Smallholder Farmers’ Perception and Practice of On-Farm Tree Species Diversification in Siaya County, Western Kenya
Wanjira, Erick Otieno
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Biodiversity is an important component of agricultural landscape but has been under threat of depletion recently. This is because of the escalating poverty and pursuance by farmers to shield their households from hunger. Farmers often remove trees from croplands to create more space for crop production through agricultural intensification instead of managing them together with the annual food crops. The consequence of their action has been the decline in soil fertility, tree diversity loss, and food insecurity at the household level. External agents have been working closely with farmer groups on tree planting and agroforestry programs to reverse the situation by building farmers’ capacity to improve farm productivity and encourage them to adopt trees from livelihood diversification strategy perspective. However, the impacts of their efforts in enhancing on-farm tree diversity is yet to be evaluated. This study, therefore, sought to address this knowledge gap in Siaya County through the following specific objectives: (1) to determine diversity of tree species on croplands (2) to assess whether farmers’ perceptions on trees are associated with the location where trees were planted on croplands; (3) to assess the influence of external agents and farmer groups on-farm tree diversity; and (4) to determine main socio-economic and farm characteristics influencing tree diversity on croplands. A questionnaire was administered to 336 randomly selected respondents and complemented with 10 key informant interviews to gather survey data. The data was analyzed using SPSS and BiodiversityR software for descriptive statistics, tree diversity measurements, correlation and regression analyses. The findings showed that a total of 73 tree species with an average richness of 4 species and abundance of 57 trees per acre of croplands were counted. Grevillea robusta (28%), Eucalyptus spp (25%), and Markhamia lutea (18%) were the most abundant species contributing 71% of all individual trees counted on croplands. Majority (74 %) of tree species counted had <100 individuals and were mostly indigenous. External farm boundary was the most dominant tree planting location accounting for 58% of all individual trees counted on croplands. The study also found that perceptions on the effect of trees on croplands significantly (p=0.000) influenced species richness in the study area; though it had no significant association (χ2=0.361) with location where trees were planted or retained on croplands at p <0.05. Both membership to a group and external agents were not significantly influencing species richness and abundance per acre of cropland with exception of external agent (p=0.00) that was found to significantly influence tree abundance per acre of croplands at p<0.05. Farm size, age, main occupation for the households, purpose of tree planting, access to seedlings, land use decision maker and group type had significant influence on species richness on-farm tree diversity at p< 0.05. However, there was need to build capacity of farmers to recognize tree diversity as an important component of croplands and how to sustainably use them to generate wealth devoid of biodiversity loss.