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Smart agriculture is way for rural farmers to avert climate change challenges

By Cynthiah Peter | September 9th 2020

Some of the dairy cows feeding on hay (PHOTO BY NANJINIA WAMUSWA)

The phenomenon of climate change has become one of the most experienced effects around the globe with people experiencing both its subtle and stark effects. 

The impacts of climate change affect every country on every continent. The effects are creating unprecedented challenges for millions of people already burdened by poverty and oppression.

The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts threaten the world's food supply, drive people from their homes, separate families, and jeopardise livelihoods.

All of these effects increase the risk of conflict, hunger, and poverty. Visible evidence and climbing numbers demonstrate that climate change is not a distant or imaginary threat, but rather a growing and undeniable reality. 

However, the effects of climate change have been visible in Arid and semi-arid areas (ASAL), with some communities facing food insecurity, water scarcity, and loss of livestock. 

Climate change has impacted negatively on agriculture, which is the main source of livelihood in most of the rural communities living in the Arid and semi-arid areas (ASAL).

Tharaka Sub-county in Tharaka Nithi County is one of the areas that has been affected gravely by climate change. It is considered a semi-arid area as it receives less rainfall suitable for livestock production. Poor methods of farming and soil conservation, charcoal burning, and overgrazing have left the earth bare and rocky. 

The sloping areas have experienced uncontrolled soil erosion, which has resulted in deep gullies across the landscape especially in the Tharaka constituency. 

This has made the area unfavorable for agricultural activities leaving options for livestock rearing which is also endangered. Temperatures range between 220C to 360C. Soils are generally low infertility and are characterized by poor water retention capacities.

Livelihoods of the vast majority of Tharaka Nithi people are highly dependent on unreliable small-scale agriculture (with a high level of crop failure due to erratic and unreliable rainfall), smallholder livestock keeping, and charcoal burning (contributes to the dwindling of natural resources like indigenous trees).

The drought situation in Tharaka is recurrent and is experienced between June - September. Many of the communities who are worst hit by drought living in these areas are smallholder livestock keepers who mainly rely on livestock assets as a livelihood source.

The drought results in shortages of animal feeds and water leading to loss of body condition and sometimes deaths due to lack of feeds to sustain them through the drought period. These animals fetch low livestock prices in the market in the event their owners need to sell them. Shortages of animal feed result from lack of drought preparedness in terms of feed preservation and conservation.

Feeds conserved is often inadequate compared to the capacity available in times of plenty that requires to be preserved and usually, the preserved feed is exposed to sunlight and heat leading to excessive drying.

Therefore, there has been a need to establish measures to cushion livestock against the impact of drought through ensuring the availability of feeds either by local production and preservation or by boosting the capacities of communities to source elsewhere by improving their incomes in the long run.

KENDAT has been able to cushion the communities in Tharaka from the harsh climate change through supporting the fodder production and preservation technology. KENDAT has partnered with communities in Tharaka and the County Government of Tharaka Nithi to develop two fodder banks to help in the preservation of animal feeds in time of plenty for use in the dry period in two different areas.

The two fodder banks have been established with modern technology to help preserve dried fodder without losing the nutrient content in a long period. These has seen communities living around the established fodder banks to be very receptive and have brought feed from the previous bumper harvest to store in the fodder banks for use during the drought period which is not far from the onset.

The fodder banks are also aimed at assisting the communities to increase their income by storing enough fodder that they can sell to other communities during the drought season and thus eradicating rural poverty.

It has also supported one community in Tharaka with fodder production through support of agricultural machinery aimed at processing fodder for preservation. The community has been supported to acquire a chaff cutter to help in fodder processing and preserving the fodder in bags. This is aimed at maximizing the use of the fodder bank by storing a lot of feed in a limited space. This technology also helps the animals digest feed better by cutting the fodder into smaller more manageable pieces and mixing it with other forage and supplements. This reduces wastage resulting from the animals rejecting any parts of their feed.

The community aspires to ensure a productive feed reserve throughout the year especially in periods when drought occurs. The project endeavours to conserve indigenous forages and conduct seed bulking for replication of such. The project also targets to boost the income of the rural communities from the sale of hay and this will ensure all-round care for the welfare of their animals. The organisation is also in the process of establishing more fodder banks in different parts of Tharaka to increase the resilience of these communities.

Information is an important resource in the fight against the adverse impacts of climate change. There is a need to give farmers regular information on current issues related to climate change and agriculture.

This can be achieved through the strengthening of the nation’s extension services by involving administrative arms of County and National Governments such as Ward Administrators and Chiefs. These are people close to farmers and they encourage farmers to form groups for enhanced capacity through group efforts. The country also needs to increase the capacity for climate change policy analysis, implementation, and limited resources to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation programs.

Written by Cynthiah Peter, Community Development Officer - KENDAT

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