise or business / Indigenous group or organization


Business as usual: As demand for firewood increases with population pressure and as agricultural productivity declines due to climate stress, farmers have been forced to over-exploit their farmland and adjacent forests. These lands have historically stabilized regional soil and water features. The result is soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and diminished water tables—a vicious cycle of environmental degradation and declining agricultural productivity.

DNRC has flipped these climate-based feedback loops from negative to positive. DNRC delivers an ambitious program of long-term community engagement, in which families restore their land through the application of agricultural and agroforestry best practices that increase crop yields, improve soil and water resources, and generate valuable tree products:

-Years 0-2: Farmers gain knowledge, expertise and solidarity with fellow participants.
-Years 2-5: Farmers realize increased water retention in riparian buffers and improved yields of crops planted amongst nitrogen-fixing trees; initial harvesting for fodder, firewood, berries, and honey.
-Year 6-onward: Farmers manage their maturing trees as a sustainable supply of fuel and enjoy consistently higher yields within a revitalized ecosystem.

Now in the 10th year, many of the early participants are seeing large benefits (fuel, food, fodder). This is encouraging increased participation as people can see the model is "working" and that the organization is here to stay.

Nature Element

Forests / Grasslands / Drylands / Wildlife

Type of Action

Protection / Restoration / Sustainable use / Access and benefit sharing / Invasive species / Awareness and education / Advocacy for land & water rights

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Water security / Disaster risk reduction / Peace and security / Health / Renewable energy / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

The environmental and conservation value of DNRC’s agroforestry and improved agricultural management program includes:

-Healthy ecosystems that enhance bio-diversity and support wildlife: An increase in insects, reptiles, birds, and small mammals is visually apparent and anecdotally verified. DNRC would like to use part of the Equator Prize to bolster its monitoring.
-Ecologically-friendly agricultural practices: including intercropping and bio-pesticides to reduce synthetic input usage.
-A nursery with over 30 different species of trees well adapted to semi-arid conditions in eastern Africa and that have several beneficial uses (food, shelter, medicine, fuel, water, etc.).
-An extensive seed bank of locally-collected varietals that is valuable from a tree conservation and diversity standpoint and the associated local knowledge about propagation and sapling management.


The program has grown organically over the last 10 years. It started humble with about 25 households, mainly the immediate neighbours of Nicholas Syano (who was born and raised in the Maiuni village). Every year it grew as more farmers learned about the program, and as funds were raised or revenue sources developed to manage the expansion. Now there are over 600 households (over 3,000 people) in 13 villages. After 10 years’ people can truly see the benefits of the program. The cooperative structure is strong and well-respected in the community. The expansion is completely bottom up and farmer-led. Far more people want to join DNRC than there are resources available. With funding and resources, this cooperative model could easily be expanded many times over. There are millions of acres of dryland in Kenya facing similar issues.


Aside from UNDP’s Drylands Development Centre, few institutions are committed to supporting dryland communities in combating desertification, drought, and other climate stresses. DNRC is developing what the UN identifies as lacking: practical strategies for resource management; more active and environmentally-responsible participation in markets; and bridging the gap between science and development practice.

DNRC has learned a great deal about agroforestry and permaculture in semi-arid East Africa while selecting, raising, and monitoring the survival rates and attributes of 100,000s of trees of thirty different local species. DNRC has shared its learnings with Komaza, a large and fast-growing forestry enterprise in Kenya, hosted visits from various research institutions, and is working to best utilize the valuable data DNRC have collected.

The DNRC model certainly be applicable to the hundreds of millions of farmers in dryland regions across the world.

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