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Climate-smart farming takes root in Kenya

Kenyan farmers learn by doing, with simple technologies and practices

Photo: ©FAO/Christene Dowsett
Siaya county, Western Kenya: banana growing generates income and improves children's nutrition

28 June 2013, Nairobi/Rome - Like most African countries, Kenya is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. There is growing concern about potential stress on fragile ecosystems and rural communities, especially in the arid and semi-arid agro-ecological zones and some humid highland areas of the country.

In keeping with the Strategy for Revitalizing Agriculture (SRA) of Kenya 2010-2015 and Kenya's vision 2030, national and international partners have teamed up to address these challenges by strengthening the capacities of smallholders to manage land and water resources in vulnerable agro-ecological zones.

Partnerships and community ownership

"Strengthening capacity for Climate Change Adaptation in Land and Water management," is a three year-project (2011-2013) funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and implemented by FAO and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). It is also partnering with NGOs and government ministries reponsible for agriculture, fisheries and irrigation.

The idea is to create a mosaic of partners working together to leverage investment as a key component of the management of natural resources and the adaptation strategies.

About 12 000 households are expected to benefit by strengthening adaptation to climate change risks in the selected watersheds and districts. They include Patricia Atieno, who used to grow only maize on her three acre family farm.

"Since last year, I have learned to diversify crops with drought-tolerant varieties and by re-introducing traditional, high-value varieties in our diet," says Atieno. "Now, I grow bananas, papayas, pineapples, amaranths, sweet potatoes, cassava, millet, tomatoes, and we have food all the year-long. Poor soils like mine have been turned fertile through mulching because it adds nutrients to the soils."

Local authorities are sought out to provide technical backstopping in related areas that help to coordinate and enhance district development efforts.

Willis Odhiambo Atyang, the Ugunja District Agricultural Officer, Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, confirms that the collaboration between KARI and FAO has led to substantive benefits to the farmers.

"Most of our farmers had lost hope when the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) bacterial disease was diagnosed in 2001 in the banana-growing regions of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda," Atyang says.

"We started promoting the plant again and we have now developed eight sucker banks where farmers can get clean and certified planting materials. Individual farmers are now selling suckers to their neighbours at an affordable cost, and the short distances within the local areas reduce high transportation costs," Atyang explains.

In selected sites, building, boosting and managing healthy soils through soil and water conservation measures, crop-residue mulching, leguminous cover crops and other sustainable land management practices are aimed at increasing productivity.

George William Ouma practices climate-smart agriculture on a farm in Ugunja District, Siaya County: "Today, I have more than 1 500 banana stools of various varieties grown including Cavendish, plantain and lady finger. My farm has been certified as a demonstration farm for teaching other farmers in an effort to promote climate-smart technologies applied for livelihood diversification, water conservation and soil health improvement."

George's farm generates an average income of KES 20,000 (USD 230) a month from the sale of bananas. This is besides the sales of banana suckers that he, as the producer of an approved sucker bank, sells to other farmers in the county and beyond. With this money, he's building a shop for farm produce.

Strengthening capacity in sustainable land and water management

FAO and KARI are working with non-governmental organizations to enhance and transform smallholder agriculture productivity in cultivated watersheds where natural resources are under threat due to climate change and variability risks.

"This can be accomplished by increasing productivity of crops and livestock, water harvesting, soil conservation, applying basic conservation agriculture principles and including agroforestry and afforestation in crop-livestock systems", explains Meshack Malo, FAO expert in Land and Water Management, Department of Natural Resources. 

The programme operates in three counties with the Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS) in Bungoma (West); Rangala Family Development Program (RFDP) in Siaya (West); and, INADES Foundation International - Kenya Office (IFIKO) of Machakos (South-East).

Over 2,000 individual farmers in Siaya alone are learning and adopting various practices that can improve soil and land productivity, their food security and resilience in the face of climate change.

"Our major focus is the urgent need to enhance the capacity of smallholders to address the challenges of climate change through the promotion of cover crops, rotations, minimum tillage, sustainable land and water management, and water management practices, along with other complementary livelihood strategic practices that will enhance carbon storage, ecosystem resilience and livelihood options," emphasized FAO-KARI expert, Barrack Okoba.

Jean-Marc Faurès, FAO senior water resources management expert, says there is much more to be done: "Further actions are required in some key areas such as access to financial services and markets, in addition to acquisition of equipment for building water source schemes, at community scale, better fodder and tree species for improved soil fertility, crop diversification and livestock feed resources."