Kenya: strengthening farmers’ resilience to drought
Most people in drought-prone eastern Kenya farm tiny plots of land and keep some livestock. They are dependent on the rains for their crops.
But farmers have not had a decent harvest in two – even three – seasons. “The weather used to be friendlier,” said Simon Mulatya, 69, who, along with his wife, Agnes, has been farming this area for decades. “We used to grow enough to feed our family for eight months. Now it usually lasts two or three.”
High food, fuel and seed prices have placed an additional strain on families, forcing them to eat fewer meals a day or to sell off livestock.
When the rains do come, they often come in short, intense bursts. The water is quickly lost through run-off, leaving seasonal riverbeds bone dry most of the year.
Trekking up to 20 km to fetch water is common. The daily chore, often done by women or children, can take five or six hours – sometimes longer.
FAO is working to turn that situation around by helping farmers in eastern Kenya to prepare their lands and build structures to collect water.
Farmers, working in farmer field school groups, are terracing their fields so that fertile topsoil is not swept away with the rains.
Likewise, they are building simple sand dams in nearby riverbeds to capture and retain water – water that can be used for drinking, cooking and irrigating crops.
In exchange for each day of work, farmers are given vouchers – half of which can be redeemed for food at select local traders. The other half is used to buy materials to construct the community-owned dams.
“I could never have done this work on my own,” said Jane Nzambi, a 43-year-old single mother of five, standing in a deep trench that will trap and store water for later use. “I would still be pushing my wheel barrel, fetching water to sell.”
Planting drought-resistant crops and fruit trees, such as these mangoes, combined with soil and water management, can help prevent these farmers from being completely blindsided the next time the rains fail.
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Photos: © ©FAO/Thomas Hug