Socio-economic and ecological dynamics of land use change in the highlands of East Africa



“African poverty and stagnation is the greatest tragedy of our time. Poverty on such a scale demands a forceful response.” That is how the Commission for Africa, established and chaired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, starts its recent report. UN web pages on the UN Millennium Goals (MDGs) conclude that “Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicenter of crisis, with continuing food insecurity, a rise of extreme poverty…” and rapid degradation of environment. The United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000 recognised the special needs of Africa and achievement will be measured for the first time this year. While I am writing this in July 2005, leaders of the world’s richest countries have just agreed to boost aid and cancel debts. There is a worldwide focus on the development crisis in Africa but so far aid and numerous development strategies have failed to yield the expected results.

One of the UN Millennium Project task forces focuses specifically on how science, technology and innovation can help in achieving the MDGs. Linking scientific knowledge to development and creation of new strategies at all levels - from global to local level - to improve livelihoods in Africa are acutely needed. This requires better understanding of development alternatives. This study is an in-depth, community level analysis of the livelihoods and environment of two East African highland communities, with a central theme built around the crucial question for the whole continent: How can livelihoods in Africa be improved while sustaining the environment?



The main objective is to study interactions of livelihoods and environmental change concentrating on both social and ecological implications of land use change in the context of population pressure, socio-economic and regional historical factors. The study attempts to answer the central question: What are the crucial assets or combinations of assets (human, social, natural, physical and financial capital) that enable rural dwellers to have improved strategies leading to better livelihood outcomes?

This comparative study will draw general lessons from the similarities and differences between three ecologically similar study sites. It will focus on the connections between ethnicity, global climate change, world market prices, and national policies (including those on land ownership, crops and marketing and support to farm inputs) and the development of the highlands of East Africa. It will provide better understanding of the stages of development and the complex socio-economic, political and environmental changes associated with it. This is needed by development professionals to better identify entry points of interventions which could play an important role in improving livelihoods and natural resource management of these highlands, or reversing an adverse trend. Examples of such interventions will be derived.


Overall goal

Improved understanding of the socio-economic and ecological implications of development pathways in the highlands of East Africa. This leads to improved recommendations and planning of development interventions aiming at better and more sustainable livelihoods and natural resource management.



PhD thesis consisting of the following:

  • Four peer reviewed papers
  • Synthesis of the separate studies and complementary studies conducted by other researchers in Embu (livelihoods and land use change) and Taita hills (land use change) written as an introduction.


Main study sites

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Taita hills in Kenya (Embu as a complementary site, utilising studies of other researchers).



1. Land use change analysis of Kirua Vunjo on Mt Kilimanjaro area using aerial photographs from 1961, 1982 and 2000 and a Landsat +ETM image of year 2000 to study landscape level changes, including landscape fragmentation, over the past 40 years, and comparing the two different classification methods used.

2. Livelihood surveys on both Mt. Kilimajaro and in the Taita hills

- to identify crucial assets or combinations of assets (human, social, natural, physical and financial capital) that enable rural dwellers to have improved strategies leading to better livelihood outcomes

- to study strategies farmers currently adopt in order to cope with global and local changes and challenges

- to analyse the impact of these strategies on landscapes and environment and, through adverse environmental change, back to livelihoods

- to identify potential improved agricultural options for the areas

- to find recommendations for the agricultural extension service to enable it to work more efficiently in the changing world amongst increasingly multi-occupational rural dwellers in East Africa.

The survey was designed according to Sustainable livelihoods framework (Carswell, 1997; Carney, 1998; DFID, 2001 ) the aim being to test the model by using empirical data.

3. Comparative study of bird diversity in three important land use categories (Lowland fields, Bushland and Highlands) on the slopes and adjacent plains of Mt. Kilimanjaro to understand potential biodiversity impacts of the land use changes taking place.

4. Synthesis of the above: Interactions of land use and change, biodiversity and livelihoods in the highlands of East Africa in the context of existing scientific knowledge on other world regions.

Carswell, G., 1997. Agricultural intensification and rural sustainable livelihoods: A ‘think piece’. IDS Working paper 64.

Carney D., 1998. Implementing the sustainable rural livelihoods approach. In: Carney D. (Ed.), Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: What Contribution Can We Make? Department for International Development (DFID), London, pp. 3-26.

Department for International Development (DFID), 2001. Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheets, Section 2. Department for International Development, London.


Work accomplished so far

ost of the work, including all fieldwork and most of the analysis, has been done in a researcher post at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi. The project was originally initiated by ICRAF in autumn 1999. Following the recommendations of my then ICRAF supervisor Dr. Robert Zomer, I enrolled as a PhD student at the University of Helsinki in 2000, and this ICRAF project became my personal project leading to PhD.


Peer reviewed papers:

  • Soini E 2004. Changing livelihoods on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: Challenges and opportunities in the Chagga homegarden system. Agroforestry Systems 2: 157-167.
  • Soini E 2005. Land use change patterns and livelihood dynamics on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Agricultural Systems. (will be published in Sep-Oct).
  • Soini E 2004. Birds in three habitats on the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Paper submitted).

Working papers:

  • Soini E, 2005. Livelihood capital, strategies and outcomes on the Taita Hills of Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) working paper series. (Issue number pending).
  • Soini E 2002a. Changing landscapes on the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. An aerial photo interpretation from 1961 to 2000. Working paper series 1/2002. Natural resource problems, priorities and policies, International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi. 13 pp.
  • Soini E 2002b. Livelihoods on the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: Socio-economic analysis of land use change. Working paper series 3/2002. Natural resource problems, priorities and policies, International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi. 22 pp.

Conference proceedings:

  • Soini E 2003. Changing landscapes and livelihoods on the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. In Merts O, Wadley R, Egelund Christensen A, eds. Local land use strategies in a globalizing world: shaping sustainable social and natural environments. Proceedings of the International Conference, 21–23 August 2003. Institute of Geography, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. p 311–335.

Extension material:

  • Soini E 2003. Characterization of Mountain Agroecosystems, the case of Katagata watershed in Kabale district, southwest Uganda, in Land, people and water - Spatial tools and agricultural technologies for sustainable development in the highlands of southwest Uganda [CD-ROM]. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi.


  • Aichi Kitalyi & Eija Soini 2004. Chagga homegardens a threatened ecosystem: Potential development options to reverse the trend. The Prunus Tribune, August 2004. A Quarterly Publication of the Eastern and Central Africa Region of the World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya.

Technical/Project reports:

  • Mäkelä M, Soini E, Muchori F 2004. Land cover baseline and monitoring system for impact evaluation of agroforestry interventions in Southwest Uganda. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Technical report.


Eija Soini, PhD student