A new study by Eschen and colleagues suggests that clearing the invasive woody weed, Prosopis julifora, and subsequently restoring this land into grassland may have significant financial benefits for local stakeholders and contribute to climate change mitigation in Baringo County, Kenya.
Climate change, land degradation, and invasive alien species (IAS), such as Prosopis julifora, are major threats to people’s traditional livelihoods in arid and semi-arid areas. These factors have negative impacts on ecosystem services – including vegetation biomass, which is a prime resource for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.
Our team, comprising PhD students and established scientists from four countries, attended the SESYNC Summer Institute in 2018 to learn new scientific computing and coding skills in socio-environmental synthesis to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration. This enabled us to develop different future land use scenarios and to assess the implications of Prosopis management and grassland restoration on soil organic carbon (SOC) accumulation and local livelihoods.
The study integrated socio-economic and ecological data collected by PhD students of the Woody Weeds project, such as data to determine the size of the budget available for Prosopis management, the financial benefits of making charcoal from removed trees, soil measurements to assess changes in SOC following Prosopis removal, and establishment of grassland. The data were linked to spatially-explicit land cover and land use maps derived from satellite data.
We show that the available budget, based on Baringo households’ average willingness to pay, would be suffice to manage a considerable area of Prosopis in Baringo in a year. The conversion of invaded areas into grassland would provide significant financial benefits. Some of the benefits are immediate and related to the production of charcoal using the cut trees, whereas long-term benefits are derived from restored grasses.
As grasses require less rain for completion of a cropping cycle, perennial grass species are more resilient than local staple crops like maize or beans. In some villages of Baringo, growing grass for seed production is already widespread so that farmers can also sell the hay. The restoration of grasslands would also support traditional livelihoods in the area (pastoralism).
Integrating and linking detailed data about IAS distribution and density, management costs, financial benefits and land use history may be particularly useful to develop accurate and realistic IAS management scenarios. These scenarios could be used to illustrate costs and benefits of management interventions, where they are most needed and most cost-effective, and thus help stakeholders select the most appropriate and feasible approach that suits their needs.
We conclude that spatial and integrative management scenarios should be used more extensively to support land management decisions, especially where natural and financial resources are scarce and where the costs and benefits of managing IAS are unequally distributed among local stakeholders.
Read the full Open Access article Prosopis juliflora management and grassland restoration in Baringo County, Kenya: Opportunities for soil carbon sequestration and local livelihoods in Journal of Applied Ecology.