What will it take for our farmers to be resilient?

Thursday, October 29th, 2020 00:00 |
Maize farming. Photo/Courtesy

John Macharia 

Climate change is the new normal for sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, ours is the only continent that has not solved its food production issues.

As we grapple with Covid-19, we are facing a perfect storm. We have more mouths to feed, and yet our environment is under pressure.

Kenya’s population is increasing by about a million people every year, and an ecological crisis threatens our food security systems.

A coalition of actors in Kenya have been working hard to support farmers minimise effects of climate change, but there is still a lot more to do.

Since I began my work at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) in 2014, Kenya has gone through cyclical droughts, floods, locust invasion, fall armyworm invasions and maize lethal necrosis disease.

Now is the time to act. That is why Agra, is working to help smallholder farmers overcome the impact of climate change and increase production.

How are we doing this? By focusing on the three Ps — people, profit and planet. Our people need nutritious and safe food.

To supply this, smallholder farmer must make a profit. They needs an equitable return on investment in food systems.

And we must pay attention to our planet — weather variability, new pest and disease threats. 

What does this mean in practice? It means giving smallholder farmers access to early maturing and drought resistant seeds, as they give better yields and are more profitable. 

Profit is key here: farmers only adopt technology when there is a market that rewards their investment.

We are working with government and private sector to achieve this. Take the Regenerative Agriculture project in Embu and Makueni for example.

It is a project in an area that receives low rainfall, limiting crops from growing. Here, we introduce farmers to modern early-maturing seeds and improved soil techniques.

We encourage agro-forestry and conservation agriculture that enhance resilience.

We help farmers better use water - the resource most critically effected by climate change.

We are training some 20,000 smallholder farmers to adopt good agronomic practices, using balanced fertilisers that replenish the soil with micronutrients. 

For the longest time, African farmers relied and applied macronutrients of NPK fertilisers, leading to imbalanced soil health.

Now we know we must replace minerals such as boron, iron, manganese, copper and zinc that are deficient in the soil.

These micronutrients are not only important for plant nutrition but also for humans. 

In mountainous area around Mt Elgon and Kakamega forest, Agra is working with smallholder farmers to increase production and help stop farmers from encroaching on forests by using sustainable land management practices that improve yields and environmental stability.

It is backed by the government, the Global Environment Fund, UNDP, and Kenyan Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation.

We know African farmers need uniquely African solutions. Smallholder farmers need access to technologies that build resilience against climate change — modern seeds, appropriate fertilisers and water efficient technologies.

They need access to finance, from climate funds to achieve this. And they need access to markets rewarding their investment in innovation, whether this be niche markets or organic farming, where there is more profit. — The writer is Agra Kenya’s country manager

More on News