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Farming solutions that outsmart climate change

BUSINESS
By Hellen Asewe Miseda | June 12th 2021
A farmer in Meru watering trees in her shamba in Imenti region. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Mention the word Climate-Smart Agriculture in a Farmers’ Field Day forum in the village and many of them may assume you are talking about something technical and far-fetched.

Interestingly, the concept which was crafted by the United Nations is simple and highly impactful in the fight against climate change. Farmers are practicing it daily on their farms without realising it. So what does it entail?

On a past tour of a farm in a village in arid and semi-arid Makueni County, I was impressed how a farmer and his wife were undertaking their farming activities. At a corner on their farm, they had heaps of dry straw which was used for mulching for the forthcoming cropping season. The couple also set aside, maize stalk residues from last harvest to feed their livestock. That in a nutshell is Climate-Smart Agriculture technologies at work.

But for a more refined definition, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) defines Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) as an integrated approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries--that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre says CSA involves farming practices that improve farm productivity and profitability, help farmers adapt to the negative effects of climate change and mitigate climate change effects, by reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Such practices include conservation agriculture, agroforestry, legume intercropping, integrated pest management among others.

Conservation agriculture seeks to conserve soil moisture, retain crop residues for soil fertility, with minimal soil disturbance and diversifying through rotation or intercropping.

Why it is critical?

According to World Bank a growing global population and changing diets are driving up the demand for food. The organisation notes that production is struggling to keep up as crop yields level off in many parts of the world, ocean health declines, and natural resources—including soils, water, and biodiversity—are stretched dangerously thin.  The problem is compounded by agriculture’s extreme vulnerability to climate change. Climate change’s negative impacts are already being felt, in the form of increasing invasive crops and pests like locusts, and more frequent extreme weather events like floods and drought. To achieve food security and meet growing demand for food, technologies like Climate-Smart Agriculture will be key.

FAO estimates that feeding the world population will require a 60 per cent increase in total agricultural production. Sadly, many of the resources needed for sustainable food security are already stretched and worse still, climate change is negatively impacting agricultural production. That is why CSA is critical.

What are the benefits?

Though its uptake is low, CSA has numerous benefits for the farmer and the environment. It increases soil moisture and biodiversity, decrease soil erosion, multiplies crop yields and boost incomes.

Hellen Miseda is an editor at the Standard passionate about environment conservation

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