Adapting to climate change and droughts

Climate change has led to a change of rainfall patterns and increased droughts in Machakos and Tharaka Nithi. Farmers who adopted eco-farming practices are more resilient and manage to diversify their income. They keep on growing food despite the adverse weather.

ElizabethFor Elizabeth Mueni Maundu, 35, living in Machakos, the solution against droughts came through diversification. She added livestock to generate additional income.

For now, I only do the crops that can withstand this weather for example, the short rains. I now also keep poultry. When the crops fail, I am able to sell the eggs as well as the chickens for income. Sometimes we keep some cows, however, due to water challenges it becomes difficult to keep many livestock.”

angelina-ndungeAngelina Ndunge, 65, Machakos, is armed with knowledge about climate change from Institute for Culture and Ecology in Kenya (ICE). She embraced training on the Zai pits. To fight against lack of water induced by droughts, she digs trenches in her farm to harvest and retain rain water longer. She also prepares her farm early to take advantage of the early rains.

We have started to prepare the farms early and because I have knowledge of the Zai pits, even if the rains are little, I am able to continue with my farming.”

elizabeth-karimiElizabeth Karimi lives in Tharaka Nithi, a very dry area. One drives over dry riverbeds and dams to reach her home. However, the four acres on which she grows crops and keeps local chicken and goats, are a symbol of defiance against this drought. Elizabeth is a beneficiary of the ICE training. She digs trenches for rain water harvest, stick to traditional seeds and uses organic manure for a good harvest. She feels strongly against trainings given by government agencies, as they are pushing the use of chemicals and don’t answer the needs of local farmers.

Most of those government trainings are about soil management including use of chemicals. They tell us which chemicals are strong and which ones are weak and for which crops and they help us to choose the chemicals that we use on our farms.”

Read other resilience stories here, for example Theresa, who is very successful with ecological farming.

To support better, sustainable and healthier food, stand with the #Farmers4TheFuture and sign their letter to the government and donor agencies.

“You don’t believe me? Just compare the returns!”

Gervasio Mwituria M’anampiu, 52 has a five acre farm in Meru and plants a variety of traditional crops. His yields include: sweet potatoes, beans, groundnuts, bananas, vegetables like Sukuma, spinach.

He is proud of his farms on which he uses irrigation for water. He has two farms. On one, he only uses compost manure; on the other he uses chemical fertiliser.

“I get best produce from the farm on which I use compost manure. Compost manure lasts longer and retains water while the chemical fertiliser takes just a season or even less to get depleted from the soil.”

The results? Better produce from the farm on which he uses compost manure.

Compost lasts longer (3-4 years) and retains water longer while the chemical fertiliser takes just a season or even less to get depleted from the soil. He also says compost manure does not add any acidity to the soil but the fertiliser does thus affecting productivity.
In terms of harvest, Gervasi even says the produce from the land with compost manure weights heavier because it gets adequate nutrients.

“For people to believe, they have to see what I am doing and see the harvest. I can also encourage them to use a portion of their land to practice ecological farming and then compare with the one with fertiliser. Ecological farming is about doing. If you don’t do it, you cannot see it.”.

Gervasio calls for training on compost manure because is better and cheaper. He says people should learn about crops that prevent pests like onions, coriander and “mufangi.”

To support better, sustainable and healthier food, stand with the #Farmers4TheFuture and sign their letter to the government and donor agencies.

“Relying on crop diversity and manure has increased our income”

Bosco and Veronica Kimani story stands as an opposite to George’s. Indeed, despite the challenge with chemicals from neighbouring farmers, inaccurate weather information and the poor market, the Kimanis are thriving. They have diversified into planting strawberries, pepino fruit and grafting tomatoes to increase their income.

Ten years ago, the climatic changes started biting hard in Kenya, the Kimanis saw an increase in crop diseases and pests. Then, they relied only on maize and beans, but to fight the looming food insecurity due to the ever changing patterns, they resorted to planting a variety of food crops including cassava which can survive the extremes of weather. The Kimani’s, unlike their neighbours, opted for traditional solutions that were right in their backyard – their livestock.

“…We were trained on composting. We grow our food using organic manure. For pests, we plant crops that we plant such as “mifangi” and onions, that have a smell that chases them away. So even if we don’t use chemicals, we manage to grow our food crops and survive.”

Today, they beam with pride as they speak about their exclusive use of organic manure for 30 years. Their choice to practice farming without any chemical inputs goes beyond money. “The food grown with chemicals is causing a lot of diseases. Organically grown foods reduces the risks of so many diseases.”

 If we all used the traditional methods it would be great.”

Unfortunately,  they acknowledge that “…while our local manure works well, it is frustrating to be in the midst of farmers who use strong chemical sprays as it kills the crops and sometimes drives the pest into our fields. If we all used the traditional methods it would be great.”

Whereas food grown using chemical fertilizer looks attractive in the market, the Kimanis say, that food is bad for the people’s health. The couple hopes the government would sensitise people on healthy food so that “…eco farmers get the market we deserve.”

To support better, sustainable and healthier food, stand with the #Farmers4TheFuture and sign their letter to the government and donor agencies.

George, ready to risk his health to make a living

George Mwaura, 47, keeps dairy and grows vegetables using terracing on one of the many slopes that make up hilly Kiambu. His cows give him an average of 70 litres of milk a day. He relies on pesticides, even though he knows they are a threat to his health and his food.

George says the changes in the weather patterns between 1970 and today have led to an increase in pests and lack of water making farming an expensive venture. He not only has to use about 10,000 litres of water daily for irrigation but also has to spend money on pesticides to control the pests.

“After spending a whole day spraying my vegetables with chemicals, in the evening, sleeping is problematic. The chemicals affect my breathing but I do not have any other option.”

The effect of these pesticides on his health are clear. “After spending a whole day spraying my vegetables with chemicals, in the evening, sleeping is problematic. The chemicals affect my breathing but I do not have any other option.”

George would be very willing to rely on safer and sustainable methods of pest control, but he clearly is not informed enough. George did not know that cow dung can be turned into manure, so he adds chemical fertiliser to his soil to make the vegetables look greener, healthier looking and grow faster. In his heart, he knows the chemicals that make him sick cannot be healthy for his vegetables.
As a farmer, George relies heavily on seasonal rains and weather patterns for his livelihood. Weather information is a very important factor but he uses guesswork in determining the weather, just because the information from local radios is not reliable.
The county government sometimes offers fertilisers to the farmers but George says it’s not enough and the bureaucracy just puts farmers off. So, George requests that the government provides subsidised fertiliser and seedlings.

Subsidizing input is not the solution. George knows that pesticides are not good for his health or for his land but he has no access to proper information on alternative solutions. Buying inputs endangers his health and his economic stability, while using eco-farming practices would not cost him a cent or his health.

Better yields, better income and better food

One of the persistent challenges facing many African farmers is an agriculture system that insists upon using certified seeds and the agrochemical pesticides and fertilizers that accompany them. But long ago, Theresa Makena, 49, took a decidedly different approach – ecological agriculture.

A member of the Kibuka farmer’s group, Theresa has grown her 10-acre farm over the past 30 years so that it produces millet, sorghum, sekunde as well as livestock such as cows, goats and chicken. But in recent years, climate change and an ever shortening rainy seasons meant she needed a different approach.

Five years ago her farmer’s association was using chemicals for seed preservation but after receiving eco-ag training, they stopped and started using organic manure from their own cows. She says that learning ecological agriculture methods requires more labor but it’s worth it – and profitable.

“One of the things that I am happy about since I started farming organically, is that I now have nutritious food with a better taste.”

After receiving training from the Institute for Culture and Ecology in Kenya (ICE), Theresa was able embrace ecological farming methods to ensure her crops had enough water. The innovative method of creating Zai pits enabled her to increase her yields even when farmers around her, still reliant on natural rainwater, were struggling. Theresa’s yields are so consistent, her granaries are filled to the brim with seeds for the future.

“Yes, I am seed secure. I harvested in July and I still have seeds from the January / February harvest. So, I can say I am food secure as well!”

She adds that her food tastes better than it used to as well. Now, Theresa is sharing her ecological agriculture knowledge with neighboring farmers so they can all plan for the future.

Also read Gervasio’s story, and how ecological farming works better than the use of chemicals.