Even during the dry season, Venanzio Njiru’s farm stands out as a rare patch of lush greenery in this arid part of east Kenya. The former Mombasa street hawker’s fields are a mosaic of fruit trees, maize planted in water-holding pits, legumes and sugarcane.
On his two acres, in Embu sub-county in eastern Kenya, Njiru also keeps cattle, chicken, goats, and - despite the dry conditions - fish in water storage ponds.
The diversified farm is an example of “climate-smartagriculture” - farming techniques that help growers and herders continue earning a living, even as climate change brings harsher and more unpredictable conditions.
In Njiru’s area of Kenya, the switch to more diversified agriculture has been driven not just by government extension agents, aid groups and other organisations, but by churches.
“Using very simple techniques, Njiru is one of the few residents in this area who have sufficient food to feed their families, and have more for the market, despite the tough climatic conditions,” said Wanjiku Wanjohi of Ishiara Parish, a Catholic church in Embu County.
The parish is one of several faith organisations working with residents - particularly small-scale farmers - to identify best practices that could contribute to creation of new climate change policies in the region.
Development of such policies dominated a recent summit on climate-smart agriculture in Nairobi, where experts said they were the only way of moving from pilot projects to broad use of climate-smart farming.
“We already have enough ideas and innovations. What we lack in many African countries is the implementation framework,” said Richard Munang, who coordinates African climate change programmes for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“We need policies to govern climate-smart agriculture, because without policies there cannot be development,” he said.
Kiringai Kamau, executive director of the Centre for Agriculture Networking and Information Sharing at the University of Nairobi, said the key to successful new agriculture policy is data gathered from farmers on the ground.
Evidence gathered shows climate-smart agriculture can reduce poverty and cut hunger, said Edith Ofwona, a senior programme specialist at the International Development Research Centre.
The farming practices Njiru has adopted are anchored in a draft climate change policy document, which, for instance, urges the county government of Embu to back more water harvesting infrastructure and urge communities to find ways of harvesting water at home.
With water often short, “I had to adopt a smart way of surviving,” Njiru said.
Getting government policies backing climate-smart farming adopted is a first step to winning finance to put them into action, government officials said.
“We can only allocate funds for such climate change interventions if they are anchored in some kind of law,” said Nicholas Ngece, the chief environment officer for Embu’s county government.
Munang, of UNEP, said having policies in place can help bring in private finance and ensure banks provide cash to back the efforts. Besides Embu, both Kitui and Tharaka Nithi counties are leading the way in developing community-based agricultural policies to address climate change, officials said.