Kenyan farmers deal with climate change


While many countries in Africa are suffering from increasing droughts, heat waves and floods, farmers are finding ways to overcome these effects of climate change.

The dazzling equatorial sun scorches over the bare fields of Makueni, southern Kenya. However, in the middle of this arid landscape lies an almost surrealistic green oasis with neatly constructed terraces covered with spinach, tomato and melon plants and impressive papaya and mango trees. This is the farm of Dominic Mutunga and his wife Dorcas Mawilu. “Our corn harvests started to fail due to the increasing drought and when rain finally came, it poured down heavily flushing away a great deal of soil”, the 60-year-old farmer says.


“While this semi-arid region still received sufficient rain a few years back, it is hit hard by climate change nowadays”, Martin Karimi from the World Food Program (WFP) says. The UN organization assists farmers in this region to cope with climate change. Mutunga, for example, learned to build terraces and small dikes to prevent erosion, to plant vegetables in shallow holes so the soil gets more time to absorb the water and to plant fruit trees that provide shade and prevent erosion. The biggest improvement is the huge farm pond collecting rainwater that is then used to irrigate crops with a hand pump and a connected hosepipe.

Only 4% of agricultural land in Sub-Saharan Africa is currently being irrigated, due to the high costs. However, several companies have started developing cheaper irrigation systems. Like the American company KickStart International, that has developed a simple hand pump costing 90 dollars and a foot pump that costs 140 dollars. The company has already sold over 308,000 pumps in sixteen African countries.


“Thanks to this irrigation system, I can now produce and sell vegetables all year round, allowing me to get better prices and a profit of 1500 Kenyan shilling (12 euros) a week”, Mutunga says. On top of that, the farmer expects to earn 50,000 Kenyan shilling (400 euros) by selling his mangos this year.

Besides considering irrigation, a growing number of farmers also switch to drought-resistant seeds. Like Joseph Mulandi (48) and his wife Jennifer Kalakye (45) in Machakos, Kenya. “We harvested only eight bags of corn using our traditional seeds and during droughts nothing at all,” Mulandi says. “But with these drought tolerant seeds, we produce 35 bags and during the recent drought even 18 bags.”


These so-called KDV4 seeds have been developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and require less rain as they ripe faster and its plants grow shorter. CIMMYT developed two hundred different maize types for Sub Saharan Africa in the last eight years, now used by over two million farmers in thirteen different African countries.

As coffee plants are particularly sensitive to temperature increase, climate change also has dramatic impact on ten million households in 25 different African countries that rely on coffee to feed their families. Like farmer Gideon Ndambuki (65) in Machakos, Kenya. “While earlier I harvested 5 to 10 kilo per tree, I now only manage to get 2 kilo.”


To support these coffee farmers, Fair Trade Netherlands started the so-called ‘Climate Academy’ earlier this year that teaches these farmers how to cope with climate change. Ndamuki, for example, learned to create terraces and to plant dozens of mango-, papaya-, banana- and orange trees that provide shade to the coffee plants and give fruit all year round. “Planting anything in between coffee was absolutely prohibited before, but nowadays we learn that this adds fertility to the soil and provides backup if our coffee fails.” The Kenyan doesn’t want to quit with coffee all together. “We have to diversify as much as possible. That’s the only way to deal with climate change.”

This article has earlier been published at the BlueBiz Club Africa website of KLM/AirFrance.

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