The seed sector in Malawi has said it will advocate for research and adoption of genetically modified organisms as one of the tools in fighting food insecurity and climate change in the country.
Leading lobby groups attending the World Seed Congress in Cape Town have called for close cooperation between them, seed companies and government to increase the uptake of new seed varieties in Africa.
Stephen Muchiri, Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) who represents nearly 25 million farmers, said that seed companies hardly involve farmers when deciding on what crops to research on and breed.
His remarks were shared by Gerald Masila, Executive Director of Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGCC) with a membership of about four million individuals.
The two experts were making contributions in a panel discussion titled Agri-Food Value Chain Opportunities in Africa and Beyond.
Seed companies, they said, should work with other actors in the value chain to participate in formulating and hence recognising government policies for the attainment of food security as well as in enhancing uptake of new technologies.
Muchiri also accused the government of introducing punitive regulations and taxes that stifle farming.
Masila added that there is a big disconnect between the private and the public sectors in seed varieties breeding, which has often led to poor uptake of the new varieties.
He advised breeders to first identify the market demands before deciding on varieties to breed to reverse the trend where investors and donors are the key decision makers, leading to farmers rejecting varieties on offer.
“Market should be the springboard for research undertaking and not the other way round,” said Masila.
He said that farmers hardly adopt new seeds and technologies due to poor communication by the seed sector and distorted information by sources outside the industry.
“The agenda in breeding must address the needs of key stakeholders right from the consumers to the needs of the farmer, be they yield or consumer preferences, for acceptance of the final product,” said Masila.
He said that low research and investments by public institutions have resulted in external investors and private seed companies setting their own agenda in breeding, leaving out farmers in decisions made.
According to a report by The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), a seed industry research body, the number of varieties sold in 2017 vis a viz varieties released between 2000 and 2017 in Nigeria stood at 33 per cent for maize and 46 per cent for sorghum. For Kenya maize scored 21 per cent and sorghum 37 per cent.
According to Mainza Mugoya, the Regional Coordinator at TASAI, calculating the level of acceptance and uptake of new varieties in Africa remains a grey area because not all countries have updated national variety catalogues. He added that when the private sector releases a variety, they do not always market it immediately as they may first want to test the market before producing large quantities and this may take time.
Muchiri said that for sustained growth of the certified seed sector, governments should stop their dictatorial policies, which leave farmers reeling from the effects of one-sided decisions.
“Government needs to be the convenor and not competitor of the seed sector, with farmers at the centre to ensure correct information flow. Be the regulator and play the oversight role but don’t be dictatorial,” he said.
“Farmers are left on their own and we as an association find it hard to show that we have the backing of everyone in the value chain. This calls for joint lobbying for policies and other matters affecting the seed sector.”
Responding to the concerns by the lobby groups, Seed Trade Association of Kenya Executive Officer Duncan Onduu said that his association is ready to work with farmers and they have already begun to consult with the Kenya National Farmers Federation.
Onduu said it pays to bring farmers on board whenever issues of research arise so that they stay in sync with the research agenda for the realisation of food security.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Organization (KALRO) Kabete occupies approximately 25 hectare of land with an altitude of 1740m above sea-level. The annual mean rainfall and temperature are about 980 mm and 23°C, respectively. It is located approximately 13 kilometres from Nairobi city.
On the right hand side, just a few metres after entering the main gate, you come across a one-acre farm. It was the main attraction for people who visited the organization open week exhibition.
This is due to its flourishing and healthy green looking crops notwithstanding it being a dry season. The organization has been using rain water harvesting technology to do farming in the one hectare land.
Dr Esther Gikonyo is the Centre director at KALRO Kabete. She is a soil and plant nutrition specialist. She said that at this time when climate change is being experienced globally, water harvesting technology is very important in ensuring that farmers embrace it to do farming so that they can get enough yields.
Dr Gikonyo said as an organization, they ploughed the one hectare land in January and February and used the harvested water for irrigation.
“We started ploughing in the month of January when it was very dry. But thanks to our harvested water, we used it to do irrigation and now these are the fruits of our labour,” she told a section of MESHA members.
“If the community embraces water harvesting technology and do irrigation using the water, then every family will be food independent,” she added.
Dr Gikonyo advised farmers to develop the habit of harvesting rainwater because rain patterns have become unpredictable. She also noted that water harvesting come in handy due to climate change effects which have been causing insufficient rains and environmental damages.
She observed that the above scenario has seen many farmers get little or no harvest at all hence causing food scarcity and famine in some parts of the country.
Water harvesting, experts say involves collection and storage of rain water with the help of artificially designed systems, which run off natural or man-made catchment areas such as rooftop, compounds, hill slopes and others.
Francis Karanja is the irrigation engineer at KALRO. He says water harvesting technology is simple and every farmer can afford it noting that it is also very easy to use the technology for irrigation. He says at the farm, the rain water is collected from a roof-like surface and redirected to a deep pit or a borehole.
“Some of the equipment that we use include black paper to cover the pool, two water tanks and the solar machine to pump the water into the farm,” he said.
According to Engineer Karanja, the pit can hold up to 4,500 litres of water and can supply water to irrigate the farm for a period of three months.
“The borehole cost us Ksh 250,000 (USD 1,800) and is expected to last for more than ten years,” he said.
Apart from the water harvesting technology, different stakeholders exhibited various technologies for farming such as con garden, vertical bag farming among others.
This was in line with the year’s theme “transformative agricultural technologies, innovations and management practices for food and nutrition security, income and climate resilience.”
Western region of Kenya has been one of the main supply of fish to Kenyan market for ages and one of the major sources of income to the residents of counties bordering Lake Victoria.
However, women who are the most participants in the trade of these commodity have found themselves in a trap of exchanging their bodies sexually with the fishermen so as to get the business going on, popularly known as Fish for sex ‘jaboya’.
This situation has been feared to be a major contributor to the spread of HIV/AIDS that has seen the region leading in the national HIV/AIDS prevalence.
“HIV/AIDS began many years ago and it is rampant in this area because of a practice we call jaboya,” revealed Mrs Judith Abong’o, Rangwe sub-county HIV/AIDS Control Coordinator, Homa Bay County, western Kenya.
“We have fishermen who demand for sex from women who want to purchase fish from them, she added.
According to 2022 HIV/AIDS prevalence national statistics released by the National AID and STI Control program NASCOP, Western Counties Bordering Lake Victoria took the first five position on the list with Homabay having 19.6 percent, Kisumu 17.5, Siaya 15.3, Migori 13.3 and Busia 7.7 consecutively.
These figures surpassed the national percentage in the prevalence which is at 4.8 percent with women leading by 5.2 percent compared to men who are at 4.5 percent.
However, the introduction of fish cage farming technology in the lake region counties might bring this threat to an end.
Other than this technology bringing a solution towards fish for sex in the region it has broken the tradition of fishing being an activity only for men, and brought women to the forefront in the industry.
Traditional fishing was too heavy duty for women, and there were lots of risks including attacks from dangerous aquatic creatures, and fear of being arrested and tortured by the Ugandan Defense Force officers that disadvantaged the women.
Kisumu County Executive Committee (CEC) member in charge of Agriculture, Irrigation and Fisheries department Kenneth Anyango, termed the fish cage idea as a reliable gender-inclusive option for the economic income to residents.
‘’In Kisumu county, twenty percent of women have gone to fish caging. The old lake fishing method was biased against women and mostly done by men but as long as you have capital, you can easily set up your cage,” said Anyango.
Francesca Odhiambo, a fish trader at Dunga beach in Kisumu County for the last twenty years and secretary of Chiela Smart Women Group, confidently testifies how they got into fish cage farming as a group, a move that has totally changed their lives economically.
“Definitely, there is a significant change in our income, like now we have our own cage and we are sure of getting any quantity of fish that our clients may require,” said Odhiambo.
“I am happy that this idea has given us opportunity to have our own fish, instead of getting involved in fish for sex activities that are common around this beach,” she added.
Fish cage technology was introduced in 2013 as a pilot project at Dunga Beach in Kisumu County by Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI) and Egerton University.
Later, the County government of Kisumu adopted the practice before it spread to other lake region counties.
A vibrant Kowil Women Group that consists of twenty members has also invested in this new technology. The group is located at Nyenye Got Agulu Beach on the shores of Lake Victoria, about ninety five kilometres away from Dunga, in Bondo sub-county in Siaya County.
“We began fish cage farming in 2018 and the difference is that you are sure of the quantity of fish at hand and an estimate of the money you will get after harvesting,” said Evelyne Akello, one of the members of Kowil Women Group.
According to the acting director of fisheries in the county government of Siaya, Emman Otieno, women are naturally more committed than men in carrying out tasks.
Otieno reiterated that this is an added advantage to women because it enables them receive funding from the government and other financial institutions to expand their business, and to that effect they have a better chance of doing well in fish cage farming.
“This year the government of Siaya budgeted for substantial amount of money to assist farmers procure feeds because this is the main problem when it comes to aquaculture,” said Otieno.
In Busia County the national government through the Ministry of Mining and Blue Economy is constructing a modern fish landing centre at Mulukoba Beach in Budalang’I Sub-county to a tune of Ksh 124 million Kenya shillings (USD 891,000) that will help in value addition.
Mulukoba Beach has about 150 cages of which 30 percent of the owners are women who are mostly in self-help groups.
62 years old Pascalia Were is one the fish cage farmers at Mulukoba beach, who adopted this new idea a year ago under the umbrella of Mulukoba Women Fish Mongers.
According to her, the technology has numerous advantages compared to traditional fishing methods.
“This technology has made our work easier, we don’t need to waste time chasing for fishermen and other engagements to obtain fish but instead we just harvest and sell,” explained Pascalia were.
Through these aquaculture technology, it is obvious that women can play a major role in diversification of fishing especially during this tough times of climate change if introduced to modern innovations.
Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has raised concern over the decreasing rate of production in agriculture due to declining soil fertility in Kenya.
According to the head of station at KALRO Kabete, Dr. Esther Gikonyo most of the soils that are used for farming in Kenya are short of or below the sixteen essential nutrients required for crops to perform well.
“Soil fertility is declining because of continuous cropping without sufficient replenishment of the nutrients in the soil,” said Dr Gikonyo.
While addressing the media during a two days Agricultural Exhibition at the institution, Dr Gikonyo added that currently about 63 per cent of the soils in areas with high and medium rainfall which also has the potential for the country’s food production are acidic with an average pH that is below 5.5.
Most of the crops that the country depends on for food require between the soil pH of 5.5 and 6.5.
“63 percent of the soils in this country will require correction of the pH through the application of Lime which will reduce the quantity of fertilizers used and increase production,” she added.
According to a report released by Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) in 2019, Food Crops as a subsector in Kenya contributes approximately 33 percent of the total agricultural Gross Domestic Product.
The report indicated that food production in Kenya, was about 10.5 million tons but unfortunately this has reduced by 30 percent.
Kevin Wafula who is a youthful farmer from Pasama village in Teso South Sub-county in Busia County, has been growing tomatoes, Soya beans, maize and beans for several years but says that he has never tested soils in his farms.
All along he has been wondering why the yield is declining despite applying fertilizer during planting and even at top dressing stages.
“Last year I planted Rose cocoa variety of beans in one and a half hectare of land and harvested 20kgs only, just because I assumed my soil was okay, but I expected to harvest between six and nine sacks of 90kgs, said Wafula.
According to Shaban Wandera a perennial farmer in Matayos Sub-County in Busia county, westen Kenya majority of farmers fear getting in to soil sampling process because of the expenses involved yet others lack awareness of its importance.
“It is very difficult to convince a farmer to spend one thousand shillings (USD 7) on soil testing and spend another five hundred shillings (USD3.6) to and from our research centre called Alupe KALRO to go for soil testing,” said Wandera.
The main food crops in Kenya are maize, wheat, rice, potatoes, Green grams, and beans whereas Maize is the principal staple food of Kenya and it is grown in 90 percent of all Kenyan farms.
Most of the varieties of maize planted in Kenya requires a soil pH of between 5.8 and 6.0 an indication that a lot of sensitisation has to be done for farmers to adjust and embrace soil testing if not the use of lime.
For example in Western Kenya where by the main cash crop is sugar cane, production has been lowering day after day causing a very big deficit of cane to the sugar factories in the region.
This is because majority of farmers are continuously planting cane without following procedures nor testing their soils so as to determine the best variety of seed cane and how to neutralize the acidity.
“Sugar cane production has been decreasing in this area, but fortunately as a factory we partnered with other stakeholders and did soil testing before advising farmers on which variety of cane to settle on. This has led to an increase in production,” said Gerald Okoth, the general manager of West Kenya Sugar Company that has contracted a majority of sugar cane farmers in western Kenya.
In her statement, Dr. Gikonyo advised that farmers particularly in areas with high rainfall like North Rift, Mount Kenya and Western regions to embrace the use of lime and then Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) or Nitrogen, Phosphorous and potassium (NPK) fertilizer so as to effectively counter the threat of acidity.
“My appeal to all farmers in this country to test their soils so that they can be given prescription that will cure their soils and by so doing we are going to achieve food and nutrition security and have resilience in the income and climate changes,” reiterated Dr Gikonyo.
This article has been produced with financial support of Media for Environment, Science and Agriculture (MESHA).
Dave Brandt was a big man with an even bigger heart.
He also had big hands, often used to gently scoop up spades full of dirt to show visitors his farm’s worm-friendly, crumbly soil structure.
Brandt had turned decades of experimenting in no-till and cover crops into what can only be described as the ultimate in high organic matter soil beds on his Ohio farm. The 76-year-old, who tragically died in a car crash last week, was the king of conservation, a regenerative ag rockstar long before that trendy buzzword began to surface years ago.
“It’s like cottage cheese”: Ohio no-till pioneer Dave Brandt shows what happens in cover crop residue, resulting in rich, worm-friendly soil leading to high yields at reduced input costs.
If you want to understand more clearly what it takes to build organic matter and soil health, just watch the video above, made at Brandt’s farm some eight years ago.
Brandt was legendary for his innovative testing with cover crop seed mixes, intercropping and no-till. He used nature, not chemicals or synthetic fertilizers, to nurture high yields. When I visited him in 2015, he was working on ways to prove that his methods were more than just conservation. In fact, farmers who adopted his techniques could shave input costs.
“The problem today is we have been told you need to apply this and buy that to make a yield,” he told me. “But if we start treating the soil right, we may not need all those extra things to make maximum economic returns. We’re trying to prove that with the right no-till system, what we have in the soil is all we need to maintain production.”
Unassuming and forthright, Brandt never asked for publicity. Yet, people flocked by the truckloads to see his fields and hear him speak in simple, clear language about the virtues of a three-pillar system: no-till planting; cover crops for nutrients, weed suppression and conservation; and crop rotation. His working crop farm in the gently rolling fields of central Ohio served as a massive test plot.
I thought I was seeing things when we stopped at a field of corn intercropped with soybeans.
“These soybeans will give 100 lb. of nitrogen back to the corn crop,” he explained. “After the cost of seed and planting, this will lower the cost of N to that crop by half.” Back then, that was conservatively $60 per acre savings on fertilizer costs. The savings would be dramatically higher with today’s high input cost landscape.
These intercropping trials began over a decade ago as a local FFA project. In plots with no nitrogen applied – just soybeans intercropped – the corn yielded 182 bushels per acre. In a nearby field where 140 units of N was applied but without the intercropped beans, the field yielded only 125 bpa.
“That’s when my eyes really opened up on this idea,” he said. “Over the growing season we’ve seen the corn roots grow right into the soy root nodule where the nitrogen is.”
On another plot, Brandt was looking at non-genetically modified corn with zero seed treatment compared to GM seed with and without treatments, which, at the time of our visit, cost $45 to $60 per acre.
“We’re trying to see if biotech traits are worth it in specific soil conditions like no-till with weed-suppressing cover crops,” he said. “Guys with conventionally-tilled fields probably do need them because those soils have no micro-organisms to speak of.
“With these plots we’re trying to see if no-till, cover crops and rotation will do enough in terms of insect and weed control.” If successful it would mean shaving another $50 to $100 off crop budget costs. Again, this was in 2015 – consider how much more you would save based on today’s crop costs.
TEACHER TO MANY: People flocked by the truckloads to see Brandt’s fields and hear him speak in simple, clear language about the virtues of a three-pillar system: no-till planting, cover crops for nutrients, weed suppression and conservation; and crop rotation. Credit: Mike Wilson
Then I got to see what might best be described as the showpiece of the place: a field that had been no tilled since 1970 when Brandt first started tinkering with the practice. The soil was dark, with a certain ‘give’ under the shoe; a bit spongy, yet well drained. Nearby was a recently purchased field that had been conventionally planted for years.
The two fields were stunningly different from each other.
“My field has 7% organic matter,” he explained. “The field we just purchased here has less than 1%– it’s been farmed to death. Our goal is to get that figure up to 7% in the next seven years.”
Now, any farmer who paid attention in agronomy class can tell you there’s a bit of magic that happens to soils that make even the three or four percent OM level. Lots of nutrients get unlocked and fertilizer bills go down, while yields grow.
Brandt would never brag about such an achievement, but he would certainly want others to see just what they could do to improve their farm’s soil health. He told me everything he had learned about farming came from these home-grown field trials he would set up each year.
“The average farmer might see what I’m doing and say, you don’t have scientific data,” he said. “If it works, who cares? I make a lot of mistakes, but this is how I learn. There’s nothing I won’t try.”
In fact, Brandt turned one of his ‘mistakes’ into another test plot. He ran out of weed spray on a small patch of land where he had been killing cover crops. So he just decided to see if the corn crop could outgrow the living cover blend. When I visited in late May of that year, the corn seedlings were healthier than the corn plants in the nearby area where the cover had been killed off.
“Who knows, maybe corn needs competition,” Brandt said with a smile.
Brandt used to be famous in the cover crop world for his fondness for tillage radishes. He had been quoted many times on the marvels of this plant builds soil tilth and opens up pores to improve drainage.
FULL OF LIFE: Brandt liked to plant tillage radishes in cover crops. Those radishes would break down and provide food for earthworms, which in turn built up the water infiltration capacity in the soil. Credit: Mike Wilson
At the time of our visit Brandt was selling no fewer than 127 varieties of cover crop seed. His warehouse could blend just about anything for anybody, depending on what you were trying to accomplish. One 12-variety blend had tall, medium and short plants, which offered a variety of root depth to suppress weeds and create pores in the soil. In the spring of 2015, he had planted corn into that blend and the soils tested 175 lb. of N per acre, so no nitrogen was needed on that field that year.
Brandt believed a three-crop rotation that includes corn, soy and wheat was the best way to build soil OM. Adding wheat is a hard sell at times since it’s not the revenue generator corn and soy are. However, you need to take the long view, he would insist.
“This wheat is going to probably make 90 bu. per acre,” he explained, gesturing to a nearby field. “Then after we harvest, we will put on a long season cover blend which will produce lots of N and bring P and K back to the surface. That will save me in the neighborhood of $200 per acre in reduced fertilizer costs when I plant corn in that field next spring.
“If you have a three-year rotational crop you can enhance corn and soybean yields; that is university proven,” he added. “Now we’re going to a three-crop rotation plus cover crops, which gives us higher OM, loosens soil, increases water infiltration and lowers nutrient costs the next two years. That makes it all more profitable, and no one can argue with that.”
Here’s something else no one can argue with: Dave Brandt will be sorely missed.
Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) will host the International Federation of Agriculture Journalists (ifaj) Congress in 2025.
While making the announcement to members of the giant Kenyan science journalist’s association, the Board Chairman, Bozo Jenje said the decision to host the conference in Nairobi was a move in the right direction and that it would allow the country to showcase its milestones in agricultural development.
The showpiece, he added, will also give the world a glimpse of how Kenyans tell the African science story.
“Perhaps this is the peak of MESHA’s recognition for the excellent trailblazing it has undertaken in bringing science journalists together not just in Kenya but in Africa as well,” added John Riaga, the treasurer.
The annual fete will take place in Africa only for the second time after South Africa hosted in 2017. Initially, Kenya was to host in 2026 but the decision to bring it to Nairobi a year earlier was made after Israel dropped its bid to host in 2025. The congress brings together journalists from all over the world.
MESHA Secretary, Aghan Daniel termed the decision “a huge responsibility” that had been bestowed upon MESHA. “This is a very big honour, big statement of trust that the world has about our ability and I am confident that we will hold a memorable conference bringing together agriculture journalists from all over the world,” he said in a statement to members of Africa’s most active science journalists’ association.
Other MESHA members also welcomed the decision and vowed to get down to start preparations for hosting.
“We have a strong team of agriculture writers who will be meeting in the next few days to begin the preliminary discussions,” said Aghan.
By Clifford Akumu
Across the open plains of Lching’ei Village in Samburu County, a herd of goats roam the scape, nibbling at tiny twigs of stout acacia shrubs scattered across the expanse.
Further afield, manyattas – dome-shaped temporary pastoralists shelters made of mud and sticks – dot the village like overgrown ant-hills.
Not far away, Hellen Nasha Lelegwe’s one-acre farm rolls by with rows of leafy sukuma-wiki and amaranth intercropped among maize, with napier grass seated on the edges of the farm.
The veggies, says Mrs Lelegwe, have been an important source of food and nutrition for her family and fellow villagers, particularly during the searing drought that tore the region’s food security apart.
She grows a variety of vegetables, ranging from sukuma-wiki, cabbages, onions, tomatoes, saget, African nightshade (managu), green pepper to sweet potatoes.
In most villages in the larger Suguta Mar Mar ward in Samburu Central where Lelegwe lives, the aftermath of failed rains is evident; pastoralists possessing a handful of livestock, and men have migrated as far as Isiolo and Laikipia in search of pasture and water for their livestock, leaving women to head households.
The women, abandoned by their husbands, are at the core of family life and the economy of the villages. They have a key role in food production, animal husbandry and raising children.
With nearest water sources running dry, food production has slowed and livelihoods have worsened. What now worries the community most is the ripple effect on their nutritional status.
“Dry seasons are now progressively getting worse. This time, our livestock have perished and left us with nothing,” Lelegwe narrates while weeding her plot. Her family lost 17 cattle and over 100 goats to the drought.
Unfortunately, in Lching’ei, it’s not only the changing weather patterns or conflict with wild animals that the locals are wary of. Armed bandits too have been a cause of pain, injuries and loss of livelihoods as they forcefully break into cattle sheds and drive away with droves of livestock. Every few miles of our journey to meet the farmer was met with pockets of the National Police Reservists patrolling the area to provide security.
Although the government has continued to upscale the security operation against banditry, pastoralist communities are still losing the remaining livestock to bandits. Lching’ei village borders Amaiya and Nasur villages.
However, Lching’ei residents have since found ways of adapting. Every evening, together with their children and livestock, they flock to the Logorate shopping centre one by one ready to spend the night.
“We neither sleep in our houses nor do our animals in the compound. We only come during the day to cook and tend to the crops,” says Mrs Lelegwe, adding that the police provide security at the Logorate centre.
“We are safer at the shopping centre.”
Pirauni Lebarleiya is an agro-pastoralists who used to help his wife water their vegetable garden planted on gunny bags before drought set in and pushed him and the cattle to as far as Isiolo County in search of pasture and water.
“I used to go for water in the dam with my motorcycle to water our vegetables. When drought set in, I took all my sheep and goats to Kilimon area. And later moved with 25 cattle to Ngarantare (Nanyuki-Isiolo border) and later proceeded to Sieku in Isiolo in search of water and pasture. I only came back with three cows,” says Lebarleiya, gazing at his empty Kraal. He lost the rest of the cows to the drought. Lebarleiya reckons that his farming activities have reduced following prolonged drought. Currently, he is preparing a comeback with new vegetable seedlings to transplant in new gunny bags. He used to grow cabbage, sukuma wiki, managu, onions, among others.
Classified as an Arid and Semi-Arid area, Samburu is a water scarce county, and the situation has been getting worse due to the frequent and prolonged bouts of intense drought.
According to the March 2023 Drought Early Warning Bulletin produced by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Samburu County was in the alarm drought phase.
The report further indicates that the majority of villagers accessed water from boreholes and wells. Boreholes and wells were relied on by 40 and 30 per cent of the households, respectively.
Mrs Lelegwe is part of a 30-member Sipat Women Group (formerly Beans Growers Women Group) who have sought out new farming methods to respond and adapt to the changing weather patterns and save their village.
She is practising climate-smart agriculture to diversify her source of livelihood, from solely depending on livestock keeping to other income generating activities like agro-pastoralism.
Until the women group received training on kitchen garden, multi-cropping, seedbed establishment among many other climate smart farming techniques, Mrs Lelegwe and other members of the group engaged in businesses and traditional small-scale farming.
But income from their farming was low and produce did not yield enough profits to sustain the activity.
In 2022, Caritas Maralal engaged an agronomist to train the women group on climate-smart agriculture under the WWF-Kenya’s Voices for Just Climate Action (VCA) funding programme to strengthen indigenous communities’ response and adaptation to climate change.
The VCA project aims to raise the voices and capacity of underrepresented or marginalised groups to enable them take on a central role as creators, facilitators and advocates of innovative and inclusive climate solutions. The mission is to create awareness of how climate change affects vulnerable/marginalised groups such as pastoralists, women, children and people with disability and efforts to alleviate these effects.
“I partitioned the farm as per the lessons from our training and I must admit, the harvest has been plenty and lasted longer than the previous harvests. I’m able to sell to my neighbours and other business people in Longeiwan and Suguta markets and restaurants in Maralal town,” says Mrs Lelegwe.
The aim of the livelihoods diversification programme across the pastoralists region was to rehabilitate farmland in an environmentally sustainable way, and ensure households have a supply of fresh vegetables for food security and nutrition, says Coleta Nyaenya, the programmes manager at Caritas Maralal.
“Women farmers who planted indigenous vegetables recorded improved intake and growth from their children as compared to when they only fed them on porridge (locally known as Kitegen),” Nyaenya says.
“Now the women have become entirely independent. They are now able to sustain their households during drought periods even when their husbands migrate in search of water and pasture for the livestock.”
But in Samburu, as is the case in many parts of ASAL regions, women and children are disproportionately affected by the drought, which has increased their vulnerability to food security, ill health, violence and drastically reduced their access to nutritious food.
According to the ‘2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Agrifood Economics Division, the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021.
In Kenya, more than 37 million people representing over 80 per cent of the population cannot afford a healthy diet, which has particularly negative nutritional consequences for women and children.
According to a recently released report by Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), at least 970,000 children below five years and 142,000 pregnant women and lactating mothers are suffering from acute malnutrition.
Nationally, one out of five children below five years are stunted, meaning they are short for their age, with a majority living in rural areas, according to the 2022 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS).
Kepha Nyanumba, consultant nutritionist at Crystal Health Consultants Limited, says kitchen garden farming promotes food and nutrition security.
“It ensures people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences,” says Nyanumba.
“It plays a key role in fighting the nutritional deficiencies associated with food scarcity.”
This oasis on the border with Amaiya village has had a fair share of challenges in the quest to grow and consume indigenous vegetables. Until Mrs Lelegwe started irrigating her plot of land using pipes, she used to fetch water from Logorate dam, 500 metres away, to water her crops.
“I started farming in 2019 on half an acre. I planted green pepper, onions, sukuma wiki and tomatoes,” she says.
She would later expand to one acre. “I later bought pipes for irrigation through the help of World Vision. I also bought a generator at Sh35,000 after selling maize from my farm that I used to drain water from the dam and irrigate the field.”
Several kilometers away in Lorrok village, Porro ward, Miriam Lekarabi, 32, has tasted the fruits of climate-smart agriculture.
She says, “Last year I planted sukuma-wiki which I sold at Porro market at Ksh50 (US$0.37) a bunch. I also harvested two full sacks of potatoes, which I sold at Ksh3,500-4,500 ($26-33),” says Lekarabi who belongs to Mayian Village Savings and Loans Group.
Lekarabi and Lelegwe’s practice of climate-smart farming has led to improved living conditions and they are now beginning to put back power in women’s hands and halt the climate migration.
“We now have money in the family, even when the livestock dies due to drought, we live better. Our children too are able to go to school and are feeding on nutritious food,” says Mrs Lelegwe, who has since become a model farmer in her village.
“We now have financial independence and a choice. If we all change our ways as a community and get bumper harvests from our farms, we will get rid of climate-change-induced hunger and malnutrition.”
This story was produced with support from WWF-K VCA project and MESHA
By RUTH KEAH
Shirika la kilimo na utafiti la Kenya (KALRO) tawi la Kabete linapatikana takriban kilomita 13 kutoka jijini Nairobi nchini Kenya.
Upande wa kulia mita chache tu baada ya kuingia kwenye lango kuu,unakutana na shamba lenye ukubwa wa ekari moja. Lilikuwa kivutio kikuu kwa watu waliotembelea shirika hilo siku ya maonyesho ya kilimo.
Hii ni kutokana na mazao yaliyonawiri, sio tu kwa rangi yake ya kupendeza ya kibichi, bali pia kwa ubora wa mazao hayo licha ya kuwa ni msimu wa kiangazi.
Shirika hilo,limekuwa likitumia teknolojia ya uvunaji wa maji ya mvua, na kisha kunyunyuzia shamba hilo.
Daktari Esther Gikonyo ni mkurugenzi mkuu wa shirika la KALRO tawi la Kabete,yeye pia ni mtaalamu katika sekta ya rotuba ya udongo.
Alisema teknolojia hiyo ni muhimu katika kuhakikisha kuwa wakulima wanatumia ili kuvuna chakula cha kutosha.
Daktari Esther Gikonyo alisema,kama shirika, walilima shamba hilo mwezi wa Januari na Februari na kunyunyizia maji mazao hayo kwa kutumia maji ambayo walivuna.
Alisema endapo jamii itakumbatia teknolojia ya uvunaji wa maji, basi kila familia itaweza kujitegemea kwa kupata chakula kila siku.
Zaidi, Daktari Gikonyo aliwashauri wakulima kujenga tabia ya kuvuna maji ya mvua hasa katika kipindi ambacho mvua ni chache na haziendani na kalenda ya wakulima.
Sawia kutokana na mabadiliko ya tabia nchi ambayo yamekuwa yakisababisha kukosekana kwa mvua za kutosha na uharibifu wa mazingira.
Hali hiyo imewasababisha wakulima kupata mazao kidogo ama kutovuna kabisa.
Jambo ambalo limekuwa likisababisha baadhi ya maeneo nchini kuwa hatarini kukumbwa na baa la njaa.
Uvunaji wa maji ya mvua.
Uvunaji wa maji ni mbinu ambayo inazuia maji ya mvua kutiririka hovyo.
Badala yake, maji hukusanywa na kuhifadhiwa na kutumiwa baadaye na watu,wanyama ama kwa kunyunyizia mimea
Francis Karanja ni mhandisi, pia ni mtaalamu anayehusika na teknolojia ya uvunaji wa maji.
Mhandisi Karanja alisema teknolojia hiyo ya uvunaji wa maji ni rahisi na kila mkulima anaweza kuimudu.
“Baadhi ya vifaa ambavyo tulitumia ni karatasi nyeusi ya kufunika bwawa, matangi mawili ya maji ambayo huvutwa kwa kutumia nguvu za miale ya jua.”
Kulingana na mhandisi Karanja, bwawa hilo lina uwezo wa kubeba maji lita 4,500.
Na linaweza kulima shamba la ukubwa wa ekari moja kwa kipindi cha miezi mitatu kukuza aina tofauti tofauti ya mboga.
Mhandisi Karanja alisema bwawa hilo liliwagharimu takriban shilingi laki mbili na elfu hamsini. Huku likitarajiwa kudumu kwa zaidi ya miaka kumi.
Washikadau mbalimbali walionyesha teknolojia mbalimbali wanazotumia kufanya ukulima.
Baadhi yao ni wanafunzi kutoka shule ya msingi ya Kangemi jijini Nairobi.
Wanafunzi walio kwenye kikundi cha kilimo cha 4K Club, wakionyesha weledi wao wa kukuza mazao hasa mboga kupitia teknolojia mbalimbali.
Huku wakitumia maji hayo yaliyovunwa kukuza mboga zao.
Makala haya yamefanikishwa kwa usaidizi kutoka kwa muungano wa wanahabari wanaoandika habari za sayansi(MESHA).
By Joyce Chimbi
Despite the ongoing severe drought in northern Kenya, Marigat Sub-county in Baringo is dotted with lush green vegetation that seems not be affected by the dry spell.
This vegetation is Prosopis Juliflora an exotic plant that was introduced by the government in the area years ago as a windbreaker.
However, the pastoralist communities of the Illchamus, Tugen and Pokot do not want the plant in the area. Locally known as mathenge, plant cannot allow vegetation to thrive where it grows. As a result, it has cleared grasslands and tree cover, leaving the pastoralists with nothing to feed their livestock on and exacerbating deforestation.
The animals cannot feed on it either, as it is poisonous. The sweet pods or fruits of mathenge interrupt digestion in goats and cows, leading to death by starvation.
“The dry seasons are becoming more frequent and longer. Our rivers are drying up and we have to travel longer distances to feed our livestock. We are losing our animals to both drought and mathenge,” says Samwel Montorosi, a resident of Salabani village.
Hannah Sakamo, a pastoralist in Eldepe village, says the community has lost too much to both drought and mathenge.
In this regard, the community is now reclaiming their land from the jaws of the invasive enemy by re-introducing native vegetation, embracing and expanding agricultural areas and grasslands.
The expansive Marigat Sub-county is one of 23 Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) regions whose vulnerabilities are multiplied and exacerbated by the most severe drought in the last 40 years.
However, the community is now ready to take climate action in line with Sustainable Development Goal 13 to build resilience against climate change and adopt sustainable practices to save their livelihoods.
To do this, Simon Choge, a senior researcher at Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), says the community must first subdue mathenge.
Removing mathenge and replacing it with food crop and grassland, he says, is a climate change mitigation measure. Choge says studies have shown a serious negative impact of mathenge invasion and grassland degradation on soil organic carbon in sub-locations within Marigat.
To progressively increase soil organic carbon and improve soil health, he says removing mathenge is a priority for it does not inter-crop.
Livestock is a lifeline for the pastoralist community. They are similarly vulnerable from the effects of four consecutive failed rainy seasons.
Baringo is one of Kenya’s nine arid counties. As such, Marigat is characterised by severe living conditions, with little annual rainfall of between 150 and 550 millimetres and very high temperatures.
Choge says at the heart of the community’s vulnerabilities is climate change, land degradation and the dominance of a most invasive species that has choked the environment, blocking climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Government data shows that across Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid regions (ASAL) spanning over 23 counties, the prolonged dry spell claimed an estimated 1.5 million livestock and brought down the cost of surviving livestock by less than 40 per cent.
“Mathenge has very deep roots that reach the sub-surface water. It consumes a lot of water and dries out all other vegetation. It dominates the environment, making it impossible for native plant species to grow,” he says.
Water stresses from effects of mathenge and climate change spell doom for the indigenous community.
In 2006, Montorosi was one of 800 members of the community who sued the national government for introducing Prosopis Juliflora without conducting an environmental impact assessment. The court case led to the 2008 declaration that mathenge was a noxious weed, highly harmful to the environment.
Since then, the community has worked with government researchers to find sustainable solutions to the mathenge menace for it is impossible to build climate resilience without removing the ever-green, prolific and environmentally harmful invasive weed.
“We are changing our way of life. We are now removing mathenge and growing native trees such as acacia and planting crops,” Montorosi explains.
Choge says controlling mathenge is in line with the new National Strategy for the Management of Prosopis Juliflora. He says “mathenge thrives on dormant land. By turning to agriculture, the community is removing a plant that consumes a lot of water and, giving way to the diversification of livelihoods as a way to adapt to effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Research and practice show that it is impossible to completely eradicate Prosopis Juliflora once it dominates an area. The plant can only be controlled, hence the national strategy to manage it as opposed to eradication.
“We have seven charcoal production associations that are helping us to earn a living from mathenge and this is motivating the community to continue removing mathenge to grow food and animal feed,” Montorosi says.
Sakamo says women and youth have taken a lead in embracing agriculture and researchers such as Choge are at hand to advise on the most resilient plants to grow in the arid area.
She says the community started with activism to get the attention of the government and has now evolved to community associations that have led to steps in the right direction.
“Farming is becoming very common in the area. We are planting grass, maize and vegetables. The world is changing and we must change or be destroyed by drought,” Sakamo says.
She says while there are big chunks of land in the area, difficulties in manually removing prosopis thickets means that thus far, the community is farming on an average of three acres of land. But she is quick to add that this is the beginning to bigger and bigger agricultural land.
Scientists such as Choge says the community has taken positive and forward moving strides to reclaim their land and build sustainable practices against devastating effects of climate change. Staying on this track will progressively and increasingly strengthen the community’s capacity to be climate resilient.
This story was produced with support from WWF-K VCA Project and MESHA.