Research on Land Degradation Neutrality in Kenya

Categories: NatureResearch

Assessing LDN

LDN Trends and Drivers

Land degradation remains a major threat to Kenya’s ability to meet the growing demand for food and other environmental services. Desertification is intensifying and spreading in Kenya, threatening millions of inhabitants and severely reducing productivity of the land. The drought situation has accelerated soil degradation and reduced per-capita food production. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), much of the problem is due to a growing imbalance between population, resources, development and environment.

80% of the country is classified as ASALs and varies from County to County. Rapid population growth is exacerbating the existing problems of imbalance between human numbers and available arable land, deforestation, poor land use systems and inappropriate farming methods. All these are among the major problems leading to food crises and desertification in Kenya.

Mechanisms that initiate land degradation in Kenya include: physical processes such as decline in soil structure leading to soil compaction, erosion and desertification; chemical processes such as acidification, leaching, salinization and fertility depletion; and biological processes such as reduction in total biomass carbon, and decline in land biodiversity.

Causes of land degradation are the agents that determine the rate of degradation and include biophysical (land use and land management, including deforestation and tillage methods), socio-economic (e.g., land tenure, marketing, institutional support, income and human health), and political (e.g. incentives, political stability). Climate change is also emerging as a major underlying cause of land degradation, however its drivers are more significant in assessing land degradation.

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Such driver include: Release of airborne pollutants; deforestion etc. The vision of Land Degradation Neutrality is to sustain the natural capital of the land and associated land-based ecosystem services.

LDN baseline is the initial numerical value of the recommended three indicators used as proxies of the land-based natural capital:

  • land cover;
  • land productivity (metric: net primary productivity);
  • Carbon stocks above and below ground (metric: soil organic carbon (SOC) stock).

These indicators correspond to the UNCCD progress indicators and have been recommended as sub-indicators for the indicator 15.3.1, “Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area”, adopted to measure progress toward the SDG target 15.3.

All three indicators are complementary to each other but not necessarily additive. If one of the indicators shows a negative change, degradation is considered to occur, even if the others are positive. Degradation is generally considered to occur when:

  • land productivity shows a significant negative trend; or
  • SOC shows a significant negative trend; or
  • negative land cover change occurs; or
  • A negative change occurs in another nationally relevant indicator.

Data Interpretation

Land Cover Maps (2000, 2010) and Land Cover Change Map

The ESA CCI-LC product which uses the FAO LCML classification was considered to be adequate in representation of land cover categories in Kenya; the classes have been aggregated to five classes to ease interpretation and facilitate effective monitoring. Indeed the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Kenya are mainly dominated by Shrubs, grasslands and sparsely vegetated areas as the maps suggest. However these areas have in recent times experienced conversion and modification of land cover driven by growing demands of human population. The Arid lands of Kenya are mainly inhabited by Pastoralists and agro pastoralists. These regions are mainly suitable for nomadic livestock production. This explains why there isn’t rapid change in land cover class 2 (Shrubs, grasslands and sparsely vegetated). The main change witnessed in the land cover change map is driven by deforestation: from forest to cropland or shrubs. This is prevalent in the humid and sub-humid parts of Kenya whose livelihood system is mainly agriculture (crop farming) and the region has higher population relative to the ASALs.

Land Productivity Dynamics

The product represents Net Primary productivity measured in tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year. It is derived from a 15 year time series of 1999-2013 SPOT VGT NDVI observation. Declining productivity is noted in Eastern parts of Kenya moving towards the coastal region; again this falls in the ASAL regions and from the land cover maps the area is dominated by shrubs. These regions also experience rapid land conversion as population is pushed to marginal ecosystems. Areas of cropland also seem to show early signs of decline in productivity, this is driven by modification in land cover.

Soil Organic Carbon

This indicator shows overall soil quality associated with nutrient cycling and water holding capacity. The map shows 80% of Kenyan Soils having low Organic Carbon. This is true with reference to the Ecological Zones of Kenya whereby the region represented is ASALs. In this zone, the soils are shallow, highly variable, and of light to medium texture. The soils are also of low fertility and are subject to compaction, capping and erosion. A few areas have volcanic soils and alluvial deposits which are suitable for crop production. Heavy clays are found in these areas also, but cultivation is difficult on them due to their poor workability as well as salinity problems.

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Research on Land Degradation Neutrality in Kenya. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved from

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