Farmers get smart to beat changing weather patterns

Even as the weather man predict the onset of rains, Hannah Wangemi from Trans Nzoia knows that she cant count on the weatherman’s word. She has been frustrated before. Instead the mother of one who specializes in horticulture farming is determined to keep her produce growing by making use of modern agricultural technology.

She is among thousands of farmers who are learning new tricks to keep their crops alive without relying so much on rainfall. “My parents were farmers, and they always depended on rain-fed agriculture,” she said. “The rains never failed them. They usually came on time, and for that reason, people could easily anticipate the exact week or even the day it was likely to rain.”

In the recent past, however, Hannah believes local climatic conditions have changed. “The month of March is almost halfway. This is a period in which we used to experience long rains for planting. But as we move on, it is a pity that maize farmers – especially in Rift Valley province – are still staring at the azure blue skies, praying for it to rain soon,” she said.

With a small loan from a microfinance institution, Hannah has put up two greenhouses fitted with a drip irrigation system, where she plants high-value horticultural crops including tomatoes, carrots and cabbages.

“With such erratic climatic conditions, we have to become smart in order to survive. As the climate changes, we too must change our ways of farming in order to cope,” she said. According to David Miano Mwangi, country director of the Kenya Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (KASAL) Programme, run by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), greenhouse farming is just one method being used to overcome the impacts of climate change on crops.

The KASAL programme is promoting several other cost-effective techniques that are easy to implement and have helped farmers in drier areas adapt and improve their food security over the past six years, he said.

“We have introduced dry-land farmers to the practice of keeping indigenous chickens that are resilient to tough climatic conditions, as well as growing drought-tolerant crops such as particular varieties of cassava, sorghum and grass for fattening domestic animals,” said Mwangi.

With the same aim of improving local agricultural practices, institutions like  the World Agroforestry Centre have been teaming up with other agencies to explore innovative ways to tackle Africa’s unending cycle of drought and food insecurity.

 “Governments, development organisations and also the community must learn to see the power of simple, effective environmental techniques as a new way of tackling hunger,” Assefa Tofu, World Vision’s East Africa climate change and environment specialist, said in a statement. Transplanting techniques from one part of the world to other regions has worked well in some places, but the results are not always positive.

While certain methods may appear ripe for duplication, experts recommend that they should be trialed first in any new environment rather than immediately rolled out on a large scale.
Already farmers in Kijabe region are managing natural resources through a programme called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).

FMNR is a simple, rapid and cheap reforestation technique that has had great success at community level, particularly in West Africa, and is now being tried out in East Africa. Instead of planting new trees, the FMNR initiative makes the most of existing roots, cut-down trees and shrubs that can be found even on what look like wasteland.

The farmer seeks out healthy re-growth on tree stumps and roots, and seedlings coming up from the ground, then prunes off excess foliage and branches, and protects the best shoots so that the fledgling tree can grow in a well-managed way.

The unwanted leaves and twigs can be used for firewood, animal fodder or put on the soil to hold in moisture.

In West Africa where the practice has been in existence since 1983, half of Niger’s farmland – some 6 million hectares – has been transformed by FMNR in the past three decades. The land now produces triple the yield, which feeds an extra 2.5 million people annually and has doubled farmers’ incomes. Today FMNR is practiced in eight countries in Africa and three in Asia.