A sizeable part of Kenya’s wealth mostly comes from the agricultural sector. The sustenance of the nation’s food security is dependent on the productivity of both large and small scale farmers. Even though our greatest agricultural export are tea, coffee and horticulture, there are many other kinds of crops that are available in Kenyan farms. Farming is not only a means by which people produce food for their own survival but is also a source through which they generate income. In the recent years, the economy has experienced a significant shift as more young people have opted to venture into farming, using their acquired knowledge to implement new and modern ways of growing, producing and harvesting.
Farmers in Kenya and those around the world are at risk of losing their farms and livelihoods to rapid climate change. Agriculture and weather go hand in hand. Farmers need a healthy balance of rain and sun to be able to maximize their productivity. The recent years have proved to be a nightmare for Kenyan farmers as our climate has experienced spells of extreme heat and extended periods of heavy rains. Prolonged droughts have led to devastating famine in some parts of our country which has been quite detrimental to the lives of the inhabitants there. Many people have died from starvation.
These unusual patterns have made the climate less predictable than it was before. This unpredictability has caused a negative ripple effect in production, harvesting and in the market. Small scale farmers are the most affected by this change in climate, which is quite worrying since the United Nations estimates that 80% of the food consumed in the world is produced by small farms. The repercussions of negative climate change are therefore likely to cause major problems in our ability to fully sustain ourselves in terms of food.
These changes call for all farmers to be proactive and take the necessary measures to help them overcome this threat. The government and private sector need to liaise together and provide adequate training to the small-scale farmers on how to prepare for extreme weather and maximize the crop yields. Accessing proper information will lead to the farmers adopting more sustainable methods of farming which will be beneficial to their farms and kinder to the environment.
Here are some of the things that farmers need to consider in order to thrive running this time of rapid climate change.
Kenyan small-scale farmers have a history of intercropping the same crops for years and years (maize and beans). This makes it very difficult for them to get any meaningful harvest especially when the weather is unfavourable. Information about planting alternative crops which are less susceptible to the harsh conditions could be beneficial for them in terms of not suffering losses.
Agroforestry presents a favourable solution to traditional intercropping. It is the incorporation of planting trees, crops and rearing livestock in the same piece of land. Planting more trees is a sure method of ensuring climate sustainability while subsequently taking care of the interest of the farmers. Trees act as shelterbelts to help reduce wind, limit soil erosion and nutrient loss. They give shade to the livestock, young plants and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Eventually, some trees can be sold even as more are planted.
Soil management refers to the processes that farmers can implement in their farms to protect soil, enhance its performance and also includes soil conservation. Conservation tillage is the act of increasing the amount of plant material returned to the ground. This way, the land never stays too long without being tilled and hence encourages plant root growth, helping hold soil particles together, improving soil structure and eliminating the risk of wind and water erosion.
Farmers are also advised to refrain from using farming tools that create a lot of erosion of the soil. Narrower tools create less disturbance to the seedbed. Due to this, farmers also save on labour cost and improve moisture conservation in the soil.
Crop rotations are also imperative in soil management as it not only manages soil nutrients and reduces pest problems, but also improves soil quality. For instance, plants like maize which have high nitrogen requirements should be rotated with beans rather than being intercropped.
Farmers often use manure in their farms without carrying out the necessary processes to test and manage it. Manure can be volatile to both plants and the atmosphere. Testing should, therefore, be carried out regularly to keep track of the levels of carbon and nitrogen which can be harmful to some crops.
Rather than spreading the manure in the traditional manual methods, farmers should adopt more modern methods which include equipment that can be used for both liquid and solid manure. This equipment ensures that manure is spread according to its levels of phosphorus.
Pastures have indirect benefits when it comes to reducing the amount of harmful gases that are produced in livestock farming. The rate of consumption by livestock is improved with high-quality forage, increasing the efficiency of digestion and reducing the amount of time needed to graze. Deep-rooted plant species make for good livestock pastures because they ensure adequate soil cover to avoid the occurrence of erosion and accommodate for frequent grazing.
Rotational grazing is also helpful as it ensures that livestock is never at one place for too long. Because they are always on the move, this prevents the land from being over or under grazed. The result of this is a significant reduction in soil compaction and erosion.
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.