In the past few years, James Mugambi’s farm in Central became a battlefield, with the farmer constantly fighting to save his crops from erratic rains, drought, pests and disease. That was until he joined a local farmers’ group with more than 100 others who have taught each other how to work around climate change instead of struggling against it. To deal with delayed seasonal rains, for example, the farmers in the Mwimenyereri self-help group prepare their fields earlier than usual to take advantage of “booster showers” that come before the main rains, explained Mugambi. Lasting only one or two days, the showers kickstart the germination process and help keep seedlings alive through dry spells as farmers wait for heavier, more sustained rainfall. “It is not much, but it helps in reducing the risk of losses,” said Mugambi, who grows coffee, corn, beans and other fruit and vegetables on his two-acre (0.8-hectare) farm in Muiru village. As rising temperatures and extreme weather drive a surge in hunger, farmers around the world are looking for sustainable ways to grow enough food without degrading the soil and adding to the carbon emissions driving climate change. Farming and climate experts say those efforts could also help buffer nations against other shocks to food supplies caused by events like natural disasters, global pandemics and wars - even those fought thousands of miles away.
Africa’s farmers do not need to rely on costly chemical fertilisers, much of which are imported and vulnerable to supply disruptions, said Kwame Ababio, programme officer for climate change at the African Union. A growing number are moving to agro-ecology, using natural methods - such as swapping synthetic fertiliser for manure - to increase yields, cut carbon emissions and recycle resources, Ababio said.
Conservation agriculture is also gaining ground, where farmers limit tilling to a minimum, rotate the kinds of crops grown on the same piece of land and use legumes as soil cover to retain nutrients and moisture, he added.
And, he noted, Africa has seen a rise in climate-smart agriculture, which focuses on adapting to changing weather patterns with methods like capturing and storing rainwater in ponds to use during dry spells.
“It is not one size fits all,” Ababio said. “Governments need to look within their geographic area, see which one is fit for them and then adopt the (method) which is best for their economy or smallholder farmers.” In March, Kenya’s agriculture ministry launched a four-year climate-smart agriculture plan, which includes shaping local policies to address climate change impacts and building a database of tried-and-tested farming techniques to bolster the industry’s resilience.
Farmers around Kenya have been discovering that the nature-based techniques they are using to adapt to the pressures of climate change could also help them weather the fertiliser shortage caused by the war in Ukraine According to UN Comtrade data, last year Kenya imported fertilisers worth more than $33 million from Russia, making up about 10 per cent of the total value of fertiliser imports. But now local suppliers are struggling to get hold of stock and whatever is available has doubled in price, said Mugambi, the farmer in Muiru. He has had to plant his latest batch of crops without fertiliser and expects lower yields as a result. In a bid to minimise their losses, Mugambi and other members of the Mwimenyereri farmers’ group have planted corn and beans in the same field - a practice known as inter-cropping which protects farmers if one crop sustains losses.