Title: Kenya: Climate change a blessing?
Author: Pius Sawa, Lugari District
Source Website: www.alertnet.org
African Charter Article# 24: All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development.
Summary & Comment: Western Kenya's Lugari district has long been a maize-growing area. But worsening drought, believed linked to climate change, has made the production of the region's once-reliable staple increasingly risky. "When I planted maize, the rains disappeared when the maize had reached knee height. The whole farm dried up, and I had nothing for food. My children could not go to school because I relied on maize as a cash crop also," said a farmer and a father of five. AB
Climate change 'a blessing' for western Kenya's farmers
Western Kenya's Lugari district has long been a maize-growing area. But worsening drought, believed linked to climate change, has made the region's once-reliable staple an increasing risk. "When I planted maize, the rains disappeared when the maize had reached knee height. The whole farm dried up and I had nothing for food. My children could not go to school because I relied on maize as a cash crop also," said Dan Asembo Shaban, a farmer and a father of five.
But farmers like Shaban have found an answer to their problems: Shifting to new crops that are both drought resistant and income-boosting. Shaban now has divided his one-and-a-half-acre farm into plots for sweet potatoes, grain amaranth, cassava and sunflowers. He also grows a variety of maize called Pioneer that matures in a quick seventy five days. A quarter-acre of sweet potatoes, he says, produces ten times as much income as the same plot of maize would have brought. Now he sells some of his crop at the nearest market, buys what maize he needs and uses the rest of his profits to pay school fees for his children. "I have been growing maize since 1964. But maize has taken me nowhere," he said.
Worsening drought has shortened western Kenya's maize-growing season. Five years ago, farmers in Lugari spent February preparing their land for the early rains. But now the rains come late. The land is dry, rivers run dry and life is hard for livestock and plants as well as people.
Staple maize becoming a luxury
Maize, once a staple, has become a luxury, its production so unreliable it cannot be a source of food and income, as it once was. But with help from researchers and funding from Kenya's government and international partners like the World Bank, other quicker maturing crops are now being adopted. Sweet potatoes, sunflower, grain amaranth, millet, and soybeans are some of the new crop varieties that mature within three months and now give farmers three harvests a year, up from two with maize. Sammy Tiego, one area farmer, has become one of the country's top small-scale producers and recently won an award as Kenya's best grain amaranth farmer. He is able to harvest 150 tons of the grain in a year from his three-acre piece of land.
Much of Kenya's amaranth crop is sold to processors, who mix it with other grains to make flour for bread and porridge. Amaranth is considered an immune-boosting food for people with HIV/AIDS because of its high protein content. Tiego now describes the changes in the rain pattern as a blessing, because grain amaranth is drought resistant and growing it has boosted his fortunes. "As you can see in my farm, the maize is struggling to survive, but the amaranths are celebrating," he said. Tiego says he was won over to growing amaranth, which is native to the Americas, after experimenting with a small plot in 2007, and reaping an overwhelming harvest, enough to pay his children's school fees for the year.
Amaranth is harvested three times in a year, and farmers can grow it using only farm manure from livestock and poultry as fertilizer. The grain is also productive in many ways, Tiego said. When young, the plant's leaves are eaten as a green vegetable. When mature, the grains are milled. After threshing, the remains are fed to animals. Marita Shikuku, another small-scale farmer and mother of three, says she now understands climate change as a measure of how much food she can produce from her small plot of land. She now grows cassava, sweet potatoes, and millet, producing enough to feed her children and bring in income for the family's other needs.
The new crops have brightened a once-dim outlook for the future in the area, turning a burden into a blessing, farmers said, particularly when combined with other climate change adaptation projects in the area, including tree planting, water harvesting and flood mitigation.
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