Indigenous Grasses for Rehabilitating Degraded African Drylands

  • Kevin Z. MgangaEmail author
  • Dickson M. Nyariki
  • Nashon K. R. Musimba
  • Agnes W. Mwang’ombe
Part of the Climate Change Management book series (CCM)


Drylands provide an important livelihood stream to its inhabitants across the globe through a range of products and ecosystem services. However, these fragile ecosystems are threatened and believed to experience various degrees of land degradation. Estimates of the landmass affected by land degradation in the global drylands range from 10% to 20%, a percentage that is increasing at an annual global rate of 12 million ha of soil lost from desertification and drought. African drylands are especially highly susceptible to severe degradation because of their poor soil structure aggravated by scarce vegetation cover. Causes of degradation in these environments are both natural and anthropogenic in nature. Change in vegetation cover, decline in soil fertility, biodiversity loss and soil erosion demonstrate degradation in African drylands. Grass reseeding using indigenous species is one of the promising sustainable land management strategies to combat degradation in the drylands. Reseeding programmes are aimed at improving vegetation cover and biomass, and they conserve the soil to an extent not possible by grazing and land management alone. Indigenous drought-tolerant grasses notably African foxtail grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), bush rye grass (Enteropogon macrostachyus) and Maasai lovegrass (Eragrostis superba) have produced promising rehabilitation outcomes. Previous studies in African drylands have demonstrated the potential of such indigenous forage grasses in improving both vegetation cover (plant frequency and densities, basal cover) and soil hydrological properties (increased infiltration capacity, reduced runoff and sediment production) as indicators of rehabilitation success. Despite their comparative and widespread success, natural and anthropogenic challenges persist. This makes reseeding programmes a risky and often expensive venture, especially for the resource-poor pastoral communities in African drylands. Despite the risks, grass reseeding using indigenous pastures remains a viable sustainable land management option to combat degradation in African drylands. However, to ensure its continued success in the long term, multifaceted approaches and strategies that will integrate land and water management and seed systems suitable for African drylands need to be developed, strengthened and promoted.


Degradation Reseeding Desertification Vegetation cover Infiltration capacity Runoff 


  1. Chauhan SS (2003) Desertification control and management of land degradation in the Thar desert of India. Environmentalist 23:219–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Daehler C, Georgen EM (2005) Experimental restoration of an indigenous Hawaiian grassland after invasion of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris). Restor Ecol 13:380–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ekaya WN, Kinyamario JI, Karue CN (2001) Abiotic and herbaceous vegetational characteristics of arid rangeland in Kenya. Afr J Range Forage Sci 18:125–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gisladottir G, Stocking M (2005) Land degradation control and its global environmental benefits. Land Degrad Dev 16(2):99–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hussey AM, Bashaw EC (1996) Performance of buffel grass germplasm with improved winter survival. Agron J 88:944–946CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jordan SM (1957) Reclamation and pasture management in the semiarid areas of Kitui district, Kenya. East Afr Agric For J 25:18–22Google Scholar
  7. Koech OK, Kinuthia RN, Karuku GN, Mureithi SM, Wanjogu R (2016) Field curing methods and storage duration affect the quality of hay from six rangeland grass species in Kenya. Ecol Process 5(3).
  8. Küchler AW, Zonneveld IS (1988) Handbook of vegetation science. Kluwer Academic Publishers, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  9. Marshall VM, Lewis MM, Ostendorf B (2012) Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) as an invader and threat to biodiversity in arid environments: a review. J Arid Environ 78:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Mganga KZ, Musimba NKR, Nyangito MM, Nyariki DM, Mwang’ombe AW (2010) Improving hydrological properties of degraded soils in semi-arid Kenya. Afr J Plant Sci Technol 4:138–144Google Scholar
  11. Mganga KZ, Musimba NKR, Nyariki DM, Nyangito MM, Mwangombe AW (2015) The choice of grass species to combat desertification in semi-arid Kenyan rangelands is greatly influenced by their forage value for livestock. Grass Forage Sci 70:161–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Mganga KZ, Nyariki DM, Musimba NKR, Amwata DA (2018) Determinants and rates of land degradation: application of stationary time-series model to data from a semi-arid environment in Kenya. J Arid Land 10(1):1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mugerwa S (2015) Magnitude of the termite problem and its potential anthropogenic causes in Nakasongola district of Uganda. Grassl Sci 61(2):75–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Nyangito MM, Musimba NKR, Nyariki DM (2009) Hydrological properties of grazed perennial swards in semi-arid southeastern Kenya. Afr J Environ Sci Technol 3:26–33Google Scholar
  15. Opiyo FEO, Ekaya WN, Nyariki DM, Mureithi SM (2011) Seedbed preparation influence on morphometric characteristics of perennial grasses of a semi-arid rangeland in Kenya. African J Plant Sci 5:460–468Google Scholar
  16. Seobi T, Anderson SH, Udawatta RP, Gantzer CJ (2005) Influence of grass and agroforestry buffer strips on soil hydraulic properties for an Albaqualf. Soil Sci Soc Am J 69:893–901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sharif-Zadeh F, Murdoch AJ (2001) The effects of temperature and moisture on after-ripening Cenchrus ciliaris seeds. J Arid Environ 49:823–831CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Verstraete MM, Scholes RJ, Smith MS (2009) Climate and desertification: looking at an old problem through new lenses. Front Ecol Environ 7(8):421–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Wasonga VO, Ngugi RK, Kitalyi A (2003) Traditional range condition and trend assessment: lessons from Pokot and Il Chamus pastoralists of Kenya. Anthropologist 5(2):79–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Witkowski ETF, Garner RD (2000) Spatial distribution of soil seed banks of three African savanna woody species at two contrasting sites. Plant Ecol 149(1):91–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin Z. Mganga
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Dickson M. Nyariki
    • 1
    • 3
  • Nashon K. R. Musimba
    • 1
  • Agnes W. Mwang’ombe
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural SciencesSouth Eastern Kenya UniversityKituiKenya
  2. 2.Department of Forest SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.School of Business and EconomicsMurangá University of TechnologyMurangáKenya
  4. 4.Department of Plant Science and Crop ProtectionUniversity of NairobiNairobiKenya

Personalised recommendations