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.

Ecological farmers teach methods to face drought to conventional farmers

Starting from Tuesday, the 11th and till today the 13th of April, the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) with Greenpeace Africa are supporting the Farmer 2 Farmer Drought Resilience work in Machakos county.

ecological farmers distributing resilient seeds

With Kenyan farmers being hit hard by the drought in recent months, the government’s main actions have been reactive on a large scale. And there’s little proactive work being done to mitigate the effects of drought or to ensure that farmers build resilience against future weather shocks.

In Machakos county, the farmers, seeing the governments inaction, have decided to take the future into their own hands.
Farmers using ecological farming methods, have triumphantly dealt with drought. They have seen their fellow farmers, who used chemical fertilisers, struggle with failed crops and depleted land. Today, these ecological farmers have decided they want to help!

Together with ICE, these ecological farmers are connecting with fellow farmers to teach them which tips, tricks and techniques which are key in facing extreme weather conditions. They will also be distributing agro-forestry seedings to help farmers as the new planting season starts.
ICE will work with farmers in the hard hit county of Machakos in Matungulu, Masinga and Yatta Sub-counties reaching out to 180 small-holder farmers as direct beneficiaries.

The President’s recent nation address pushes forward an agenda that fails farmers but secures profit for big agriculture companies. These local farmers, along with ICE and Greenpeace Africa, will highlight the short and longterm benefits of a shift to ecological farming.

They will thereby call on our leaders to focus and fund ecological farming, for it is the way forward for Kenya’s future.

Triumphs and failures as farmers tackle drought

Peter Mutiso mango farm thrives despite drought in Kivaa Ward, Machakos county.
Photo: Peter Mutiso shows mangoes at his green farm in Kivaa Ward, Machakos county. Photo/WANGUI GITHUGO

Machakos peasants suffer poor harvest during drought after using fertilisers while those using natural manure thrive

Parts of Machakos county are known for being semi-arid landscapes. Today, the region is struggling with the effects of the ravaging drought, just like many regions of the country.
The hardest hit residents of Machakos are small-scale farmers. However, while many farmers are struggling, others have adopted modern methods to cope with the situation, and even thrive in these rough conditions.

Many farmers remain unaware of these, but groups such as the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) and Greenpeace Africa have actively taught and advocated for ecological farming methods.
Ecological farming discourages the use of industrial inputs such as chemical fertilisers. Instead, it works with natural systems for the best results. ICE and Greenpeace Africa believe in a continuous process of knowledge building in ecological farming.

It is a bid to help farmers determine the best cropping systems, soil and water management practices, as well as the best pest and disease control measures within the region’s agro-climatic conditions. Agribiz recently toured farms in the county to learn how they are coping with the drought.

James' farm is still green thanks to ecological farming methods

Two farmers boasted how ecological farming had resulted in successful harvests

While two farmers boasted how ecological farming had resulted in successful harvests, another two had sad tales of failure after using fertilisers. Both James Mwoki from Matungulu constituency and Peter Mutiso from Kivaa Ward have adopted ecological farming.

And despite a biting drought, their two farms have maintained a green look, with modest productivity. Mutiso does not regret that he stopped using pesticides and fertilisers.
This season, I have harvested more than 15 bags of maize on my two-and-a-half acres, compared to last dry season when I got five bags,” he says. Mutiso uses “zai pits”, a water harvesting technique suitable for areas with unpredictable rains and risk of crop failures.

Farmers dig circular or square holes a foot deep that can accommodate about nine maize plants. In this method, the topsoil is mixed with farmyard manure which is then topped with maize and bean stalks as a soil cover (mulch).
This prevents water from evaporating and is thus retained in the soil. On Mwoki’s farm, everything is put to use to enhance the natural ecology. He cuts the vegetative parts of maize stalks for his animals and uses the rest for soil cover.
Cow dung is used as manure but since he doesn’t have enough, only puts the cowpats in holes ready for planting. He does not plough the earth, which means the soil can develop the fertile organic matter and retains water.
Whether it rains or not, I’ll still harvest a good crop,” Mwoki explained.

Grace land is arid, and harvest suffers from the drought

On the contrary, after using chemicals, Jand and Grace’s lands are now arid and dry, resulting in failed crops.

In contrast, Jane Nduko (Nyekundu village) and Grace Kasina decided to use chemical fertilisers this season. Their land is now arid and dry, resulting in failed crops.
The drought is hitting them hard, and the little food they harvested was only for subsistence. After using chemical fertilisers, the soils became acidic, which reduced fertility. Soon, organic matter was not as prominent in the soil and as a result it no longer retained water.
Neighbours know Kasina as “matunda” for her passion for planting fruits. But this season, all her crops dried up and the wind has been busy blowing away the sandy soils all around her homestead.

I admire the farms where ecological agriculture is being practiced and I think I will now adapt to it.

I admire the farms where ecological agriculture is being practiced and I think I will now adapt to it. I have already started early preparations for the rainy season to make the switch,” said the 75-year-old. Nduko, a widow and a mother of eight, has had to do manual jobs after her chemically fertilised plants failed to sprout despite heavy usage of water.
She says she is counting losses from the last rainy season. Scientific evidence demonstrates that ecological farming protects the soil, water and climate and plays a fundamental role in promoting biodiversity.
Ecological farming methods often outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production, especially in unfavourable environmental conditions and climate shocks.



Take action >> Take the pledge to support ecological farming, and support a better food system. 

Sabela Kiregia's Farm in Kenya

Rising food prices hurt the poor, not big agricultural companies

The drought in Kenya has hit home for most people. The impact on pastoralists and farming communities has been documented and cited in light of the government declaring a national drought. However, the impacts are already being felt beyond the farm. The drought has also meant rising food prices for basic commodities in Kenya. Food inflation in January 2017 stood at 12.4% with highest price increases recorded for cabbages, spinach, sukuma wiki, maize flour, and maize grain.

“Our families take only one meal a day and the worst part is that the available food might not be balanced as it should be. We all know that for effective growth and development of our children, they must take in a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins…All these are not sufficiently obtained because of rising of food prices.” – Zubeda Kamene

National average retail prices of selected commodities
Source: KNBS – CPI and Inflation Rates for January 2017 

Food prices

Rising food prices squeeze the incomes of mainly the poor who do not have much disposable income. The poorest families spend most of their income on food – in some cases, up to 80% of income. Meanwhile, average household incomes for the poorest have been decreasing for a number of years.

Droughts are becoming more common in the face of climate change. Yet, it seems the policy makers and gate-keepers are still oblivious. Kenyan consumers felt the pinch of the drought from 2011, and it is tragic that the government has not changed course since then. Government still warmly opens its doors to agriculture multinationals, whose agenda is not the welfare of the farmer; feeding the population; or the mitigation of drought, but rather filling their own pockets. Industrial agriculture is what they preach: soil depleting agro-chemicals, monoculture and cash crops.

Essentially, Kenyans are paying the price. Big agriculture pushes a model that requires more money from farmers at startup to buy specialized seeds and agro-chemicals. The overwhelming majority of the crops are monoculture and cash crops which bring in modest revenue to the population. The real money is made by foreign interests. Meanwhile these monocultures and cash crops deplete the soil, making the land less resilient at a time of drought.

Sabela Kiregia's Farm in Kenya
Sabela Kiregia sorting vegetables in her farm – Greenpeace visits farmers that have successfully adopted practices (diversification, agroforestry, water harvesting) that help them cope and mitigate the effects of weather extremes and climate change in the areas where they do their farming. Some of these practices fall within the definition of ecological farming.

An urgent shift is needed

Failed crops due to droughts mean less food which means the government must find means to feed a starving nation. At this point, international imports are being considered for Kenya. It’s rather ironic that these imports may be handled by the very players who are at the root of the problem: Big agricultural giants who are happy to supply maize (in other countries even opening the door to the import of GMO maize) and other staples at a hefty price to the taxpayers of our nation.

Greenpeace Africa calls on the government of Kenya to take the right steps this time around. Make a shift towards an agricultural system that enhances resilience rather than increases risks. Ecological agriculture benefits the farmer, the environment and the health of the consumer.

For more information you can read the full blog on the current drought here and check out our reports Building Resilience in East African Agriculture in Response to Climate Change and the Financial benefits of Ecological Farming in East Africa.

Media contacts:

Nokuthula Mhene, Senior Food for Life Campaign Manager, +277 951 293 63

Iris Maertens, Interim Communications Officer, Food For Life campaign, +254 77491 84 78

Drought: The alarm bell for the future Kenya needs

Since October, a severe drought, influenced by the effects of climate change and La Niña, has ravaged East and Horn of Africa. Over 11million people have been affected while pasture livestock are dying off by the thousands. It is clear that urgent, life-saving measures need to be taken. The UN, the Red Cross and regional governments, have taken steps to alleviate the situation. When we look toward the future, longer-term agricultural investments and initiatives in the region seem encouraging. The questions is, are these initiatives actually creating resilience to climate shocks such as droughts?

Man fetching water in drums

Funding is failing farmers

Many of these initiatives, with funding from government and/or international donors pushes farmers toward industrial agricultural. Often paired with this is the destruction of wetlands, forests and grasslands in order to clear land for monocultures. But due to clearing these ecosystems, groundwater is no longer retained, and the risk increases for erosion and desertification. Agro-chemicals, which pollute groundwater for local communities and surrounding ecosystems, are extensively used. Over time these agro-chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides) deplete the soil of nutrients and organic matter, which are essential for holding water in the ground.

It’s clear that when it comes to building resilience against future droughts, industrial agriculture is a step backward not forward.

Farming for a resilient future

To mitigate climate shocks and build drought resilience, a number of organizations and an abundance of research point toward ecological farming as being key. Ecological farming is less water intensive than industrial farming. It does not require the use of agro-chemicals and thus does not pollute the water. Ecological farming embraces the use of water-efficient seed varieties and an abundance of different crops. Such practices have shown to increase organic matter in soils and improve its quality. In turn, this delivers higher yields while locking moisture into the ground.

A shift is needed

As the government prepares reactive interventions, worries arise about what the future will hold for the region.  Wouldn’t it be more beneficial from a financial, humanitarian and ecological perspective, to invest in solutions, rather than systems which contribute to the problem? Ecological farming is the future! We call on governments and financial investors to make a switch in order to mitigate future droughts. Stand with us by sending an urgent call for change!

Greenpeace Africa has published a report titled: Building Resilience in East African Agriculture in Response to Climate Change and the Financial benefits of Ecological Farming in East Africa, and is currently working with to empower farmers to be more resilient in the face of climate change.