Triumphs and failures as farmers tackle drought
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.
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.
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.
Story By: WANGUI GITHUGO