Land Dynamics

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Land Dynamics - Getting to the bottom of Mount Kenya

Studying land-use dynamics and sustainable development in an interdisciplinary setting

To be announced



The dynamics of land systems (past, present, future), as well as the vulnerability to change, are determined by a set of biophysical, socio-economic and governance drivers. The manner in which these drivers affect the components of the system accordingly determine the appearance of the landscape and its potential use. To comprehend these complex dynamics a multi/interdisciplinary approach is required where the system and all the driving components are regarded as a whole.
This course addresses the interdisciplinary and multi-scale analysis of the dynamics of land systems, covering the geological, ecological, land use, societal and governance perspectives over different scales of time and space. The main goal of the course is to investigate past and current dynamics of the region and predict possible futures.


The course is held in the Embu region of Kenya and involves a combination of lectures, discussions, debates and a significant amount of field work which revolve around a set of consecutive topics and assignments.
Lectures will be on an overview of, or in-depth insight in, relevant aspects of the Embu region and/or topical elements in the field of land dynamics.
Debates will be on specific topics which are highlighted in the course. The session starts with 10-minute introductions by course lecturers addressing the topic from their perspective. After a short round of questions the floor is open for a 30 minute debate on the topic addressed.
Group work
Participants will be split into 4 groups where each group will focus on an area in the Embu region with a specific land-use system. During the course groups must collect, analyse and synthesise information to come with a view of past and current dynamics of the system under investigation, the main drivers and a prediction of possible futures.
Each group has the task to do this analysis for one of the three locations identified:

  1. Upper highlands - The transition zone between the natural systems of Mount Kenya National park and the upper tea zone
  2. Highlands – The tea zone
  3. Lower highlands – The mixed farming (dairy, coffee, maize, fruit and vegetables)
  4. Lowlands – Pastoral systems and extensive agriculture

Collection of data will occur via:

  • Literature/documentation research: A significant source of information will be available but more can be sought for via internet and local sources
  • Fieldwork: The groups will visit their area and gather data through interviews and field observations. An array of factors can be included in determining the land dynamics, such as: soil fertility, erosion, water (availability, flow, distribution and quality), food security (quality and quantity), livelihood, income, labour, migration, etc.

After field work, groups will analyse and discuss what they have found. Regularly groups will briefly present their findings, where they stand, the way forward and what the possible issues might be. The rest of the attendees will accordingly reflect and give input. Modelling (both conceptual and dynamic) will be a central element of the course that supports groups in synthesising and coming to understanding of the drivers and states of the systems’ dynamics. The course will end with a presentation session in which each group present their final result of the past and current dynamics of the region and their prediction of possible futures.

The reader of the last edition of this course (April/May 2015) can be downloaded here.

Course location

To be able to study land dynamics with an interdisciplinary approach, a landscape with substantial variability in both human and environment realms within short distances is needed. The Embu province on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya is such an area, as the slopes constitute a landscape with large environmental variability (e.g. soils, rainfall, use etc.), a variety of land-use practices and a diversity of governance and socio-economic structures. The total area spans an altitudinal and land use gradient from glaciers at the peak, to bamboo and tropical montane forests, to farms of tea, coffee and maize and finally to the semi-arid savannah. The elevation along this gradient ranges from 2070 - 760 m and precipitation varies from 2000 - 640 mm/a concordantly. Soils vary also along this gradient. In general, they are deep and well drained, except for imperfectly drained valley bottoms. In general, soil fertility decreases from the high areas to the low areas. Population densities range from over 700 people/km2 in the higher elevation zones to 20 people/km2 in the lower zones. Moreover, people living in the region have been responsible for or coping with rather rapid land use, socioeconomic, biophysical and governance changes in the past. Under pressure of the government, the land system changed from small areas of shifting cultivation to permanent private family farms. This had many consequences, a widening gap between rich and poor, insufficient farm sizes, loss of soil fertility, increase in use of manure and pesticides, migration of husbands and sons, and off-farm activities. To date, the economy of the districts Embu is brittle and poverty is a major problem. Together with droughts, unreliable rainfall, and population growth this area faces more changes in the future. This diversity of ecologies and landscapes, combined with rapid economic, social and consequently land use and cover change give us a unique case study area.

Course organisers / lecturers
  • Claudius van de Vijver (coordinator, lecturer; Graduate School PE&RC)
  • Monique Gulickx (coordinator, lecturer; Research School SENSE)
  • Iris van der Meer (course assistant; Graduate School PE&RC)
  • Lieven Claessens (logistics, lecturer; Soil Geography and Landscape, Wageningen University / ICRISAT)
  • Jetse Stoorvogel (lecturer; Soil Geography and Landscape, Wageningen University)
  • Maja Slingerland (lecturer; Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University)
  • Paul Ingenbleek (lecturer; Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Wageningen University)
  • Jasper de Vries (lecturer; Land Use Planning, Wageningen University)
General information
Target Group The course is aimed at PhD candidates and other academics
Group Size Min. 20, max. 30 participants
Course duration 10 days
Language of instruction English
Frequency of recurrence Every three years
Number of credits 4 ECTS
Lecturers Claudius van de Vijver (Graduate School PE&RC), Monique Gulickx (Research School SENSE), Lieven Claessens (Soil Geography and Landscape, Wageningen University / ICRISAT), Jetse Stoorvogel (Soil Geography and Landscape, Wageningen University), Maja Slingerland (Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University), Paul Ingenbleek (Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Wageningen University), and Jasper de Vries (Land Use Planning, Wageningen University)
Prior knowledge No prior knowledge assumed
Location Embu, Kenya


Fees 1

Generally, the following fees apply for this course, but note that the actual fees may be somewhat different for the next edition of this course.

PE&RC / WIMEK / WASS / EPS / VLAG / WIAS PhD candidates with an approved TSP €    750,- 3
All other PhD candidates, postdocs and other academic staff € 1.200,-
Participants from the private sector € 1.400,-

1 The course fee includes accommodation, meals, local transportation, and course materials, but EXCLUDES visa costs, vaccinations, and additional expenses
2 Those defending their thesis at Wageningen University 
and those that are a member of IBED Amsterdam or VU Amsterdam
3 For people in this category, a subsidy was available for travelling to and from Nairobi (international airfares or international bus travel)

More information

Dr. Claudius van de Vijver (PE&RC)
Phone: +31 (0) 317 485116

Dr. Lennart Suselbeek (PE&RC)
Phone: +31 (0) 317 485426


This course is currently closed for registration, and will re-open once a new edition of this course is scheduled.