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Agroforestry as a climate change mitigation practice in smallholder farming: evidence from Kenya


The promotion of agroforestry as a mitigation practice requires an understanding of the economic benefits and its acceptability to farmers. This work examines the agroecological and socio-economic factors that condition profitability and acceptance of agroforestry by smallholder farmers in Western Kenya. We differentiate the use of trees according to the permanence of carbon sequestration, introducing a distinction between practices with “high mitigation benefits” (timber) and practices with “low mitigation benefits” (fuelwood). This study goes beyond the analysis of incentives to plant trees to identify incentives to plant trees that lead to high mitigation outcomes. We show that environmental factors shaping the production system largely drive the choice for planting trees with high mitigation benefits. Most trees in the area are used for fuelwood, and the charcoal economy outweighs economic factors influencing planting of trees with high mitigation benefits. Larger households tend to produce more fuelwood, while high mitigation uses are positively related to the education level of the household head, and to the belief that trees play a positive role for the environment. Where trees contribute significantly to incomes, the norm is that they are owned by men. We conclude that although agroforestry is not perceived to be more profitable than traditional agricultural practices, it plays an important economic and environmental role by supporting subsistence through provision of fuelwood and could relieve pressure upon common forest resources. In areas with high tree cover, it also represents a way of storing capital to deal with risks and cope with uncertainty.

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  1. 1.

    Each dependent variable is a numeric variable equal to the sum of the number of high or low mitigation practices from each species of tree at farm level.

  2. 2.

    Possible sources of income included work in other farms, salaried employment, self-employment, gifts/remittances, environmental services, government projects, formal credit, informal credit, rent of machines/animals, rent of land, and sale of farm products.

  3. 3.

    The farmers were asked how much they agreed with the following statements: “Trees are profitable” and “trees are good for the environment.” Answers ranged from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

  4. 4.

    Reardon et al. (2007) show that in poor areas, households typically operate both farm and non-farm activities, and although they may not do either very efficiently, they are able to manage risk, compensate for a poor asset base, and survive. At household level, increasing household income is typically associated with higher rates of pluriactivity. Rufino et al. (2013b) show that more diverse income sources results in both more income and more food security in East Africa.

  5. 5.

    Fruits represented around 10% of all products obtained from trees. For this reason, the economic value of high-potential mitigation uses might be underestimated.

  6. 6.

    The cost of hired labor is not included in the regression due to the small number of observations.

  7. 7.

    Our focus was primarily on the opportunity cost of household labor invested in agroforestry activities, which is a fundamental aspect of acceptability of a practice, as it affects its perceived feasibility. The opportunity cost of household labor was defined as the value of resources lost or forgone in order to develop HM and LM products, and that could have spent elsewhere (Reed 2007).

  8. 8.

    We obtained a measure of labor productivity per hour for the majority of farming practices for which we had records of production and prices (maize, sugarcane, beans, sorghum, sweet potato, millet, groundnut, and intercropping of these).

  9. 9.

    According to the authors, “women in Africa remain disadvantaged in the agricultural sector due to cultural, sociological, and economic factors. Such factors include limited access to resources and household decision-making. Such resources that are directly linked to agroforestry include land and tree resources, financial credit, extension service, labor, and appropriate technology. Furthermore, many African societies have taboos that prohibit women from undertaking certain activities, which may limit their participation in developmental interventions such as agroforestry.”

  10. 10.

    Due to issues of data reliability, fruits as well as minor products like fodder, leaves, thin poles used in construction, and medicinal herbs were excluded from the analysis.

  11. 11.

    A measure of net revenues including costs of inputs would show larger net revenues from agroforestry, because little inputs are required (seeds, fertilizers, etc.).


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Correspondence to Giovanna De Giusti.

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De Giusti, G., Kristjanson, P. & Rufino, M.C. Agroforestry as a climate change mitigation practice in smallholder farming: evidence from Kenya. Climatic Change 153, 379–394 (2019).

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  • Fuelwood
  • Charcoal
  • Profitability
  • Acceptability
  • Gender
  • Labour