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Contribution of agroforestry trees for climate change adaptation: narratives from smallholder farmers in Isiolo, Kenya


Agroforestry is often praised as a sustainable approach for the adaptation of smallholder farmers to climate change and variability in Africa. The environmental, economic, and social benefits of agroforestry can contribute to climate change adaptation efforts; however, most studies to date are quantitative and do not focus on specific natural hazards. To address these gaps, this study draws from the concepts of vulnerability and adaptation to explore how individuals from 20 smallholder farming households in semi-arid Isiolo County, Kenya have benefited from their agroforestry trees during drought and flood events. A total of 83 qualitative interviews were conducted with both male and female household heads. The interviews were recorded, and interview text was coded into major themes. The results highlight (1) the contributions of agroforestry trees to reducing sensitivity and increasing adaptive capacity to drought and flood events, as well as (2) the key characteristics of drought-important and flood-important agroforestry trees. In both drought and flood events agroforestry had an important role to play in reducing sensitivity, largely through improving environmental conditions (shade, soil erosion, windbreaker, microclimate regulation), and increasing adaptive capacity by providing critical tree products and financial benefits (fruit, food, firewood, construction materials, fodder, traditional medicines, money from sales of fruit products). Agriculture is often considered the livelihood strategy most vulnerable to climate change, and thus better understanding how to adapt agriculture to the impacts of climate change is critical for both the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and global food security efforts.

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My gratitude goes out to the individuals in Burat and Kinna who spent hours with me answering my endless questions. I would also like to thank those that helped me develop this research project including Henry Neufeldt, J. Terrence McCabe, Lisa Dilling, Joel Hartter, Max Boykoff, and Myles Osborne. Lastly, I would like to thank the volunteers and staff from the Kenya Red Cross Society—Isiolo Branch Office who assisted with this project, and also made my year in Isiolo both educational and enjoyable.


This study was funded by the US Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Graduate Research Grant (Grant Number 206766) which supported field and research costs for Quandt.

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Correspondence to Amy Quandt.

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Quandt, A. Contribution of agroforestry trees for climate change adaptation: narratives from smallholder farmers in Isiolo, Kenya. Agroforest Syst 94, 2125–2136 (2020).

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  • Adaptation
  • Agroforestry
  • Climate change
  • Kenya
  • Sensitivity
  • Vulnerability