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Women farmers find new ways to tackle climate-induced brokeness

May 25th 2022
Phoebe Gachemi on her farm at Giakaibei village in Mathira, Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

For the last 20 years, Ms Phoebe Gachemi has been a farmer, working her two-acre piece of land in Giakaibei village in Mathira Constituency of Nyeri County.

Her farm is an array of horticultural produce from fruits such as seedless oranges and tree tomatoes to household vegetables such as cabbages, sukuma wiki, potatoes, beans and tomatoes.

Most of the food is grown to feed her family and is consumed within her household. She sells the surplus to neighbours and at local markets.

However, for the last decade, farming has become an expensive and risky venture for the mother of four due to the change in weather patterns, on which she relied to determine her seasons for planting, weeding and harvesting.

“When I was in secondary school, the rainy season always started on March 15. If late, by March 20 the rains would start, and we knew the best time to plant,” she recalled.

But farming has become uncertain due to unpredictable rain seasons.

“This year I noticed the rains delayed by two months, and I have lost most of my crops. I am especially devastated because my cabbages growth has stunted. They can barely fetch me Sh20 each,” she said.

Due to the erratic weather, Ms Gachemi had high hopes of growing orchards of oranges and being a fruit farmer on a large scale, but now she has only 10 fruit trees, which she says are often affected by pests and disease. “Change in climate not only affects when I can grow my crops but also how much I can harvest.

This has made me heavily reliant on fertilisers and manure,” she said.

In an effort to adapt to the unreliable rains, she has resorted to harvesting water and storing it to irrigate her farm.

“I have purchased a 20,000-litre water tank. This storage is enough to irrigate my crops when the rains delay. Usually it is enough, but this time I ran out of water. That’s why the cabbages harvest was little,” she said.

Ms Gachemi has also lamented the high cost of quality seeds and farm inputs that have pushed her to focus more on subsistence farming, as opposed to commercial.

“I used to have more surplus  food to sell to the Karatina market, but nowadays I have to focus on food for my family consumption. Right now I am weeding beans and potatoes, only enough for my family,” she said.

Making mandazi

Across the county, Ms Julia Ndung’u from Mugunda Ward in Kieni Constituency has turned to making mandazi and popcorn from her home to sell to neighbouring shopping centres.

Ms Ndung’u installed a bio-digester in her home with support from her self-help group after receiving funds to mitigate climate change as one of the measures to discourage deforestation in the Aberdare forests.

Ms Ndung’u was for years reliant on firewood from the forest to cook her meals and also used to grow food within the forest boundaries.

However, with the stringent measures to protect the forests and the harsh treatment from forest guards, who have been said to harass women who venture in the forest to grow food and collect firewood, Ms Ndung’u had to find alternative livelihood.

“We used to farm in the forest where the food was in plenty because outside in our own farms we produced very little yields. I could plant maize, hoping to harvest 10 bags, only to get two or three bags per harvest. It was too little,” she said.

But after installing the bio-digestor in her home, she now has a constant supply of clean energy, which allows her to open the business on popcorn and round cakes at shopping centres nearby. “I use gas to cook at no cost, so I am able to supply local shopping centres with the snacks and earn some money,” she said.

The biogas project also saves each household the cost of purchasing LPG gas, whose price has gone up.

“I used to spend at least Sh3,000 on refilling my gas cylinder and I could only use it sparingly, but now I cannot remember the last time I bought gas. It is a real relief that I can cook for my family at my own convenience.”

Ms Ndung’u has only one cow, which is able to provide cooking gas in her house for two weeks continuously.

“The same energy can be used to light my house, run other household appliances such as a heater and a chaff cutter to feed my cow,” she says.

The two women have had to make do with the devastation of their livelihoods adapt in an effort to survive the devastating effects of climate change.

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