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Promoting conservation agriculture to support a thriving food system in Kakamega County, Kenya

CWS envisions a world where sustainable agriculture supports a food system that allows people to thrive despite our changing planet.

Photo of Hana Sahar
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Church World Service (CWS)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

CWS will partner with Farming systems Kenya (FSK), a faith based and agricultural focused non governmental national organization. With 36 years of agricultural development work, FSK has undertaken both national and international assignments in its efforts to serve small-scale farmers and the farming community at large. Over years of experience, FSK has evolved and changed its farming systems approach to respond to the changing demands of its clients and national interests. CWS will also work with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) for research and technical guidance for the farmers, Mamlaka Foods to provide standardized market for farm produce, Safaricom for online farmer profiling and training, and the County Government of Kakamega.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

CWS Africa’s regional office is based in Nairobi, Kenya. CWS Headquarters in the US is based in New York City, USA.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kakamega County, Kenya

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

CWS Africa has a close and familiar relationship with Kenya as our regional office is based there and our staff who make up that team are Kenyan. Since 1978, CWS has worked in Kenya to improve livelihoods, address WASH challenges, respond to natural disasters/mitigate disaster risks, and address discrimination against refugees and LGBTQI+ communities. CWS works with community-based partners to implement sustainable, inclusive, and intersectional interventions. In 2005, CWS initiated the Water for Life project as an entry point for comprehensive, community-based livelihood solutions. CWS has implemented WASH and Livelihood programs in the arid and semi-arid areas of Baringo, Turkana and West Pokot, as well as refugee camp settings in the Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli refugee camps and the Ulyankulu old settlement in Tabora, Tanzania. CWS has also implemented gender-inclusive education initiatives in West Pokot through our School Safe Zones program, and is currently piloting an adult literacy project  project in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Settlement. Since 2016, CWS has been responding to flood-related emergencies in the Tana Delta and has been incorporating climate risk mitigation strategies through agricultural production in order to prepare communities to sustain and build long-term resiliency in disaster prone areas. CWS is well positioned to carry out this project due to our existing relationship with communities and stakeholders in Kakamega county and selected Kakamega for this reason. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Kakamega County is located in Western Kenya, close to Kenya’s border with Uganda.  Kakamega is home to many of the Luhya people, the second largest ethnic group in the country, who rely mainly on agriculture as their source of income and livelihoods. According to a 2019 population census report, Kakamega county has 1,425,084 rural population and 235,567 people living in urban centres. The agro-centered community fosters an environment and culture of hard work, with food and agriculture as a central component of Luhya culture. Many of the typical dishes eaten include Ugali, mushrooms, white ants, boiled beans and sweet potatoes, fine mashed roasted monkey nuts, and sour milk. Sugar cane is the main cash crop while maize is the main food crop. Other crops grown include beans, cassava, finger millet, sweet potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, tea and sorghum.  Most households in Kakamega County only eat one meal per day. 90% of orphaned and vulnerable children are food insecure. 40.4% of children in Kakamega County are not at the adequate height for their age and are malnourished due to protein and mineral deficiency. Yet, Kakamega has the potential for strong agricultural production with rainfall above average and temperatures favorable for crop and animal production.  With a high population density, the average farm size is 1.5 acres for smallholder farmers and 10 acres for large-scale holders. Land is used mainly for farming and income generation through building enterprise. Most households (92%) raise chickens; other common livestock include cattle and sheep. Fishing also plays an important role in Kenya’s economy. With many water sources and ideal temperatures for warm water aquaculture, Kakamega County has the potential to be a flourishing aquaculture community, which would in turn have a ripple effect - helping to create more jobs, reduce poverty, and improve nutrition, incomes, and livelihoods. Demand for fish is also rising and aquaculture is a sustainable way to harvest fish. The Luhya people are strong and resilient and have a rich culture that incorporates traditional dancing, known as Isukuti. Isukuti dancers represent Luhya cultural traditions through their energetic dances, crowd-stirring processions, and brightly colored grass skirts. Dances are performed during special events such as childbirth, marriage, funeral rituals, sports events and religious festivities. The Luhya people hope to build a society that is productive and self-sustaining by optimizing the use of existing farmlands through use of modern technologies for improved production. 

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Currently, Kakamega county experiences a number of compounding economic, environmental, cultural, technological, dietary and policy-related challenges that affect the overall wellness of a community that has the potential to thrive at all levels with a more holistically designed food system. All of these challenges are deeply intertwined and connected. With the rapidly accelerating global climate crisis, these challenges will persist in 2050 without intervention.  With a poverty rate of over 50%, Kakamega County has the highest poverty index in all of Kenya due to a number of compounding environmental, socio-economic and infrastructural challenges, as well as deeply embedded patriarchal traditions. Environmentally, Kakamega County experiences the impact of climate change on crop production through land degradation, pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, poor gold mining, and poor waste management that perpetuate the loss of biodiversity. Natural disasters such as drought and flooding further affect agricultural production and the economic well-being of the community.  Poor soil and water conservation measures lead to land degradation, resulting in higher costs for farmers and crop losses. Soil and water loss, combined with accelerated human destruction, further complicate these challenges.  Communities are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture and are particularly vulnerable, with limited  access to alternative livelihoods. This exacerbates food insecurity and poverty. Small-scale farmers are extremely marginalized in the agriculture value chain, with continuous reduction in yield per acre. They have limited access to markets, value chains, agricultural inputs, and skills and technology that could enhance production. This perpetuates the cycle of hunger and poverty, especially for rural young farmers. Unemployment for young people in Kenya is particularly high. According to a UNDP study, 80% of the currently 2.3 million unemployed in Kenya are between the ages of 15 and 34 years. The Kenyan economy is not creating sufficient jobs to cater to the increasing number of young people. The agriculture sector is a critical entry point to creating jobs, uplifting the living standards of the Kenyan people. Against this backdrop, agriculture has been identified as one of the key sectors to deliver the 10% annual economic growth rate envisaged in the economic pillar of the Kenya Vision 2030 that aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment. This growth could be achieved through transforming small-scale agriculture from subsistence to innovative, commercially oriented and modern agriculture. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

CWS’ vision will address the challenges by working to promote increased food security in Kakamega County through conservation agriculture (CA) as a pilot model for youth-led community transformation of food systems across East Africa. Targeting young farmers with sustainable agriculture will help expand rural livelihoods opportunities while also providing valuable environmental benefits, such as reducing erosion, enhancing soil fertility and water absorption, or sequestering carbon. CA is a set of soil management practices that minimizes the disruption of the soil's structure, composition and natural biodiversity. CA has proven potential to improve crop yields and long-term environmental and financial sustainability of farming. CA is increasingly promoted in Africa as an alternative for coping with the need to increase food production on the basis of more sustainable farming practices. CA is a viable way to address soil degradation resulting from agricultural practices that deplete the organic matter and nutrient content of the soil. CWS will train farmers in CA  in different settings and assess knowledge gaps, promoting CA in densely populated rural areas. CWS hopes to use sustainable agriculture to encourage both the community and the country to rethink both national and county policy frameworks designating CA as a methodology for rebuilding the agricultural sector of Kenya more broadly. Improving and building sustainable agricultural production would not only improve the food system, but would also support employment for young people and strengthen Kenya’s economy. Youth-centered agricultural production is a visionary look into the future of economic growth in Kenya, with a focus on agribusiness that integrates technology as a tool for business and to spark dialogue around policy, culture, diet, and environmental sustainability, creating a vision for 2050. Our vision will use training, research, agroforestry activities, financial literacy, ICT and technology, and advocacy to convene farmers and community members around re-envisioning a food system that not only affects their immediate livelihoods but also offers a more sustainable and cohesive ecosystem that will improve the community overall at socioeconomic, cultural, environmental, technological, health and policy levels. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

People’s lives will be different in a number of ways. With more opportunities for employment, young farmers will be able to provide for their families and themselves. Increased knowledge and training around Conservation Agriculture would not only equip farmers with better tools and methods to improve the food system but would also increase food production, introduce new crops, diversify people’s diets, and build a shared understanding among the community on the importance and utility of a shared effort to both strengthen the food system while mitigating the impact of climate-related devastation that affects the food system. Education and technology pilots will help unite the community in a shared mission and vision and will help influence agricultural, economic, and environmental policies in Kenya. Kakamega county will serve as an example for the rest of the country on how a community with limited resources can mobilize around a shared goal of bettering the community.The ripple effects of sharing knowledge and resources would also have a cultural impact; part of the education campaign will involve discussing the importance of including women and girls as stakeholders and leaders in supporting the improvement of the food system at all levels. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision addresses all six themes; environment, diets, economics, culture, technology and policy. These themes interact with each other in different ways to create a stronger, more sustainable food system and a more hopeful community.   At every step of the project from objectives one through five, CWS will work directly alongside community members as well as the project partners and will consult their expertise and experiences, providing them with the resources to lead the vision. We aim to support a network of leaders from within the community who will continue to catalyze the vision through 2020, 2050 and beyond. 


Objective one of the project is to examine the impact of conservation agriculture in comparison to the conventional agriculture approach. This will be achieved through on-farm research. CWS will conduct participatory research, working with farmers and community members to conduct a comparative study. Farmers who practice conservation agriculture will serve as the intervention group while those practicing the conventional approach will be treated as the control group. Both the intervention and control groups will be provided with farm inputs e.g. seeds (cereals). While the intervention group will be supplied with cover crop seeds for their farms with no inorganic manure, the conventional farmers will be allowed to use the inorganic manure. The size of land for crop planting will be similar in size across the two study groups. The growth and development of crops will be monitored throughout the season from planting to harvesting, and production volumes will be documented. Soil depletion levels will also be measured, as well as crop resistance to various pest and insect attacks. This research will inform the focus of conservation agriculture activities, and will provide a baseline to assess changes in productivity, marketing, and environmental sustainability that result over the course of the pilot.  Based on findings from the situational analysis, the team will design and undertake conversation agriculture pilot activities in selected counties. Using the information collected during the study period, CWS will document the pros and cons of both approaches and put together a report, photo stories, presentations, and briefing notes  for use in policy advocacy activities. 


Objective two of the project is to enhance climate resilient crop and small stock production. To achieve this, CWS will train farmers on how to farm high-yielding crops such as maize, sorghum, millet (cereals); cassava, sweet potatoes (tuber crops), and beans. Trainings will take place both online and in person. Farmers will also be trained in  small stock production of animals like rabbits, shoats, and chickens and how both crops and animals complement a healthy ecosystem. Farmers will learn about no-till/minimum tillage land preparation and  how to use higher-yielding and stress-tolerant crop varieties, including grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetable varieties that will be bred in a demonstration farm. Emphasis will be placed on enhancing crop cover management with soil fertility and fodder production. After the harvest, farmers will be trained in post-harvest practices, such as improving storage and processing methods to reduce food losses and improve food safety. CWS will provide farmers with seeds and other farm inputs. 



Objective three of the project is to promote sustainable land, soil and water management practices. CWS will achieve this by organizing and implementing agro-forestry activities. CWS will work with communities to develop tree nursery beds and later plant the trees together with crops on the farm. CWS will promote agro-forestry with a special focus on reverse phenology as well as bio-intensive agriculture. Tactics such as building terraces and bunds to slow water runoff and enhance absorption will be used. We will also support the construction of water harvesting structures and systems, particularly water pans, to collect rainwater for crop irrigation and household use. Through these activities, we hope to identify and share training on improved water management for small-scale irrigation, including management of water from ground and surface sources. We hope to support community and individual households to establish woodlots that contribute to improving their household income and provide training and promotion of crop residue mulching and encourage water filtration. We’ll also train farmers on using modern technology to provide weather information and conduct soil testing to understand and develop farm management tools. Composting and cover cropping practices will also be emphasized  to ensure that fields are covered by vegetation that protects soil from eroding between crop production cycles. Some cover crops will be vital in enhancing soil fertility or suppressing crop pests.


Objective four of the project is to improve marketing, value chain development and access to finance as well as information on Conservation Agriculture. This is where partnerships with Mamlaka foods, Safaricom, and FSK will be key. CWS will provide training in relevant crop technical disciplines, business and financial management, and marketing, helping to link farmers to relevant support groups and information centers. We’ll support marketing initiatives by evaluating existing markets and potentials for specific crops and products. We’ll facilitate farmer field days and cross-site learning exchanges for smallholders to share experiences and learn from effective practices. We hope to identify and strengthen linkages between producers, processors, traders and consumers and expand opportunities for agro-dealerships and value-added processing of products, allowing smallholder farmers access to the market. CWS will organize promotional campaigns to popularize new crops and products. The use of ICT will be essential; we hope to expand farmers’ access to the market via mobile platforms where they can get information on market prices; weather information; agricultural extension; agro meteorological advisory packages; disaster prevention and control; financial services; and other agricultural statistics. This will include establishment of a weather station where information will be relayed through the mobile platforms. 



Objective five of the project will be to organize rural young farmers towards collective action on conservation agriculture. The group formation of farmers is an essential component of this project. To achieve this, CWS will conduct a situational assessment to understand contextual factors, such as the food security needs within the population, laws, policies and plans that exist to address the issue, resources available, knowledge, attitudes and practices of key actors within different sectors and community capacity and  training opportunities for farmers and government actors/stakeholders. With the help of a farm-based mobile App, CWS will select and organize farmers  into groups and orient them to the project. Based on the assessment, CWS will provide training on group dynamics, by-laws, gender equity, and leadership and management techniques, including managing monthly subscriptions to the mobile app. This objective is an important first step in mobilizing farmers towards a shared vision and uses both policy, technology and culture to begin tackling the challenges in the community.

Advocacy activities promoting CA will be conducted throughout the project alongside farmers and other community supporters, including at relevant county and national events. A county forum will be held to review and integrate conservation agriculture strategies and measures in the county development plan to facilitate mainstreaming of conservation agriculture measures into the policies, regulations and capital budgets.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Join the conversation:

Photo of alexander valeton

dear Hana, this is quite interesting. please check our submission "the Digital Chain' and lets see how we can combine things. And check and see how our digital information and communication channel can be of help for you; especially the blended learning branch works very good; trainers (with digital support) take your people in the field by the hand to train them in the best possible way. thanks and good luck, Alexander

Photo of Hana Sahar

thank you for this! Will do.

Photo of Hana Sahar

Hi alexander valeton , I would like to connect you with the team in Nairoibi. What is your email? I can be reached at


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