SLU news

“The most difficult barrier to landscape restoration is the change of mindset”

Published: 10 September 2018

AgriFoSe2030- affiliated researcher Stephen Mureithi presented in the Development Research conference, DevRes18, that took place in Gothenburg on the 22-23 of August. DevRes is a bi-annual international conference gathering hundreds of researchers at the forefront of development. He was part of the panel "Restore more – it’s all about Multifunctional Landscapes" and we’ve asked Stephen a few questions to understand more about restoring multifunctional landscapes.

What is the most difficult barrier we face to restore more and create multifunctional landscapes?

 The most difficult barrier according to me is the change of mindset, be it the farmers’ mindset or the government’s. There is a way people are used to do things, and knowledge passes through generations or government regimes. However, to introduce something different from the regular flow of things is difficult. For instance, to convince the pure pastoralist communities to adopt grass as a crop, and grow it for their livestock requires persistence and patience. I have met many people, including scientists arguing that pastoralists should be left to migrate when grazing resources and water are exhausted in one place. That is OK, if, where they are moving to, has pasture.

– In northern Kenya, most areas now are bare. The herds end up in private property, and the pursuit for resources ends up in armed conflicts, loss of lives, property and livestock. I do not say that everyone should grow grass, but at least some people can invest in fodder value chain so that availability of quality fodder can be smoothened throughout the year, including drought periods. Restoring a degraded community’s grazing lands into productive grasslands is not difficult. As some would say; ‘the ecology always works, the elephant is in the pre-restoration management and governance!’, says Stephen Mureithi.

What are the most efficient way of building resilience in the drylands?

 Building resilience is complex and requires multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches. In my view, agricultural growth and comprehensive food and nutrition security cannot be attained without increasing the capacity of vulnerable people in the drylands to cope with disasters and crises such as drought and floods. There is a need to help countries, counties and institutions to increase this capacity. It can be done around four main areas; vulnerability analysis and resilience measurement; resilience policy and strategy development and implementation; vulnerability reduction at community and household level; and preparedness, coordination and response to crises.

– We need to work a lot with adaptation measures during the more stable periods, to then be able to pacify the effects and impacts of disasters when they strike. Together, we also need to facilitate exchange of efficient resilience practices and promote knowledge-sharing across countries.

How can enclosures work as a land management tool in African drylands?

– We have seen a trend of increasing adoption of enclosures in Eastern Africa where most of the arid and semi-arid areas are degraded. The adoption of enclosures is driven and sustained by a combination of factors such as tenure insecurity, pasture shortage and poor management of pastoral commons. In some counties in Kenya for instance, enclosures were mainly established to demarcate boundaries, provide grazing reserves, enable proper/judicious land management, and facilitate crop cultivation in a pastoral setup and to curb land degradation. Increasingly, they are being established spontaneously by the agro-pastoralist communities for fodder or crop production and livestock management. In this way, they become a key tool for range rehabilitation and improved grazing management which is multifunctional. It increases CO2 sequestration in biomass and soil leading to increased soil organic matter, which in turn have a positive impact on environmental, agricultural and biodiversity aspects of ecosystems.

– The results of an increase in soil carbon storage include increases in soil fertility, land productivity for pasture and food production and security, and prevention of land degradation, thus leading to economic, environmental and social benefits for the local agro-pastoralist communities. 

One last question: the DevRes conference is a biennial conference engaging in the debates at the forefront of development studies. What was your experience of the conference in general?

 The overall conference was very well-organized, and it was amazing on what was accomplished within the 2 days. The choice of venue was also great, and the walking from the main conference center to the School of Global Studies gave the participants a good health break with some physical exercise!

Interview by Anneli Sundin, AgriFoSe2030 Communication and Engagement.


Stephen Mureithi is a rangeland ecologist and soil scientist. His research focuses on the direct effects of disturbance on dryland ecosystems, their restoration, and its effect on land, livestock and pastoral livelihoods. He is currently serving as a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology (LARMAT), University of Nairobi, Kenya. 

See more details on his profile page at or read our interview with him about when he did a research exchange within the AgriFoSe2030 programme in 2017.

Check out Dr. Mureithis relevant paper on enclosures: Benefits derived from rehabilitating a degraded semi-arid rangeland in communal enclosures, Kenya.


Madeleine Ostwald

Madelene Ostwald, Assoc. Prof.

Challenge leader of Challenge 2
Department of Thematic Studies/Environmental Change
Linköping University 
Telephone: +46 708-51 93 11