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Historical background


A Sustainable Approach to Livelihood Improvement (ASALI) project is a collaborative arrangement that bring together the VrijeUniversiteit (VU) Amsterdam, Moi University (MU) and South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU). It is hinged on the premise that agriculture plays a vital role in Kenya’s efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve its general socio-economic development aspirations. The project seeks to contribute towards improving livelihoods, particularly among the marginalised groups. Livelihood-based approaches have increasingly come to dominate the analysis of poverty and food insecurity, and the design of anti-poverty and famine prevention interventions, especially at the local level. A livelihood entails a household’s capabilities, assets and activities required to secure basic needs – food, water, shelter, health, education and income. Food security is seen to be achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. It, thus, encompasses availability of adequate quantities of a diversity of food commodities such as cereals other than maize, fruits, vegetables and animal products that meet both amounts and nutritional requirements. Nutrition security is said to exist when food security is combined with education, a sanitary environment, adequate health services and proper care and feeding practices to ensure a healthy life for the entire household.

The project endeavours to identify knowledge gaps and empower communities and institutions through educational and training programmes, promotion and adoption of technologies for harvesting rainwater and surface runoff such as sand dams, earth dams, water pans, and rock catchments. It also strives to discover and disseminate knowledge on the harvesting of rainwater and surface runoff and subsequent utilization in intensive agriculture, agro-forestry and aquaculture in ways that can yield socio-economic benefits and alleviate poverty. The ASALs are characterized by a generally hot and dry climate, with low and erratic rainfall that varies widely across space and over time. The evapo-transpiration rates are more than twice the annual rainfall, and drought and floods are common. The main source of livelihood for ASAL inhabitants is extensive livestock production, primarily through pastoralism and agropastoralism. Over half the populations of ASALs live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than one US dollar a day. Majority of the people in the region depend on relief food and are malnourished. Resource-based conflicts over pasture and water are rife. They are exacerbated by increased competition and diminishing role of traditional governance systems, weakening of traditional institutions, and growing levels of poverty and unemployment among the youth.

The ASALI Project is funded through the legacy of the late Ms GrietjeWille for the education of people from developing countries wiling to serve society and contribute to the development of their countries. The project is coordinated through the Centre for International Cooperation (CIS), on behalf of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. It supports research and education capacity building of both Moi University and South Eastern Kenya University. The Project’s overall aim is to contribute through transdisciplinary research and education to the development of sustainable and innovative methods of livelihood improvement for local communities. It focuses on disadvantaged groups, such as small-scale farmers, women and youth in the vicinity of the partner universities in western and south-eastern Kenya.


The overall objective of the ASALI project is to use integrated and trans-disciplinary approaches to investigate aspects of livelihood improvement, including sustainable natural resource management, entrepreneurial opportunities and value chain development, renewable energy, nutrition in relation to child and maternal health, and, finally, as a crosscutting theme, information access through ICT, among farmers in western and south eastern Kenya. There are four thematic areas and, hence, four broad objectives, with a fifth crosscutting objective, ICT. Those which encompass focus on research, training, and capacity development, with emphasis on disadvantaged groups such as small-scale farmers, women and youth are:

  1. To use sustainable natural resource management strategies to enhance water and food security for sustainable livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
  2. To examine the influence of value chain development, entrepreneurial opportunities, and innovations on poverty alleviation among the women and youth in improving livelihoods in western and southeastern Kenya.
  3. To explore the use of sustainable renewable energy and its contribution to entrepreneurial Job Creation options for youth and women in western and southeastern Kenya.
  4. To assess the determinants of nutritional status and its health effects among women and children in western and south eastern Kenya.
  5. To demonstrate how the use of ICT and its applications can be instrumental in the documentation and dissemination of real time information on sustainable livelihood and natural resource management in southeastern and western Kenya for sustainable livelihoods.

The ASALI objective and thematic areas clearly link to Kenya’s Vision 2030 which describes the way in which “Kenya will be transformed from a low income, agrarian economy into a newly industrialised, middle income country by 2030, providing a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment”. The Vision identifies energy and entrepreneurship as key elements in achieving sustained economic growth and transformation.The Government of Kenya supports these elements through programmes that contribute to enhanced equity and wealth creation opportunities for the poor. In addition, Food security is a prerequisite for the Vision’s goal of providing high quality life to all citizens. The achievement of national food security is a key objective of the agricultural sector and is placed high on the Kenyan Government agenda, where natural resource management plays a crucial role in making food security a sustainable achievement at local and national levels.


The ASALI project is scheduled to a period of four years, which end in 2019. The first year comprised an inception phase that was characterized by setting the stage, resources mobilization and implementation of some selected activities. Critical stakeholder sensitization meetings on the intents of the project and, write shops were carried out in the period. An output of this included building of linkages and networks as part of ensuring sustainability in the endeavours.The subsequent years have seen research, training and outreach activities take place. Two PhD students (one from Moi University and the other SEKU) are due to graduate. SEKU has been active on researches on pasture growing in the ASALs, which are going on in Kajiado County. There has been ample work on forestry activities revolving around appropriate species for the marginal areas. Research on water has involved the social, technical, environmental and management implications in its accessibility and use in the ASALs. 2019 will see all the set work completed and resultant reports compiled. The Moi University ASALI project has concentrated on health and energy.

In 2019, SEKU received €4,000 to assist in training staff and students at Masters and PhD levels. The funds have been allocated to 17 needy students that will also access part of the funds to disseminate their research findings. The 2019 SEKU ASALI Annual Workplan and Budget AWP&B) has been launched. The document, which has been made in a participatory way, is a guide to the year’s implementation plan and, a monitoring and evaluation tool. The year will also see a launch of the SEKUASALI website. Towards the end of the year, an evaluation of the entire project will be done as it winds up. One of the outputs of the project will be an indication on how to sustain the endeavours of the project after the exit of the current donor.

One milestone is the 2018 ASALI conference organised by the three partner institutions titled: Towards Food Security, Sustainable Energy and Successful Entrepreneurship, which ran from 10-12 April at Moi University. The conference whose theme mirrored that of the Vision 2030 was organized to present and discuss the project’s research outputs and provide a platform for stakeholders active in similar fields to engage and share their views and knowledge on findings. The conference was a success and well attended by a diverse audience that was treated to over 15 paper presentations and more than 20 pitches by local and foreign stakeholders, university staff, and graduate and postgraduate students.


Time span of the Project 2014 – 2019
Contact Person Dr Denyse Snelder (project director)
Project Director Dr Denyse Snelder
Project Partners CIS-VU (lead organization), Athena, SBE/ACE, Faculty of Science; Moi University (MU, Kenya); South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU, Kenya)
Project Sponsor Legacy of Ms Grietje Wille
SEKU Project Lead Prof Mary Wambui Mburu
SEKU Activity Leads Dr. Dorothy Amwata
Dr. Moses Mwangi
Dr. Patricl Kisangau
Dr. Patrick Kariuki
Dr. Charles Ndungu
Mr.Osir Otteng