Improving vegetables production through smart agriculture technologies

Green Shade Women Group being trained on how to make conny kitchen garden. [Japheth Makau, Standard]

Smallholder women farmers in the semi-arid region are undergoing training on climate Smart Agriculture Technologies (CAS) namely Cone Gardens, Shade Net and Bio-pesticides.

The farmer groups are part beneficiaries of a regional Ksh 9.2 billion (USD60 million) World Bank-funded project on the adoption of the CAS that is working in Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Zambia.

The three-year project initiated in the 2021 production year by Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)  comes at a time when the country and the region is experiencing heavy rains. 

ASARECA since 2021 has been implementing the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) project in partnership with lead institutions - the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT as well as Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the implementing agencies

“The cone gardens addresses the challenges of waterlogging, the shed nets prevent crop destruction resulting from heavy rains and strong winds while the biopesticides are an affordable solution to managing pests and disease whose incidences also increase during the rainy seasons” Julian Barungi , programme officer at ASARECA.

She added that women Farmer groups are being trained on how to enhance their utilization of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) technologies that are critical in adapting to climate effects including Elnino rains. 

Green shade Women group members being trained on how to construct shade nets stand. [Japheth Makau, Standard]

 In Kenya, she said they are focusing on farmer groups from Green Shade Women Farmer Group and Amazing Site Women Farmer Group in Machakos which ASARECA has been supporting since 2010 through promotion of agricultural water productivity technologies”, she said.

This time around, she added they are training the women on very specific climate-smart agriculture technologies that respond to the current problem that they are facing, and that is of  El Nino rains which have come very strong and are destroying the vegetables that the farmers are growing and yet it is their main source of livelihood.

“We know that these rains have killed people, they have affected over 80,000 households in Kenya, but very specifically the farmers are most affected and the women farmers who comprise the majority”, she said.

Barungi explained that the training is thus timely at this time as they will be able to apply some of the CSAs that have been developed by research institutions such as KALRO and be able to increase their productivity amidst the climate challenges they are experiencing now.

 “The farmers trained on cone gardens which mirror the terrain in Machakos, shed nets that protect their vegetables against strong winds and bio-pesticides due to the emergence of many pests and disease.

She acknowledged that although there is no single technology that can address all the challenges that the farmers are undergoing at this time , the experts are targeting to use a bundle of technologies such as climate information services which farmers can  contextualize to their conditions in such a semi-arid area  and combine with climate smart agriculture technologies

“ We know that once the farmers adopt these technologies, then they'll be able to become more resilient and withstand the challenges of climate change. Issues of climate information are very key and these particular farmers have realized that they do not need to just grow maize in each and every season but utilize climate information given to grow the right crops for that fit within the information given”, Barungi said  

Dr. Kizito Kwena, Soil Scientist at the KALRO said they have been working with the women groups on various aspects of managing climate variability and change.

“The idea is that climate change comes with a lot of opportunities. For a very long time, it has been a big challenge managing variability. But we thought that if farmers are able to manage variability very well, then it prepares them adequately to manage climate change, which is now here with us”, he added. 

Shadrach. Munyao stir a mixture of sodom apples to make a organic farming pesticides. [Japheth Makau, Standard]

Dr. Kwena explained that they have been using two ways namely the use of climate information where they use the seasonal weather forecast to plan their farm operations which helps minimize losses and the other option that the government is doing is use of crop-livestock insurance.

“ The most viable option is the use of climate information, where farmers use climate information to plan their activities. Like in today's case, we have come here because we have a rare opportunity, there is a lot of rain and we wanted farmers to maximize on it through addressing their immediate needs which are vegetables”, he said.

Ordinarily, Dr. Kwena said that farmers would use flat beds, but since it has come with a lot of challenges given the amount of rain being received, the vegetables are not doing so well and therefore they are being taught new ways of growing their vegetables namely cone gardens.

Corn gardens are basically steep hills surrounded by circular terraces that resemble what they have ordinarily on their farms, they mimic their situation at home and it is a better option for them even as they grapple with small land sizes. 

A conny garden kitchen garden. [Japheth Makau, Standard]

“The demand for vegetables is increasing.  The farmers may not have a lot of land to produce a lot of vegetables. But there is a lot of space in the air, which is what the cone gardens are taking advantage of, so that they are able to establish gardens going upwards instead of horizontally and this addresses two issues, space which they are able to maximize and secondly they are able to manage drainage well so the issues of water logging do not arise.

He continued, “So I keep telling farmers that it doesn't matter how they look at it, they'll have to spend money to get vegetables, either they buy or they grow it themselves. But there is a lot of pride, there is a lot of satisfaction in them growing their own vegetables, which is what we're emphasizing here because then they can regulate the quality of the vegetables and also the quantity”, he said.

Dr. Kwena encouraged the farmers to grow vegetables using cone gardens, especially at this time the country is experiencing a lot of rain, and with the rains also coming with another challenge of pests and diseases, they are training them on using natural ways that can address this challenges as purchasing of pesticides is way beyond the means of most farmers in the area.

Farmers in the area have since time immemorial been depending on relief in the sense that they could not think of any other crop apart from maize that would sometimes fail but now they can be able to grow crops that have higher chances of success based on the forecast harvest.

Ruth Mutisya from Bio Vision Africa Trust and who has been training the farmers said   they have been training farmers groups and promoting organic farming and agroecology and the two farmer women groups have been trained on how to achieve more yields by using climate-smart technologies, conserving water, nutrients and also production in a sustainable way

The climate-smart technologies for our smallholder farmers have an impact because when we train them they go and adopt in their households, produce more yields and earn more because they consume some and they sell the surplus.

Mutisya said they ensure farmers learn more on practical than theory engaging the women groups at the farm level and working together, giving them the procedures and addressing them about the issues of the ground and in turn  the farmer groups train the community

 Elizabeth Matheka, a farmer with Green Shade Women group attested to the benefits saying as  farmers they have benefited from climate information from the ASARECA and KALRO researchers and this has enabled them to always have regular food in their households

“Adopting the CSA techniques has contributed to the cost of production and increased income levels.  We also use bio-pesticides to fight emerging pests and diseases. We are happy since we are able to meet our daily family obligations and equally have managed to start other income-generating schemes in our group of 25 members,” added Matheka.

The CSA technology options given are affordable, climate smart and user friendly  and looking at the prevailing rainfall situation in the country the affected farmers most of whom are women have limited know-how on their application and lack the capacity to invest in the said technologies.

According to ASARECA, the Training on enhancing utilization of climate-smart agriculture technologies among smallholder women farmers in the country hopes not only to provide a platform for the farmers to share knowledge and experiences but also use the knowledge and skills gained from the training to further train other farmers within their communities.

In his sentiments, Dr Anthony Musili, explains the need to use shed nets instead of mosquito nets and the advantages of shed nets in the ongoing project. 

"The shed nets will prevent evaporation and direct sunlight over the mosquito nets," said Dr. Musili.

He added shed nets helps to reduce predators and the challenge of moisture conservation 

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