December 12, 2015

Kenyan farmers know what global warming means

Kenyan farmers know what global warming means

In Kenya, where about 75 percent of total agricultural output is produced on rain-fed agricultural lands, the effects of climate change can never go unnoticed. In 2012, the Government of Kenya estimated that the continued annual burden of the extreme climatic events could cost the economy as much as USD500 million a year, which is equivalent to approximately 2.6 percent of the country’s GDP.


According to both farmers and experts, rainfall is the most important climatic parameter and the one with the highest degree of variation. Temperature comes a close second. “Farmers have an indigenous knowledge of weather events so they began asking questions as soon as they noticed the change in productivity. Weather patterns are no longer as predictable as they were in the past. Rains are now sporadic, sometimes delayed and long,” Steve Muchiri, head of the East African Farmers Federation, said.



Agriculture in Kenya, as in many other parts of the world, is not just a food security pre-requisite. It is what stimulates industrial growth, generates income, creates employment for the young and old, earns foreign exchange and reduces poverty. Seasonal rainfall, heat stress, random dry spells and frequent drought years are heavily impacting rain-fed agriculture. It is therefore becoming harder for farmers, exporters and others along the farm-to-fork journey to plan, despite the forecasts by meteorological department and the government.



“Because of the moisture levels, post-harvest management is greatly affected. The small-holder farmer feels it even more dramatically when the maize gets aflatoxin because he has no capacity to dry the maize.  Wheat, too, is affected. Droughts, on the other hand, may translate to crop failure and we’ve seen instances where farmers want to sue the government and the meteorological department for what they considered wrong projections,” Muchiri said.



Like many other farmers in the area, Muchiri, who keeps a herd of goats, chicken and practices some horticulture, is experiencing both problems with farming and white flies. “Many small holder farmers are struggling to manage pest build up and fungal infections because the cost of inputs is high. Even livestock is affected because of the dwindling pasture resource. About two years ago, in North Eastern, for instance, we lost livestock estimated to be worth six million dollars.”


So when Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) started talking of Climate-Smart Agriculture  (CSA), smart farmers were all ears. Conversations have been about improving agricultural productivity and food security, increasing resilience and adaptive capacities in farming communities as well as enhancing climate change mitigation.



“With the body of research we have, we work to sensitize policy makers. We distribute manuals and other materials in the ten counties we work in. We promote a variety of good practices like conservation agriculture, water harvesting and irrigation. We advocate for increasing tree cover among many others,” Barrack Okotha (FAO) said.


To reach the farmers at the grassroots level, demonstrations by local-dialect speaking officers have proven helpful. Still other challenges prevail.  For instance, some interventions require significant investments in technology and infrastructure, something that may not be enticing to resource-poor farmers. “The construction of greenhouses, fish ponds, or even proper bee keeping equipment requires some capital and we’ve found that some farmers are afraid to take loans. Now we’re encouraging them to form groups to access funds,” Dr Okotha adds.



Moreover, farmers have an over dependency on particular crops that may not be efficient in these tough times.  Now, more and more advocacy is directing towards biodiversity.  Livestock farmers are embracing new mindsets. For instance, in the Northern part of Kenya, Samburu people are reported to combine herds. This makes grazing more efficient on the scanty pasture, while allowing other parts of the land to breathe.


“I now plant drought-tolerant maize even when we expect short rains because I have been disappointed before,” Muchiri said. He also added that this new plan of action requires less management and input, while promising food security. Something that his fellows at EAFF appreciate.


Indeed filling knowledge gaps is crucial to increase the capacity of communities in the uptake of resilient practices. Thanks to interventions pushing biodiversity and resilience, smallholders in a number of counties now see the benefits of maintaining integrated production systems in their crops, livestock, fish and trees.


At this point, all that is left is a favorable market force. Indeed, as Muchiri said, “it would encourage even more farmers to take up climate smart agriculture.”

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About Njeri Kihang’ah-Chege

Njeri Kihang’ah-Chege

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