Reviving Traditional Knowledge

Sustainable use of resources in small-scale agriculture in Kenya

This project is located in Murang‘a and Kembu Districts in the catchment area of the River Tana and in Meru and Tharaka-Nithi Districts along the River Kathita: Biovision is working with local farmer groups and our Kenyan partner ICE (Institute for Culture and Ecology) to improve the lives of small farming families and maintain the traditional culture and natural environment.
It is focussing in particular on ecological farming methods and the preservation and propagation of indigenous crops. Traditional varieties of millet, beans, sweet potatoes and maize are often better suited to local conditions than modern hybrid varieties and are usually  better able to withstand the effects of climate change.

Participants learn how to store the harvest and source and replant seeds and seedlings and so increase their independence. The demand at local markets for old varieties is rising and the farmers can sell them for profit.

Targeted training in subjects such as soil conditioning, reforestation, erosion control and the use of water for agricultural purposes helps to protect the areas from the negative impact of climatic changes.

Project Goal

Small-scale farmers are provided with targeted information and practical training on how to use local resources and respond to climate change in a sustainable way. They also learn how to look after the eco-system and so create a healthy basis for improvements to their living conditions and incomes.

Ikwa, a waterfall on the River Kathita in Tharaka is an ancient resting place. Tradition prohibits the use of such holy sites but pressure on these protected areas is growing. Biovision is actively encouraging the retention of the local culture and with it the environment (Tharaka, Kenya, 2014).


The unpredictable nature of the weather with its distinct periods of drought and flooding together with ongoing population growth are making agriculture increasingly difficult and with it the lives of communities on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya. At the same time, pressure on natural resources is growing (water shortages, erosion deforestation).

The overexploitation of forests in river catchment areas has resulted in major changes to the eco-system ; the forests are no longer there to act as water storage or protect against erosion. The climate in the project regions is semi-arid. Droughts are common and so the harvest is often poor. As a result, some 50% of communities live below the poverty line.

The main source of income of project beneficiaries is small-scale crop and livestock farming. The older generation still retains much knowledge about ecological and cultural resources, e.g. the use of robust, indigenous seed. However, this local knowledge is increasingly losing its relevance.


Some 2000 people will benefit directly from the project, including 1600 small-scale farmers, young people and those with a disability as well as 400 schoolchildren. The beneficiaries include 1200 women, which represents 61% of the total. A total of 1200 are new beneficiaries whereas 800 were involved in earlier project phases.

In addition, there are a further 4000 indirect beneficiaries; they will benefit from the knowledge and skills generated by the spread of good practice and the informal transmission of knowledge. Restoration of the ecosystem will benefit all those living in these water catchment areas.

The photos show the compost training. Participants play an active role and get stuck in.
They learn that compost requires attention for 2–3 months where they live, after which it can be used as a valuable fertiliser on their land.

Activities 2016 - 2018

  • Train participants in sustainable and drought-resistant methods of agriculture and the generation of additional sources of income
  • Restore 5000 hectares of river bank by preserving  existing woodland and planting new trees
  • Produce and plant 60,000 saplings
  • Improve access to local markets and provide information on product marketing.
  • Provide 500 energy-saving Jikos (ovens) to replace traditional open fires; they require 80%less wood and so reduce the load on the ecosystem  




In 2011, a participative mapping workshop was held in Tharaka  with 8 communities. : Drawing on the knowledge of older generations, the workshops produced a historical map of the River Kathita. This provided a visual representation of the knowledge held by local communities on cultural assets and the traditional use of resources. Using the map, it was possible to demonstrate the changes to the environment over the years and to set priorities for its conservation.

There were additional workshops on “indigenous seeds” during which information on native plant species was exchanged. These workshops helped to collect and retain traditional knowledge and this in turn has allowed farmers to be trained and supported in the cultivation, propagation and marketing of indigenous varieties.

Following the training in composting, soil conditioning, erosion control and the ecological use of water for agriculture, 635 farmers have introduced agro-ecological methods of cultivation and are growing a variety of crops.

More than 36,000 native trees have been planted on the banks of the River Kathita and 467 households are now applying agro-forestry methods, i.e. mixed land use comprising trees and arable crops and are producing fruit, cereals and cattle feed.

Additional details

ICE will help farmer groups develop local strategies on resource use, so that farmers can continue and replicate the project initiatives in future. This will ensure that the positive effects of the project are maintained and developed further in the longer term. An implementation plan will be produced in the first quarter of 2017.