Comprehensive growth solutions for farmers

“Usione mimi askari udhani mimi taka shika wewe tu. Mimi mkulima wa hali ya juu.”

(Don’t think because I am in the army I want to arrest you, I am also a great farmer)

This was the greeting we received from one of the men in blue who came to our stand during the ASK Trade Fair last week. We met people from all walks of life; farmers from different regions. Lotich had come from the Kenya Defence Force’s stand a couple of meters from ours with a desire to know what he could do to ensure comprehensive growth at throughout the year.

He says all farmers want one thing, results. Results for the hard work and long hours they put into caring for their plants. It’s a business like any other that requires the motivation of good productivity (yields) for a good year. It’s therefore disheartening when the farmer prepares his land, spends a lot of money buying seeds, ‘enriching’ soil with fertilizers, spraying pesticides and frequently watering them only to get half the yield he was expecting. This escalates the need to find a solution that ensures comprehensive growth for high yields.

A few volunteers (Bill and Tony) explaining the importance of agroforestry

Agriculture in Kenya

A research done by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), showed that the agricultural sector in Kenya is the buttress of the economy. 45% of government revenue is derived from agriculture and more than 50% of the export earnings. Over 80% of the population, especially the small-scale farmers in the rural areas, derive their livelihoods from agricultural related activities. Additionally, 60% of the population relying on this sector for employment. Farming is, therefore, an important issue.

However, vision 2030 of attaining food security in Kenya will not be realized if farmers are not educated on the importance of ecological farming as an adaptive measure to climate change.

Unfortunately, most farmers like Lotich are unaware of the treacherous effects of industrial agriculture. This is because it’s the wave on which most farmers choose to ride on. Our responsibility as at the showground was to create awareness to the public on the benefits of ecological farming.

 

Comprehensive growth

Good yields don’t only depend on the well-fertilized land, access to water and other soil nutrients but the quality of the seed used to ensure comprehensive growth.

Commercialisation of agriculture has resulted to total dependence by the farmer on external sources for all his farming inputs, including seeds. Whereas earlier farmers used to save and share their seeds, today they depend wholly upon seed companies for supply. Indigenous seeds or traditional seeds are more suitable to a particular region or situation than any hybrid variety.

 

Indigenous seeds are climate adaptive. These seeds withstand unfavorable conditions, are pests resistant and require less water and nutritional inputs like fertilizers. They have special characteristics such as fragrance, nutrition, and color.

This information is vital to all farmers, to whom we made sure went home with what we believe is key to productivity for the farmer who farms for the future.

Originator: Phyllis Ng’ang’a

eco-farming workshop for resilience to climate change

Climate Change and Agriculture

What is the big crisis facing global agriculture? A complex question but the answer will almost definitely involve two core aspects. One, the role of the Green Revolution and industrial agriculture in vitiating water, soil and plant health across the world and the need to redress it. And the other, the need to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Now let’s look at the African context.

There is a massive push for adopting the Green Revolution practices in Africa at a time when climate change is rapidly taking place all over. Every agency (governmental and non- governmental) worth its salt these days is trying to convince governments and policy makers in Africa  to adopt their models for agricultural “development”.

This is especially true of places like Kenya and other parts of East Africa which are currently reeling from a massive drought caused by the La Nina phenomenon and exacerbated by climate change.  What makes it doubly important for a country like Kenya is the fact that almost 83% of the land area consists of arid and semi- arid land (ASAL).

So what happens when on one hand you have rapid promotion of chemical intensive, industrial agriculture and on the other hand are faced with a rapidly changing climate with extreme weather events like droughts, excessive rainfall etc? A disaster as it turns out.

Farmers are being pushed to adopt specific crops, use fertilizers and pesticides and the three main areas- soil, water and diversity which are essential to maintaining a healthy farm ecosystem are being lost out on. Traditional rain- fed agriculture, as practiced in most of Africa, is completely unsuited for chemical intensive agriculture- especially monocultures. This is a fact that’s being reinforced every time a major extreme weather event takes place.

A marked contrast witnessed between the fortunes of eco- ag farmers and farmers using chemicals

Greenpeace Africa recently visited farmers in Machakos county and there was a marked contrast witnessed between the fortunes of eco- ag farmers and farmers using chemicals. While the eco-ag farmers had been able to successfully withstand the drought and were looking forward to a good harvest, the chemical intensive farmers had sadly failed to cope and had had massive crop losses.

There’s also the recent report by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, which says that agrochemical companies have been fear mongering  and lying to us repeatedly to get us to believe that pesticides are necessary to feed a growing population.

And what is the solution if these models aren’t working? Does it mean adoption of other expensive models, with heavy input costs, and techno- fixes? Not necessarily says the CGIAR Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The CGIAR programme which works with more than 10,000 scientists around the world believes it is low-tech adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers that are essential in the face of changing weather patterns and climate. And believe it or not- most adaptation options can build on existing ecological agriculture practices rather than being entirely new technologies. This also helps tackle the problems posed by agrochemical usage in totality.

resilience to climate change: eco-farmers teach their methods

But does this mean traditional agricultural practices are sufficient to feed Africa and make it resilient to climate change?

Not really. Many parts of Africa including in East Africa rely on subsistence agriculture and have limited knowledge in terms of cropping, soil health and water conservation techniques. This means that the latest innovations in ecological farming practices need to reach the farmers, so that they are able to improve soil health, adequately manage water resources, adopt the best cropping practices and ensure sufficient production levels and incomes. But it also means that valuable traditional knowledge and practices need to be conserved and then disseminated among communities.

Greenpeace Africa for the past couple of years has been working in East Africa to promote climate resilient ecological agriculture and has encouraged donors and governments to invest in ecological agriculture as a means for building resilience alongside ensuring farm security.

Our latest initiative, and which could prove to be invaluable to farmers in worst- hit Machakos county, is providing training across the county, alongside our local partner Institute for Culture and Ecology and local ecological farmers, on knowledge and techniques to build resilience at the farm level. Farmers, who have dealt well through the drought because of ecological farming techniques, are teaching other farmers how to mitigate effects of drought for the coming season. This form of support  is especially important as it is imparting soft technologies that will help farmers in the long run and can be passed on from generation to generation. Safe to say, after the impact of the drought, there is much hunger and appetite among farmers for this kind of intervention.

So the bottom line is ecological agriculture is here to stay, and is the only viable solution- and the faster the adoption rates the better it would be at mitigating climate change and improving agrarian lives in Africa.