Sustainable Livelihoods in Africa

Module code: NS3031

Module co-ordinator: Professor David Harper

Module Outline

This course will provide an understanding of the principles of sustainability through a practical problem-solving exercise, in partnership with the communities, in a part of the real world where it is an almost-daily issue affecting livelihoods. Fieldwork is undertaken in Kenya during the Easter vacation of Year Two (dates confirmed each year).

By the end of the module students should:

  • Understand the principles that underpin our concepts of 'sustainability' and the history of its development as a concept - from international agreements, national policy to personal lifestyles.
  • Demonstrate an outline understanding of the East African Rift, landscapes and ecosystems, and the extent & the nature of human interactions within them over the past 50,000 years.
  • Be able to evaluate, again in outline, human impact upon the ecosystems that they utilise, and the recent effects of population growth, development pressures and climate changes. 
  • Be able to synthesize and reconcile the problems in achieving sustainable use of the ecosystems and, working with local communities and their associations, find (partial) solutions to one of them selected for study. 
  • Be capable of integrating these solutions into simple plans, which, when implemented, would be expected to improve indigenous livelihoods. 
  • Be able to make a competent Powerpoint presentation of the solution to the problem that they have selected, critically demonstrating its strong and weak points. The presentation will be both to the people themselves on the final day of the course and to an academic audience back in the University of Leicester. 
  • Be able to display some technical ability in assembling the technical illustrations in the presentation (still photographs or video clips) bearing in mind the value of images for conveying information effectively. 

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Science offers an optional field course in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Students are provided with an opportunity to work with the local community to help them to find solutions to every-day problems and achieve sustainable development. It is led and taught by Dr David Harper (Dept Biology) and Dr Sean Avery (Hon Fellow, Dept Geography). This course is considered to be appropriate for entry into the “Leicester Award”, which recognises extra-curricular training that assists in future employability prospects.

Student Projects

This visit has taken place annually over a number of years.  In 2013 students worked with the local Tugan community on three different projects:

  • An Assessment of Diet, Physical Activity Levels, and Nutritional Deficits
  • Spirulina: A Sustainable Food Resource
  • A Study on the Climate, Hydrological and Human Factors Affecting Kesubo Swamp and the Surrounding Area


  • Assessment of the Effectiveness of Rainwater Harvesting


  • Environmentally Friendly Alternative Fuel Sources
  • De-fluoridation of Drinking Water


  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Honey production and marketing
  • Biochar production
  • Invasion of non-native plant species Prosopis Juliflora
  • Education: Sustainability game


  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Honey production and marketing
  • Fish farming
  • Livestock and overgrazing
  • Soil erosion
  • Arid land rehabilitation

The course consists of preparatory reading and several preparatory meetings in the UK before travelling to a safari camp at the entrance to the Lake Bogoria National Reserve, near Marigat. Whilst in Kenya students are expected to keep a research diary of their activities as well as preparing and delivering a presentation for the community with which they have worked outlining how their work will benefit the community as a whole. Students are also expected to complete a one-page review of their activities after returning to the UK.

There is also an opportunity to visit Nakuru National Park, which boasts abundant wildlife populations including rhino, giraffe, lion, leopard, buffalo, waterbuck and flamingo.


In 2009 the course cost £750 per person, including food, accommodation and travel in Kenya. Excludes air fare, social relaxation, day-off costs.