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Climate resilient Machakos county farming stands out in drought

by Christine Lagat MACHAKOS (Xinhua) -- Joyce Nduku’s three-acre farm located at the heart of Kenya’s Machakos county was the hallmark of green shoots on Thursday thanks to several days of heavy downpour.

The middle-aged mother of eight was optimistic the much awaited rains would herald a bumper harvest and a quicker recover from the drought-incurred hunger in a locality renowned for rampant food insecurity.

Apart from the rain, Nduku and dozens of her peers are also grateful for the ecologically sensitive farming methods promoted by international and local conservationists to beat hunger amid climatic stresses.

Speaking to Xinhua at her farm, Nduku pointed at a promising future thanks to organic farming and inter-cropping that have in the past delivered higher yields in her farm.

"The experience that I have gained in my 25 years of farming has triggered an urge to keep on adapting to new ways of producing food, and organic farming stands out as the most effective shield against hunger in the face of harsh weather," said Nduku.

She is among thousands of smallholder farmers in Machakos and other semi-arid Kenyan counties who are engaging in climate-resilient farming practices championed by Green Peace Africa in conjunction with local partners.

So far, Green Peace Africa and a local conservation lobby, Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) has trained Nduku and her colleagues how to harness indigenous knowledge and innovations to transform food production in the face of climatic stresses.

Joseph Mbuvi, a local agricultural officer, said the number of farmers who are engaging in climate resilient food production methods has been increasing.

"Farmers have realized droughts are now a recurrent phenomenon and are practicing agro-forestry, water harvesting and use of organic manure to boost crop yield," said Mbuvi.

Nduku and her colleagues have heeded the call to realign their farming methods with changing weather patterns and are not only boasting of surplus harvests but have also expanded their revenue streams.

Two weeks before the onset of the rain season, the affable farmer planted maize, beans, green grams and cow peas using compost manure.

The legumes and cereals in Nduku’s well-tended farm are now inches tall and lush green following adequate rains in her locality since early April.

An ardent fan of mixed cropping, bench terracing and agro-forestry, Nduku was upbeat the harvest will be abundant to cater for domestic consumption.

"In recent times, I have managed to harvest six bags of maize in a single acre thanks to use of compost manure and bench terracing that prevents soil nutrient loss during rains," Nduku told Xinhua.

Other smallholder farmers agreed with Nduku that climate smart agriculture is not an option but an imperative in the face of recurrent droughts in their locality.

Simon Mwaki, a retired civil servant who has taken up organic farming with gusto, said that conventional methods of producing food are no longer sustainable due to unreliable rainfall, declining soil fertility and high cost of fertilizers.

His three-acre farm that is a few meters from Nduku’s is a beautiful spectacle to watch thanks to inter-cropping of legumes, cereals and fruit trees.

"I have always practiced mixed cropping that guarantees better harvests. The fruit trees in my farm have created a buffer against scorching heat that usually destroy crops," said Mwaki.

He also plants maize, beans, green grams and cow peas in his ancestral farm while a range of fruit trees like oranges and mangoes have provided him with surplus income.

"It is not surprising to spot green foliage in my farm in February when the dry season is at its peak. Fruit trees and undergrowth have always retained moisture content in the farm," Mwaki said.

Conservation lobbies have encouraged Kenyan smallholder to adopt climate resilient agricultural systems like agro-forestry, zero tillage farming and crop diversification to achieve food security.

Samuel Wathome, a field officer with Institute for Culture and Ecology underscored the critical role of organic farming, mixed cropping and bench terracing to cushion farmers from the ravages of drought.

"We are encouraging farmers to diversify and practice bench terracing that enhances soil water retention in order to strengthen their resilience to droughts," said Wathome.

He disclosed that mulching and adequate watering can produce eight 90-kilogram bags of green grams in a one-acre farm.

Margaret Kaloki, a mother of three who has consistently practiced mixed-cropping and agro-forestry, said they have unleashed multiple benefits that include soil regeneration and higher yields.

"Feeding my three children has been easy thanks to inter-cropping and organic farming" said Kaloki.

"I have also dug terraces and shallow wells inside the farm to harness storm waters and use it for irrigation during the dry spell," she added.



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