Farmers forced to act smart to tackle effects of climate crisis on agriculture.

By Rosemary Onchari |

Margaret Nyaboke was an optimistic farmer as she supervised workers planting maize on her farm four months ago. She projected returns from sales of at least 75 per cent of the produce, and knew the remainder would last her small family a year.

But she was all wrong. A sizable portion of the crops soon started yellowing and their growth stunted. She has not experienced the yellowing and stunted growth for the 10 years she has been a farmer.

“We had rains for about one month, and we hurriedly tilled the land and planted. But the rains did not last,” she says.

Compared to the previous season, her maize harvest went down from 30 sacks to 26 in the last harvest season.

Due to the unpredictable weather patterns, Nyaboke is now contemplating shifting focus from maize farming to indigenous vegetables.

Africa has recently suffered extreme weather events such as prolonged droughts and flooding, besides unpredictable rain patterns that have disrupted farmers’ plans and messed yields, putting many lives at risk of food insecurity.

Globally, at least 350 million farmers appealed to leaders at the November 2022 United Nations    Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) to increase adaptation finance. They also appealed for promotion of a shift to more diverse, low-input agriculture to help farmers adapt to climate change.

Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have shown that more than 60 per cent of Africa’s 1.4 billion people live in rural areas and depend on climate-sensitive livelihoods like rain-fed agriculture.

Meanwhile, James Nyagwoka, who grows arrowroots in Kegati village, Kisii County, has joined in the efforts to tackle effects of climate change by adopting climate smart farming.

“Since the disruption of weather patterns in the last four years, I no longer depend on the rains, I irrigate my farm,” he said.

A water well and a nearby river provide steady supply of water to his farm, especially during the dry season.

Nyagwoka started growing arrowroots in 2015, as it is not prone to many diseases and pests and also because it requires little agronomic practices. He has utilised the spaces between the arrowroots to grow kales and spinach for subsistence and economic purposes.

This season, Nyagwoka planted 100,000 arrowroots. He projects to harvest in December.

Kisii Country Director of Agriculture Nathan Soire said since the intensity and distribution of rainfall had been disrupted, farmers are forced to embrace new ways out.

The long rainy season in the high-altitude area used to be from December to February. This was the normal planting season for food crops. In the low-altitude areas, planting season would start between February and March. But this is no longer certain.

Diseases and pests such as the fall army worms, which thrive in high temperatures, have affected crop production, causing farmers losses and untold suffering.

Soire now says the local ministry is now creating awareness on soil conservation and water harvesting methods. It has increased awareness on the importance of agroforestry, according to Soire.

The ministry has sensitised farmers not to rely on rain-fed agriculture but instead adopt technologies such as use of irrigation.

“We have encountered situations where it stops to rain just when crops are flowering or fruiting. These are critical stages where the crops need water more.

But due to climate change farmers suffer losses due to low production,” he said.

Agriculture officers have always encouraged farmers to use organic manure to improve the soil texture and structure for capacity to hold adequate water over a long period. Farmers have also been advised to plant during the onset of rainy seasons and also supplement the rainfall with irrigation systems.

Cover crops and mulching is also encouraged as a means to tackle effects of the climate crisis on agricultural yield.

Kisii County Head of Meteorological Department Henry Sese has meanwhile urged farmers to acquaint themselves with the changing weather patterns as well as identify different types of crops that can adapt.

“During the dry season, we advise farmers to grow crops that require little rainfall such as cassava, finger millet, sorghum, and sweet potatoes, which take about three months to mature,” said Sese.

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