Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environment and Society


D. Layne Coppock


Natural resource conservation is important for human well-being, especially in fragile environments of developing countries. This study occurred in 2006 among 6,500 smallhold farmers residing along a 25-km segment of a heavily utilized river. Research objectives were to determine use and adoption constraints for 14 soil and water conservation practices (SWCPs). Farms were reportedly contributing to a decline in river water quality via soil erosion. Recent occupation of the upper watershed by immigrants magnified concerns that resource degradation could escalate. A multi-method approach incorporating quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews, and participant observation was used to interpret constraining factors within the biophysical and historical context of the watershed. Adoption rates for SWCPs were expected to be low (less than 20 percent). Increased formal education, income, access to information, and security of land tenure and soil characteristics, were expected to positively influence adoption. Data analysis included descriptive statistics and use of classification and regression trees. Results indicated that all sampled farms had adopted at least two SWCPs, with an average of six per farm. Favored practices were those that were easier to implement and more effective for resource protection and food production. Years in residence (tenure security) and income emerged as primary explanatory variables for adoption of SWCPs, while soil quality and formal education were secondary. Only 27 percent of surveyed farmers held title deeds, but the others perceived that land occupation conferred "ownership" and hence implemented SWCPs. A follow-up visit in 2009, after the region had endured a year of highly publicized ethnic conflict, immigration and farm expansion continued with SWCPs being adopted. Njoro communities mostly remained intact and appeared resilient. While small farms likely contribute to watershed-scale problems and declines in quality and quantity of water in the River Njoro, farmers have made remarkable strides--largely on their own--to conserve natural resources. Future research should examine how a general lack of infrastructure off-farm and study-site context contributes to reduced watershed-resource quality. Further protection of soil and water is best served by a more aggressive policy and extension education framework that links food security, household well-being, and natural resource management.