Drought-resistant crops key to food security

Agriculture Counties Editor's Pick Taita Taveta

A trip to Kamtonga village at the lowlands of Mwatate vividly reveals a failed maize crop.

On the tens of parcels of farms, wilting maize plants stand at the mercy of blowing wind. It is a sickening sight that makes a resounding announcement of the hunger and food desperation that the villagers are facing.

“As you can see, the maize crops did not get adequate rainfall, and we’re looking at the wilting plants. The best we can do is gather the stalks and feed to our livestock,” lamented Pricah Matheka, a peasant farmer from Kamtonga.

It has been three years of failed crops and farmers ending up with empty hands and nothing to show for their sweat.

The tale of Kamtonga village reads like many other stories of rural villages around Kenya. Rains have been failing, and growing of conventional crops has been a constant source of pain among farmers.

The genesis of all this is attributable to climate change, inadequate rains, and failure to embrace smart agricultural practices by farmers.

The problem has been a national concern, which saw the national government come up with a Big Four Agenda, one of which is food security.

Kenya being a default agricultural nation heavily relies on rain-fed farming to feed her population and fuel the engine of development. Therefore, massively failed crops mean a starving nation with little or no strides made in economic development.

One of the key buoys to ensuring food security has been on building communities resilient to climate change through embracing climate-smart practices among smallholder farmers.

This new realization saw the birth of the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) in 2017, a two-pronged strategy touching on the areas of National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS, 2010) and Agriculture Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) (2010-2020).

As KCSAP comes to its tail end of existence in 2022, the nation has drawn several lessons one of which is the place of drought-resistant crops.

The villagers of Kamtonga are now making a switch from maize farming and in its place embracing drought-resistant crops that have a chance of yielding even when the rains are not adequate.

In their line-up of crops are green grams, cowpeas, groundnuts, millet, and sorghum; which have been proven a success in the local climatic conditions.

With seeds distributed by KCSAP in partnership with Kenya Red Cross and USAID, a dozen of farmers planted green grams in the last short rain season and for once in many years had a somewhat bumper harvest.

“I got green grams seeds from KCSAP last season, and I’m glad I planted them instead of maize. I harvested eight 100-kg bags and sold 5 of them for Sh 60,000 and left the rest for domestic use. It’s a shift that I don’t regret,” shared Tom Mutua, one of the first Kamtonga farmers to embrace drought-resistant crops.

With millions of Kenyans facing a perennial acute food shortage, the national government in partnership with counties and other non-governmental organizations have constantly invested in training and funding of projects to educate and support small-scale farmers to adopt the best agricultural practices.

Such efforts are now bearing fruits as success stories of small-scale farmers from remote and vulnerable regions warm up to the idea of embracing modern and sustainable farming techniques.

By Arnold Linga Masila

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