The FarmTreeTool explains how less grass on FMNR field means more cows on farms in Kenya

April 17, 2018

Full report available here

This work was funded by WVA FMNR Hub and carried out by Frank van Schoubroeck from FarmTree®Services  World Vision is promoting Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration in 27 countries in Africa and Asia. Farmers clearly benefit – but how? And how much? FarmTreeServices found that more trees means less grass, but more evenly spread over the year. That is why more cows survive on agro-pastoralist farms in Kenya. World Vision helped farmer Nancy Kobol in Baringo, Kenya, to foster the trees on her land. Back in the days, the drought in between rainy seasons dried out the grass – her cows had nothing to eat and in dry years many died. This year Nancy told World Vision that on her farm no cows had died – while neighbours’ cows succumbed –  thanks to the ‘Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration’ she had been advised. World Vision could see she was right, but could not explain it. When there are no trees on the land, rain and sun reach the soil directly. This leads to more and more dense grass during moist seasons. After one month without rain, grass  stops growing. A cow can survive only two months without fodder. On land with carefully pruned trees the growth of the grass is sufficient throughout the dry season. No cows will die of malnutrition. Nancy says: trees make grass grow. The picture below shows it: the grass is darker around the trunks. Now what is the best ratio between trees and grassland? Nancy knows. Her neighbours grow few trees, and their cows died last dry season. But does she speak the truth, or does she want to please World Vision that helped her? That is where the FarmTreeTool comes in handy. It calculates the ideal ratio on land such as Nancy’s, with the trees that grow naturally in Baringo. If you study the scheme below, it proves that Nancy Kombol speaks the absolute truth: she did the right thing.

The left side of this scheme shows a plot without trees, only grass. The situation is very uncertain. In wet periods, grass production is high – but at drought, fodder shortages wipe away almost a complete herd. It takes years to rebuild a lost herd. In the middle you see what happens if you allow local trees to grow on the grassland spontaneously and you prune them according to regulations: grass will endure the dry season longer. Still, the situation is not stable in the first few years. To retain enough water in the soil, you need sturdy, well pruned trees with open space for grass. On the right-hand side of the scheme you see the ideal situation. Mortality of cattle caused by drought is something of the past. Grass is growing less in wet months – but it grows year-round, feeding the cows. In times of scarcity dried bark can be fed to the cows. Goats will thrive on the tree leaves. The farm flourishes: cows may be sold or used for meat and milk at times the prices are high. The FarmTreeTool quantifies all farm inputs. It is even possible to calculate the amount of nutrients for the farmer and her family. At the same time Nancy helps building a sustainable ecosystem that endures climate change. The FarmTreeTool not only helped World Vision and its farmers groups. Nancy Kobol helped to improve the FarmTreeTool in return, by sharing her years of farming experience. In this manner scientific knowledge is directly applicable on African soil, and knowledge gets more refined and sharable with experts and lead farmers. The FarmTreeTool is now available to develop a farm of any size, weather condition and for every available budget in Africa. In the near future, farmers are supported with a tool on their mobile which enables them to make responsible choices and scientifically plan their crops and earnings. NGO’s may supervise the project on the FarmTreeServices website, where results of individual farmers are combined. With the FarmTreeTool NGOs support the development of a diverse and sustainable agriculture in Africa, based on the latest scientific insights.