With climate change making weather patterns harsher and more unpredictable, farmers must diversify their crops to remain food secure. Farmers are using scientific research and traditional knowledge to boost farm productivity. As a result, they’re increasing their nutrition and using crops that are climate resilient. Groups like the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) introduce various crops to farmers that can be easily integrated into existing farming systems.
Why farms should diversify
Food diversification is also important because too many farmers rely on the same crops for survival. Maize is the most common food source in sub–Saharan Africa. Climate change and soil degradation have resulted in malnutrition for most farmers. However, studies show that farmers can increase yield for sustained food production by improving crops’ genetic qualities and agronomic practices. This can be done by introducing nutrient-dense and stress-tolerant crops to degraded land.
Having diversified production increases the climate resilience of farms. This reduces the impact of drought and famine.
Read also: The Impact Of Drought On Women And Girls In Kenya
On-farm diversification can boost savings for farmers. By increasing productivity, farmers can see profits. This can increase income production and employment opportunities for communities. It also increases nutrition for families.
Unique crops that farmers can diversify with
This is a plant in the Amaranth family grown for its protein-rich seeds. It’s also rich in fibre, B vitamins, and minerals. It was introduced to Kenya by the FAO in 2023 for research then the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) started commercialising it. Five varieties of the crop were introduced in Embu County with impressive results. 2.8-5 tonnes of quinoa were harvested from an acre. A single plant can yield up to a kilo of quinoa.
Quinoa is gluten-free, can survive poor rainfall patterns, and its stalk can be used as animal feed. When green, its plant can be used as a vegetable like amaranth. It’s highly nutritious, sustainable, and potentially profitable.
Read also: Understanding The Food Justice Movement
Okra, also known as ladyfingers, is a popular plant for stews. It produces a thick, viscous fluid that thickens stews and sauces. It has a maturity period of 60 days. The crop also has multiple strains with very nutritional benefits. Okra grows in warm temperatures and in well-drained fertile soils. A tree can yield 20-30kg of fruit annually. It can be grown in semi-arid areas but will need irrigation in the first three months of planting. Okra can be intercropped with groundnuts, cowpeas, and other legumes.
Read also: Lifestyle: 8 Health Benefits Of Okra
This is a small-seeded grass grown for its grain. It can be used for food, brewing, or animal feed. Millet is an orphaned crop in most of Kenya, but it’s a popular crop in western Kenya. It does best in areas with low humidity and rainfall.
It’s a drought-resistant tuber. However, it’s an orphaned crop in Kenya where production dropped in the 2000s due to disease, lack of clean seeds, and poor varieties and practices. Cassava is also a suitable companion to maize, wheat, and rice, which many African countries rely on too much. KALRO has been promoting seeds that yield higher, mature faster, and are more disease-tolerant. Cassava also needs less rain than maize.
Lentils, among other legumes, improve animal and human nutrition. It also increases soil health improvement. Lentils can also withstand drought and poor soils. Of all legumes, lentils have a very high protein content. They’re three varieties that are tolerant of arid and semi-arid areas. They also grow fast in arid areas, taking about 80 days to harvest in hot weather, while they take 110 days to harvest in cooler weather.
The African Orphan Crops Consortium lists onion, cashew nuts, custard apple, jack fruit, papaya, watermelon, coconut, pumpkin, sweet potato, bitter gourd, mulberry, and guava among the 101 crops that are rich in micro and macronutrients, and relevant to African farmers. Crops like these also have great potential to combat food security. With proper agronomic practices, global food production will help alleviate the harsher effects of drought.
Are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) The Best Solution For Food Insecurity In Kenya?
Agriculture: How Improving Storage Practices Promotes Food Security
Agriculture: How Soil Testing Can Transform Small-Scale Farming In Kenya
Why Solar-Powered Cold Storage May Be The Best Solution To Food Waste