Yatta Farmers Embrace New Technology to Fight Climate Change

Maize plantation in Yatta growing under ecology agriculture.Picture :Henry Owino
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Farmers in Yatta in Machakos County have decided to address the adverse effects of Climate change head on to increase their farm productivity.

They are practicing ecological farming which is friendly to changing weather patterns and safe to environment. The area on Yatta plateau is semi-arid though with fertile soil that receives long rains between October and December while short rains come in February and April.

However, this pattern has changed as result of climate change that is being experienced around the world. Unlike in the past, the rains are no longer reliable and have left farmers not only confused, but frustrated because of the unpredictable weather patterns.

The pattern has resulted in crop failure year in year out in Yatta forcing farmers to abandon crop farming for other income generating activities such as charcoal- burning, brick- making among other unfriendly environmental activities.

But all is not lost, thanks to officials from the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) who have come to the rescue of the Yatta farmers to embark on serious agricultural trainings.

They have been doing that in collaboration with Greenpeace Africa that trains residents on ecological farming.

Ecological farming is agriculture which does not involve use of any industrial fertiliser, chemicals or any other man-made components, but uses pure organic matter.

According to Elijah Kamau, Coordinator, ICE in charge of Food Sovereignty and Community Livelihood in Machakos County, the system has improved crop yields and saved many lives and households.

The training involves both theory and practical work where residents are invited to attend a four-hour session for a week in a tutorial workshop. The rest is applied on their respective farms.

The official says some farmers have confessed that they made mistakes in the past by relying on conventional agriculture that has changed due to unpredictable weather patterns.

“Farmers have welcomed this idea of ecology agriculture and everyone is trying to increase his/her farm productivity. The agricultural sector in this area had collapsed but with introduction of ecology farming it has been revamped,” Kamau says.

Their main aim is to increase food production, make it secure and improve quality of life for residents.

“Residents in this region are known for relying on molio (relief food) in times of drought, but this is gradually fading away. This is because farmers embraced ecological farming as opposed to industrial agriculture,” Kamau says.

But he cautioned farmers that ecology farming is labour intensive although with high productivity compared to industrial agriculture. He pointed out farmlands with silt and sandy soils as the best suited for that type of farming.

This is because such soils have poor water retention capacity, but with organic matter input, it supports and fixes the problem naturally.

“Organic matter such as cow dung mixed with dry leaves helps in nutrients addition, moisture preservation and maintenance of soil aeration vital for crops germination and growth,” Kamau says.

On his part, John Nzomo, Agriculture Extension Officer for Yatta Sub-County, said the region requires drought tolerant crops and seeds that are designed for semi-arid areas. However, most farmers use available seeds regardless of its suitability region.

Nzomo revealed many residents called themselves ‘farmers’ but are not real farmers. They just practice agriculture like any ordinary person because they cultivate their farms. He appealed to farmers to be serious and be well acquainted with basic farming skills, know that seed variety and soil types.

“Any farmer who practice industrial agriculture and is ignorant of basic agricultural skills will forever have crop failure in his/her farm. An ecological farmer may survive and harvest at least something even with low rains,” Nzomo advises.

Maize seeds that do well in arid and semi-arid areas include KDV1, Dry Highland Hybrid1 (DH01) and Nduma which last for three months to mature.  The extension worker is encouraging farmers in dry areas to maximize cultivation of sorghum and green-gram because of its resistance to drought and diseases.

“I wonder why farmers always insist on maize seeds whose uses are so many before it is finally harvested for flour. Even at storage farmers still pick some for githeri encouraging cycle of poverty/hunger. Green-gram/sorghum will never fail as it keeps hunger at bay,” Nzomo recommends.

He noted the cost of one bag of green-gram can purchase 10 bags of maize making the former more profitable than the latter in terms of business.

Francisca Mbuli is a farmer who had abandoned her agricultural farmland to engage in charcoal business and rely on molio (relief food) distributed by the government.  However, after going through unique and diverse training programme organised by ICE and Greenpeace Africa in the area, she has become an expert farmer in ecological farming.

Mbuli is proud to reveal that her first harvest was a bumper one after experimenting with ecological farming. Since then she has never looked back growing variety of seed crops.  Today she is in the forefront empowering other women farmers on ecological farming to end hunger in the community.

“In a span of two years, from 2015 and 2016, I have engaged with ICE and Greenpeace Africa on ecological farming I had a bumper harvest of maize .I managed to harvest 10 bags of maize instead of my usual four in the same half acre parcel of land,” Mbuli disclosed.

She recalls that the last time they had a bumper harvest was a decade ago, and blames the problem on climate change.

Meanwhile, Iris Marteus, Coordinator, Greenpeace Africa, Nairobi Kenya, says the aim of imparting ecological farming knowledge is to convert residents from being partial farmers to become commercial farmers. The target is to promote self reliance and ensure food security.

Iris said they identified the problem in media reports and decided to take it up as organisation to address it. Greenpeace Africa is a non profit organisation whose main goal is to empower communities with skills to become sufficiently reliance.

Currently many residents who had lost hope in agriculture for other activities have returned to practice ecological farming. Reason being ecological farming is revolutionizing agriculture in the semi-arid area for farmers who are deep into it.

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