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We must embrace smart farms to beat drought, hunger spells

Distraught locals at a vandalized borehole at Katikit village in Tiaty, Baringo County on March 17, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

I read somewhere that research in caves provides proof that prolonged drought brought down India’s Mughal empire. It is documented that the long severe droughts experienced by the Indian sub-continent led to the decline of the Mughal empire and India’s textile industries in the 1780s and 1790s as it caused widespread crop failures and high levels of famine.

Drought and famine devastate whole communities and robs us of dignity as we have witnessed in Kenya. This is why I have decided to stay with the drought situation in 23 of the 47counties of Kenya.

Relief and assistance are good in dealing with effects of drought but building and sustaining resilience for future is best. The drought is caused by failed four consecutive rains seasons and the forecast for rains is not optimistic.

Therefore, each individual, who is able to, should take measures and make efforts to build resilience against drought to mitigate and protect ourselves against drought.

When I was a girl, we lived on the edge of the forest, surrounded by natural trees and a river that never dried. My parents carried out subsistence farming but they also planted cotton, vegetables and my maternal grandfather grew lots of tobacco and vegetable oil plants called “mbaiki” while my other grandfather kept lots of traditional cows.

Rains came when expected and in reasonable quantities and we had agricultural extension officers who visited to train and provide services to small farmers; they also taught us methods of water harvesting, how to dig furrows and to protect soil erosion. They were government people! They also came to inject and treat livestock and they didn’t even stay for tea or ask for payment!

There were trees and food everywhere; except in early 1980s when drought and famine hit us because of failed rains. Nevertheless, we continued to get rains predictably. However, the local council subdivided the forest and sold it to individuals, who cut down the forests.

We started noticing changes with the river nearby drying out completely and crops beginning to fail. People abandoned cotton, tobacco, mbaiki farming and their livestock to focus on subsistence farming (maize, beans, pigeon peas, millet etc.), which also became difficult because of failed or unpredictable rains.

Men illegally herding cattle as elephants walk by at Mugie Ranch on February 3, 2017. [Suleiman Mbatiah, Standard]

Now, we rely mostly on borehole water for farming or on foods we buy from the markets, making it difficult for wananchi to survive. Since we had food and water, we were healthy and clean and we required money for less than we do today.

Nevertheless, those families that have bananas, sugar cane, mangoes, oranges and other fruit trees continue to reap benefits from them. We need more of these everywhere.

We may not reclaim all the past glory but we can build resilience, prepare and protect ourselves against drought and its effects. There are many ways of doing this and some require government intervention like educating all of us about climate-smart agriculture, harvesting rain or harvesting water from the air, where there is no rain.

We can also teach ourselves to conserve moisture by covering our soils with leaves, trees, organic matter like manure to regenerate and build healthy soil, planting perennial and native foods, creating cool micro-climates like growing fences, trees and plants also act as windbreakers, recycling waste, using drip irrigation where possible.

However, the biggest solution to drought is to expand our forest cover, plant lots of trees especially indigenous and food trees and practise climate-smart agriculture by growing appropriate seeds for dry areas and planting enough food crops to ensure food security and good nutrition.

Farmer working in hazelnut orchard. [iStockphoto]

These call for concerted efforts and deliberate actions, investment and collaboration between national and county governments to support small and large-scale farmers, livestock and beekeepers and other forms of activities that produce food, build resilience against drought and protect our environment.

It is important to develop education programmes in all forms of farming especially dryland farming and climate-smart farming. With the benefits of internet and social media, extension officers may only be necessary in few cases.

Also, the Ministry of Agriculture may want to focus on making the study of agriculture more attractive, innovative and glamorous to attract more agricultural students and real practitioners. This is the only way to ensure food security and good nutrition for Kenya while building drought and climate resilience.

- Join the conversation @Koki_Muli @StandardKenya.