The future of farming
Kenya’s over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture is a huge threat to food security. This year has already witnessed poor rains and drought, and with the challenges farmers in the country’s breadbasket are facing, natural and manmade, grain prices have shot up.
This is beside the fact that our taps have run dry, giving an opportunity to hawkers who beside risking lives with their unchecked commodity, rip desperate Kenyans off.
Last month, fuel prices shot up, with petrol having a Sh5.45 price difference.
These are frequent occurrences, but we continue to tackle them the same way every day. The most glaring cause of our suffering, and which is mostly ignored or unseen, is the global climate crisis and its effects, especially on the poor.
We must diversify our approach to adaptation and management of effects of climate change.
A four-year community engagement in community resilience and climate change adaptation project by the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) and its partners - OSA Ishiara Parish, Caritas Meru and Caritas Kitui – has so far revealed a sorry state of affairs, but also opportunities in the mostly ignored poor communities.
The Trocaire-funded project realised how advocating, creating awareness and mobilising community members in arid and semi-arid areas of Tharaka Nithi, Embu and Kitui counties to adopt agroecological production methods could help many people.
Agroecology (AE) can be key to achieving food security and the sustainable development goals (SDGs). AE includes organic farming methods, and creates terraces against erosion. It also increases soil fertility by compost, combats pests with natural pesticides and cultivates suitable vegetable varieties with seasonal intercropping.
There is no single approach or technological solution to making agriculture and food systems more sustainable. A combination of activities is required. Agricultural sustainability is directly or indirectly necessary for reaching all the 17 SDGs; but especially for SDG 1 of no poverty, SDG2 on zero hunger, SDG12 on responsible consumption and production and SDG 15 that addresses life on land.
More food and fibre need to be produced; while ecosystem functioning and human wellbeing need to be restored and maintained by combining environmentally and socially sound farming practices with a reduction in food waste.
Agroecology is a locally adopted agricultural practice that fosters productivity and human health, maintains environmental sustainability and promotes rural livelihoods and societal stability. It uses a multitude of suitable solutions, including new technology and traditional techniques; improved inputs and outputs and applies unique localised knowledge-based practices at the field level and in terms of processing and marketing of food products. AE is holistic and system-oriented farm management practice; including social-cultural and political principles.
It involves organic farming, agroforestry and permaculture, and aims at sustainable intensification of farming. AE is, therefore, synergistic and does not compete with other efforts to make agriculture more sustainable. The success of AE in the three counties has led to crop and livestock diversification, external inputs reduction and provision of alternative marketing channels to improve farmers’ income. Conservation tillage reduces herbicide application while fostering higher levels of biodiversity and increasing the available food per household. Agroforestry systems will have a higher return on labour compared to monoculture. AE leads to remarkable increase in yield and food production, especially in marginalised areas such as Ishiara, Mbeere and Mwingi. It fosters biodiversity, soil fertility and human health.
There are, however, challenges of agroecology, but which can be managed. There is a pronounced time lag between the implementation and benefits of these measures; insufficient system research; increased labour demand, which can be an opportunity for creating jobs. Transaction costs; a negative image by some stakeholders and lack of county or national policy on AE.
To fully utilise AE’s potential the three counties and the rest of the country, we must put AE production systems in focus at the county and national level, formulate county and national policy, strengthen knowledge of AE systems, and apply technologies like co-operation between scientific disciplines and the private sector.
We can also strengthen and develop new local marketing structures and marketing support measures for agroecological products.
We should consider the external costs and ethical values in international, national and county agriculture and trade policies, as well as strengthen agri-environmental policy measures.
Supporting self-organisation of farmers, including women and youth, and food producers and ensuring they participate in decision making and shaping of policies as has been done by Pacja and its partners in the three counties.
If our county and national policies incorporate AE, Kenya will be food secure and the citizens will mitigate and adopt well to impacts of global climate change.
[The writer is a sustainable development and environmental expert]