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This study assessed afforestation activities in Embu and Kirinyaga counties in Kenya and the contributions of the Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP) to livelihood and environmental sustainability. Quantitative and qualitative research methods were adopted for the study. The representative sample of 421 households was randomly selected and interviewed with the aid of a well-structured questionnaire. Focus group discussions and key informant interviews were also conducted. Data were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics.
Results revealed that afforestation in the catchment area has improved and the presence of community forest associations (CFAs) has led to increases in forest cover in most of the forests as areas initially degraded have been rehabilitated and there has been enhanced species regeneration. For instance, the New Njukiri CFA in Embu West, Kirimari Ward, has planted 150,000 tree seedlings, 75% exotic and 25% indigenous tree species, in 2 years (2015-2017) with an average survival rate of 75%, while the Kangaita Community Forest Users Association has rehabilitated 55 hectares of the Kangaita Forest in Kirinyaga County. The UTaNRMP has led to improvements in the level of mutual accountability, conservation awareness, and learning. Communities have embraced new sources of income like ecotourism, beekeeping and the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Scheme (PELIS) which has helped in increasing forest cover as well as improving food security. The study revealed improved income as the average household monthly income was over 20,000Ksh. Similarly, the average household meals per day was 3 meals and 81.7% of the households indicated no hunger in the last 1 month before the study. Results also revealed that social and economic factors significantly influenced livelihood diversification and afforestation in the catchment area.
Overall, the UTaNRMP has contributed significantly to livelihood diversification, increased level of afforestation, enhanced community-based mutual accountability and learning as well as ensured environmental sustainability. However, there is the need to put in place a sustainable natural resources management framework for enhancing a sustainable balance in afforestation and livelihood in Kenya.
Keywords: Climate change, Agricultural livelihood, Afforestation, Adaptation, Environmental sustainability