The Trouble With Ground Truthing in Kenya | Every Credit Has a Story

Ground truthing is tricky work, but vital to our Acorn activities. What challenges do enumerators face when collecting ground truth in difficult terrain? Kyle shares the realities of ground truthing in Kenya, as he accompanied Francis Warui, project manager for the Akvo Foundation

The Akvo Foundation supports us to ensure our carbon credits remain trustworthy, traceable, and transparent. Akvo is a non-profit organization developing data collection solutions for complex issues related to water, climate, and agriculture. 

Akvo enumerators walking through tea field in Runyenjes, Embu (Kenya)

Uncountable questions 

"There’s a large rock in the middle of the path. What can we do?" 

"There's a river at the bottom of the farm. What do we do?" 

"Do we have to count the banana trees?" 

We heard hundreds of questions like these from our enumerators throughout the day. As Francis and I travelled through the Kenyan counties in our little white Suzuki, his phone would ring with questions, all whilst we were trying to locate a football field-sized farm in the largest county — with only the directions that “it’s next to the school”. 

When we finally arrived at the farm for an update from the enumerators, we were met with more questions: they only knew the local name of this tree, “what was the Latin species?” Did they also have to count the small seedlings? 

That evening, we would look through the data only to realise we had missed the invisible line that separates two eco-regions by a few hundred metres. Back to square one. 

Enumerators walking through coffee agroforestry in Embu, Kenya

Learning on the job 

By the end of the week, the questions from enumerators got fewer and fewer. We would walk around the farm with the enumerators, now naming the Latin species of all the surrounding trees. 

One day, I was sitting on a wall getting hustled for shillings by a few farmers' kids in return for a locally sourced organic passion fruit — which was how I sold it to myself, after realising I probably could have bought a tonne of coffee for the same price. They climbed the tree nearby and plucked a passion fruit from the vines and after some playful bantering, we struck a deal.  

Farm Africa enumerator ground truthing a tea agroforestry in Manyatta, Embu (Kenya)

Meanwhile, the enumerators were making easy work of the difficult topography. Marking, mapping, counting, climbing, measuring, all whilst looking into the steep abyss. 

At the next farm, the enumerators carried on. And at the one after that, too. 

Whilst visiting a tea farm, the enumerators tied a rope to the phone and dragged it across the impenetrable tea shrubs in order to measure 1-hectare shape. 

By the end of the two weeks, we had ground truthed 150 farms — with hardly any more questions asked by the end of the exercise.


Accuracy, courtesy of Akvo 

As I wrote previously about ground truthing, it's the input for all our models. One of the most vital factors in our projects to help calculate the change in biomass and pay out the farmers. Accuracy of ground truth is then of the utmost importance.  

We used to spend hours training local partners, checking their work and giving feedback. Fortunately, together with Akvo, gathering data has become much more straightforward.  

All featured videos courtesy of James Kotecki from Agerpoint.

About Kyle and Francis 

Kyle Nielsen, Acorn's Innovation Consultant and native Zimbabwean, has been sharing his experiences with smallholder farmers in a series of travel blogs. This time, he introduces us to the realities of ground truthing in Kenya, as he accompanied Francis Warui, project manager for the Akvo Foundation

Kyle walking through a tea agroforestry in Manyatta, Embu (Kenya)

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Kyle NielsenInnovation ConsultantLinkedIn

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