Red Maasai sheep insulate farmers from weather changes

A new model that assists members of a particular community to collectively adapt to changing weather patterns through alternative farming practices has been credited with having spared millions of farmers across East Africa from drought at a time when yields have dropped and farms have become barren.

The initiative dubbed climate smart villages and pioneered in 2011 has seen even areas previously ravaged by droughts and flooding which has taken a toll on yields now boasting of healthy crops and firm soils. It is a project that has also introduced farmers to new crops with details emerging that upto 37 percent of farmers have not used any new crop variety in the last ten years especially in the Lake Basin.

In Nyando Basin, Western Kenya which is classified among the most food insecure regions in the country due to incessant flooding and drought a ray of hope shines bright in the form of climate smart village. Started in 2011, the model has invested in cross breeding traditional livestock breeds with superior ones that can withstand long dry spells. The same has been done with crops.

For example, farmers are now using faster maturing Gala goats, and disease-resistant red Maasai sheep and chickens, along with improved cassava varieties that resist a deadly virus. They also are growing high-value crops like tomatoes, onions and watermelons.

The success of the villages in areas where they have been introduced has seen implementers ponder about rolling them across the country and the entire East Africa to boost food security. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security is working with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce sorghum, pigeon peas, cowpeas, green grams and sweet potatoes to supplement maize and other traditional staples. "By supporting the creation of climate-smart villages and pursuing this very inclusive adaptation planning process, Kenya is leading by example for how we can ensure African farmers are prepared for climate change," said James Kinyangi, CCAFS regional pro-gram leader for East Africa in an earlier interview. "Kenya's leadership in adaptation planning is particularly important," he added, "given that international negotiations to mitigate the effect of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions are basically at a stand-still."

Farmers worldwide have always faced challenges related to weather variability, and have necessarily adapted their farming practices in order to survive. But as variability increases to climate change, and rainfall patterns and average temperatures shift dramatically, farmers may need to change more rapidly and in unexpected ways.
The goal of the research was to understand what kinds of changes are possible in the future, and what compels farmers to make these changes, in order to deal with climate change. A survey by researchers found that many smallholders have started to embrace climate-resilient farming approaches and technologies. These include strategies that improve crop production such as using improved seed varieties, agroforestry and intercropping, and better livestock management. But many farming approaches, the kind that would actually transform the way smallholders farm, have yet to be adopted.
The researchers also found a link between farmers' food insecurity and adoption of climate-adapted approaches. The least food-secure households are also those least likely to innovate. But it's unclear whether one causes the other or whether they are mutually-reinforcing. "It stands to reason that households struggling to feed their families throughout the year are not in a good position to invest in new practices that include higher costs and risks," said researcher Patti Kristjanson, noting: "

Yet not adapting is certainly contributing to food insecurity. Food insecurity means lower adaptive capacity to deal with all kinds of change." She said it is critical that we learn more about both the factors that en-able and facilitate innovation, and how to lower the often hidden costs and barriers associated with changing agricultural practices.
"The new breed of goats matures after one year and fetches good money at the market rate," Joshua Omollo, a livestock farmer in Lower Nyakach, said.

Omollo, who has been a livestock farmer for the past four years, acquired Galla Bucks goats two years ago and, to date, continues replacing his indigenous with new breeds. He has also acquired a new breed of the Red Maasai sheep, also a new breed that is hardy and resist-ant to diseases. According to Divisional Livestock Extension Officer George Nandi, indigenous goats fetch Sh1000 while the new breeds fetch farmers Sh5,000.

Nandi observes that farmer's attitude towards farming has changed to commercial farming as a way of improving their livelihood. He reveals that 20 farmers have already adopted new technology, but he plans to get 100 farmers on board by the end of this year. "Locals are fast changing from traditional farming methods to new innovative early maturing techniques due to the adverse climatic conditions that has led to the deaths of their livestock, " Nandi as a way of bargaining for insurance cover to help save them from crop loses every year. "We are yet to reach the required acreage to begin to benefit from insurance cover. We are however increasing the acreage under crops to meet the standards set by insurance firms," Daniel Kitondo, the secretary of the North East Community Development Programme (NECP), said Kitondo said besides increasing acreage, farmers has also diversified to early maturing crops such as pigeon peas, cassava, green grams, sweet potatoes, cow pea and beans and abandoned indigenous crops such as maize and millet that demand too much water.

He noted that the new crop varieties are disease resistant and mature earlier than indigenous and with little water. Members initially use to plant maize and millet but had to look for an alternative to help to help improve food security," Kitondo added. So far, the group has harvested 10 sacks of pigeon peas and continues to harvest for the next three years.

Karen Akinyi, a member of the group, said besides working on the group farm individuals too have their own projects in their private farms growing early maturing and drought resistant crops. She said the group members work in the communal farm in turns, especially when pigeon peas are being harvested. For John Obuom, being jobless, joblessness reawoke his energy and turned him into a farmer even though his age mates were out working in urban centres. "I tried to secure employment but nothing was coming then turned to mixed farming. This too turned not profiting as crops failed most of the time," he said. But Obuom is today regarded as one of the prominent farmers in the basin whose lives have changed courtesy of adopting new technology in agriculture.

The 42-year-old today grows paw paw, keeps bees and keeps improved cattle that gives him milk he sells to the local community. He has 500 paw paw trees he sells to consumers locally, earning about Sh7,000 every month from the sale. "Due to the demand, I am planning to plant additional 500 trees before the end of the year to help satisfy demand," he added. He harvests bee four times a year and sells honey to the market, hence earning Sh100,00 per month.

He said many farmers plant traditional crops because they lack information. However, several mobile telephone platforms have changed that. Besides getting information, farmers require new seed varieties and better crop management to be able to make maximum profit from farming to be able to improve food production.

To help farmers learn better crop management and acquire new seed varieties, Magos Farm Enterprises, an agro dealer in Kisumu County in western Kenya, has introduced a Short Message Services (SMS) sys-tem. "We have a registered phone number that farmers use free of charge asking for information on which seeds to plant and what insecticide to buy," its Executive Director Beatrice Akinyi said.