KARI-McGill Food Security Project


Enhancing sustainable food and nutrition security in semi-arid Kenya through innovative and resilient farming systems and institutions


The project engages a multi-disciplinary team of researchers with farmers and other stakeholders in the semi-arid counties of Makueni, Machakos and Tharaka-Nithi in the Eastern Province of Kenya in a participatory process of evaluating agricultural and livestock practices. The purpose is to facilitate adoption and scaling up of best practices for enhancing the resilience of farming systems. The project contributes to the development goal of enhanced food and nutrition security through (i) a better understanding of food systems and drivers of food insecurity;(ii) an increased adoption and scaling up of appropriate agricultural practices; (iii) an increased household consumption of high-value traditional crops; (iv) enhanced participation of smallholder farmers into local and external input and output markets; (v) a better informed policy development process that can contribute to the formulation of effective sustainable food security policies and provide an enabling environment for agricultural innovation.

Climate change, regional drought and famine, and chronic food insecurity are together making innovation not an option but an imperative. The research problem being addressed is the dilemma of cyclical hunger crises engulfing Kenya and much of East Africa, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the reality of low rates of farmer adoption of new technologies meant to relieve household food insecurity.  Preliminary research in the project suggests that low adoption is related to farmers’ disappointment with previous agricultural initiatives, in particular in terms of lack of sufficient information, extension, marketing and post-harvest support. The current project hopes to avoid previous pitfalls by combining the establishment of on-farm trials of drought-resistant seeds and other resilient farming practices (integrated soil, water, pest and livestock management practices) with an integrated assessment of the process of agricultural innovation and adoption.

An interdisciplinary research team addresses key dimensions of resilient farming systems through the implementation of research streams: economics; nutrition and health; gender equality; land tenure; policy and institutions; and environment and natural resource management. By integrating knowledge from these research streams and that generated by farmers and other stakeholders, the project findings will inform the development of appropriate technological, institutional and policy innovations to enhance sustainable and equitable food security. The project is implemented jointly by McGill University and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Kenya, the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Frescho Seed Ltd.


1) Gain a better understanding of traditional food and indigenous knowledge systems, and key drivers of food insecurity;

2) Catalyze the adoption, and assess the social, economic and environmental impacts, of agricultural innovations prioritized by farmers; and assess mechanisms of scaling up these resilient farming system practices;

3) Increase household consumption of locally-produced food and improve levels of nutrition and health, especially among hunger-prone women and children;   

4) Strengthen links to local and external input and output markets to allow women and men to diversify household livelihoods and increase farm welfare;

5) Contribute to the formulation of ‘resilience-focused’ policies to enhance food security, livelihoods and environmental sustainability in the semi-arid regions; and disseminate findings.


Dr. Gordon M. Hickey, McGill University, Canada
Dr. Lutta Muhammad, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Kenya

PROJECT DURATION: March 2011 – August 2014

FUNDING: $4.3M - This project is funded by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), www.idrc.ca, and the Government of Canada, provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), www.acdi-cida.gc.ca.

Download Executive Summary of Project (IDRC)


Back to top