Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 261–274 | Cite as

An assessment of the benefits and limitations of the shamba agroforestry system in Kenya and of management and policy requirements for its successful and sustainable reintroduction

  • Mark Witcomb
  • Peter DorwardEmail author


The shamba system involves farmers tending tree saplings on state-owned forest land in return for being permitted to intercrop perennial food crops until canopy closure. At one time the system was used throughout all state-owned forest lands in Kenya, accounting for a large proportion of some 160,000 ha. The system should theoretically be mutually beneficial to both local people and the government. However the system has had a chequered past in Kenya due to widespread malpractice and associated environmental degradation. It was last banned in 2003 but in early 2008 field trials were initiated for its reintroduction. This study aimed to: assess the benefits and limitations of the shamba system in Kenya; assess the main influences on the extent to which the limitations and benefits are realised and; consider the management and policy requirements for the system’s successful and sustainable operation. Information was obtained from 133 questionnaires using mainly open ended questions and six participatory workshops carried out in forest-adjacent communities on the western slopes of Mount Kenya in Nyeri district. In addition interviews were conducted with key informants from communities and organisations. There was strong desire amongst local people for the system’s reintroduction given that it had provided significant food, income and employment. Local perceptions of the failings of the system included firstly mismanagement by government or forest authorities and secondly abuse of the system by shamba farmers and outsiders. Improvements local people considered necessary for the shamba system to work included more accountability and transparency in administration and better rules with respect to plot allocation and stewardship. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said they would like to be more involved in management of the forest and 80% that they were willing to pay for the use of a plot. The study concludes that the structural framework laid down by the 2005 Forests Act, which includes provision for the reimplementation of the shamba system under the new plantation establishment and livelihood improvement scheme (PELIS) [It should be noted that whilst the shamba system was re-branded in 2008 under the acronym PELIS, for the sake of simplicity the authors continue to refer to the ‘shamba system’ and ‘shamba farmers’ throughout this paper.], is weakened because insufficient power is likely to be devolved to local people, casting them merely as ‘forest users’ and the shamba system as a ‘forest user right’. In so doing the system’s potential to both facilitate and embody the participation of local people in forest management is limited and the long-term sustainability of the new system is questionable. Suggested instruments to address this include some degree of sharing of profits from forest timber, performance related guarantees for farmers to gain a new plot and use of joint committees consisting of local people and the forest authorities for long term management of forests.


Taungya Plantation establishment Community forest management Participatory 



The authors would like to thank Joram Kagombe, Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Michael Gachanja, Kenya Forests Working Group (KFWG), Anthony Ochino, EMPAFORM, Forest Action Network (FAN), Peter Murage, Mount Kenya Organic Farming (MOOF) and Charles Wanja, Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group for their helpful comments and feedback. The views expressed in this paper are however, the views of the authors alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Agriculture, Policy and DevelopmentUniversity of ReadingReadingUK

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