Kenya: A Glimpse of Climate-Smart Agriculture

This blog post by Neil Palmer first appeared on the CIAT Blog on October 14, 2011.

 From “madman” to model farmer – perseverance pays off for Maurice

There are many ways to describe Maurice Kwadha: farmer, entrepreneur, and climate-smart are some of them.

But some in Kombewa, in western Kenya’s Nyando Basin, used to call him a madman. Once, when he was collecting discarded milk packets at the local market, he was physically attacked by someone who thought he had lost his mind. But Maurice had a plan. And his small farm, with its burgeoning tree nursery, is the proof.

Standing in the afternoon sun at his farm in Kochiel village, he’s full of smiles. The day before he hosted a special event for World Food Day – which saw over 100 people, including the area’s provincial commissioner – take a tour of his farm. Even though Maurice has less than half-a-hectare of land, what he’s done with it is nothing short of inspiring, and is perhaps one of the best examples of climate-smart, sustainable, agricultural intensification in the region, if not the country. It’s little wonder it’s starting to get attention.

His agroforestry system has been established at just the right time, as the Nyando Basin, and many parts of East Africa, struggle to deal with increasingly unpredictable rains, and more intense dry spells. It shows that with a bit of lateral thinking, a small plot of land is no barrier to boosting food production, increasing resilience to climate change, and developing a profitable business.

In an area barely larger than a tennis court, he has dense, leafy plots in all shades of green. Areas of maize and the bushy fodder grass napier sit next to rows of banana and high-value papaya trees; several alleys of multi-purpose border trees including calliandra and grevillea help to stabilize and replenish the soil, maintain soil water, protect the topsoil from wind erosion, provide shade and fodder, and eventually fuel-wood and building material. He uses leaf mulch from tithonia plants as green manure for his fruit trees; further up he has a small area for onion, sweet potato and tomato.

His next-door neighbour’s farm, sown almost entirely to maize, seems horribly exposed in comparison. While heavy wads of mud cling to my shoes as we walk along the border of Maurice’s farm, the soil over the fence is dusty and dry. Maurice likens soil-use to having a bank account: you can’t keep withdrawing indefinitely if you have nothing saved up. At the moment, it looks as though his neighbour is in the red.

Maurice also has a unit for a dairy goat and hopes to establish a zero-grazing unit for his dairy cow. He’s also hand dug a large pond, fed by water pumped from a nearby seasonal river, installed an EcoSan toilet, and has a 3000 litre tank to capture rainwater from the tin roof of his home. Furthermore, he’s a committed composter, with various systems in place, and even has an ultra-efficient “rocket stove” for cooking.

“The mother of everything”

What Maurice is most proud of is his growing tree nursery, which despite being less than a quarter of the size of his cropland, is by far his most profitable enterprise. Here there are a whopping 20,000 seedlings of mango, calliandra, grevillea and local tree species. Some are for his farm, but the majority are for sale.

Many of the seedlings are growing in the discarded plastic bags used for milk, the same ones that caused Maurice to attract the wrong kind of attention as he picked them up off the floor at his local market. He says that recalling the incident still brings tears to his eyes. In farming, sometimes you have to act like a person who is mad, he explains. But as long as you know what you’re doing, you’ll be okay.

As well as collecting old milk packets, Maurice also picked up discarded mango seeds to establish his mango nursery. He now sells seedlings to a variety of customers, including the Kenyan government. He’s also started grafting mango.

The money from the tree nursery enabled Maurice to buy and install his water harvesting tank. His water pump was also bought with money from the nursery. Water pipes too. And his television. Money from the tree nursery enables him to send one of his children to school and another to college.

If we want to talk more about what he has bought with money from the tree nursery, we‘ll be here until evening-time, he chuckles. With a sweep of his hand, he says simply, that the tree nursery “is the mother of everything here.”

Despite this, Maurice concedes that for one person alone, environmental conservation is not easy – networking and collaboration are essential – and he admits there is still a long way to go. But he believes that if the whole community can see what he is doing, and adopts similar practices, together there will be a significant change for the better. His involvement as chairman of the the a local youth group, is one step towards this.

“What I’ve learned in farming here is, however small it is, what matters is the way you utilise your farm.”

Now, whichever words the the local community uses to describe Maurice, mad is definitely not one of them.

*In July 2011, Maurice helped to coordinate the first of a series of workshops with the CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) research program, with partners from the University of Oxford. The workshops aim to improve the capacity of rural communities to address their most pressing challenges. More on this coming soon. Kochiel is also one of several villages participating in Africa’s first soil carbon project operated by Swedish NGO SCC-ViAgroforestry (ViA) together with the World Bank and the Kenyan government.

Climate Change not just a Threat to Staple Food Crops

Climate-smart agriculture must include a broad range of crops and farming systems, and not only the headline-hogging staples.

Millions of smallholder farmers depend on cash crops like tea and cocoa to make ends meet, and to raise enough money to buy food.

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Many cocoa farmers in West Africa, for example, treat their cocoa trees like ATM machines, picking a few plump pods to sell in order to pay school fees or medical expenses.

But as recent studies by scientists and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) have shown, climate change poses a significant challenge to these and other cash crops, as well as threatening the headline-hogging food staples we often hear about.

CIAT’s climate models predict that high-quality tea-growing zones of Kenya and Uganda, and the cocoa regions of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, will experience an average temperature rise of over two degrees Celsius by 2050.

This is enough to cause the crops to struggle – and at worst – fail.

While on the face of it, this looks like a devastating blow to a huge number of smallholder farmers, this particular cloud has a silver lining:

There is time to adapt. Not much, but time nonetheless.

While there will always be some uncertainty in prediction tomorrow’s weather, let alone the climate in three decades’ time, one thing is clear: effective adaptation to a warmer world needs to start straight away, and must be a joint effort by producers, other members of the chocolate and tea value chains, national governments, and donors.

Encouragingly, the CIAT reports have been received in earnest and the ball is already rolling. The speed with which these industries are reacting could be an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Click to read more about Africa’s chocolate meltdown and the trouble brewing in the tea lands of Kenya and Uganda.

ScoopIt! Track Climate Change and Food Security News

Having trouble staying abreast of news on climate change and food security? Let The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) curate the news for you. Using ScoopIt, CCAFS selects the most relevant stories of the day, which you can either browse online or read in your mailbox.

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Lessons Learned from COP16

The Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2011 blog provides insight into the crucial role that agricultural plays in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Revisit the ARDD 2010 Blog for an overview of last year’s ARDD and the status of agriculture in the international climate treaty context. The following is an article by Nathan Russell, the head of corporate communications at CIAT, that sums up progress towards the inclusion of agriculture in a final treaty.

The mutual dependence of climate security and food security was the clear message from Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2010, held on December 4 in parallel with the Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) taking place at Cancún, Mexico.

Continue reading

Agricultural Development, Food Security and Climate Change: Intersecting at a Global Crossroads

Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council Chair

In the opening session of Agriculture and Rural Development Day, Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council Chair and Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank talked about the intersection of agricultural development, food security and climate. Agriculture is part of the problem of climate change and so must be part of solution. The sector produces 17% of greenhouse gases and it will be severely affected by any climate change.At the same time, 70% of the rural poor depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Ms Andersen proposed a solution that was a triple win of increased food security, resilience and emissions reductions.

First was a win for the environment because agriculture is the most important sector that can effectively capture carbon. Good land and agriculture management practices, such as agroforestry systems, zero tillage and improved water and fertilizer management will all have significant potential for carbon sequestration.  Such climate-smart agricultural techniques can reduce emissions by at least 13%.

The use of agroforestry in Sub-Saharan Africa in what is being termed Evergreen Agriculture is a good example of this approach. Evergreen Agriculture integrates fertilizer trees into annual food crop and livestock systems and maintains a green cover on the land throughout the year. This approach has already provided benefits to several million farmers in Zambia, Malawi, Niger and Burkina Faso.  For example, in Niger, there are now more than 4.8 million ha of millet and sorghum being grown in agro-forests with up to 160 African legume trees per ha.  Farmers in Malawi have increased their maize yields by up to 280 %w hen their crops grow under a canopy of these trees.

Second there is a win for the farmers because increased climate-smart agriculture increases production and productivity. Many of the techniques that sequester carbon also allow for increased production and incomes. Kenya faces increasingly severe and frequent floods and droughts, exacerbated by land degradation.  Agriculture accounts for nearly 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.   The country has introduced an integrated program to improve productivity, value added, food security, and resilience.  This will be achieved through many efforts: early warning systems, flood and drought management, subsidies targeted at those most in need, social protection programs, and most importantly for climate change, soil carbon sequestration targeted at smallholder maize producers who are benefiting from carbon revenues.  This is the first biocarbon project on the African continent.

Third there is a win for global food security because climate-smart agriculture increases resilience of production systems. Agricultural production must increase by 70% to feed 9 billion people by 2050.  The agricultural sector will also need to become much more resilient.  This will require integrated approaches to land, water, and woodland management.  New silvo-pastoral practices in Central and South America have sequestered 1.5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, reduced methane emissions by 21% and nitrogen dioxide by 35%, while at the same time, they have almost doubled meat production and increased the carrying capacity of the land in animals per hectare by 50%.  Farmer income tripled in Colombia, and doubled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Enhanced knowledge and improved technologies will play a key role in making climate smart agriculture a reality.  “Today, together, we are doing the hard work of building consensus on what has to be done to move toward climate smart agriculture and the triple win,” said Ms Andersen.

Written by Paul Stapleton, World Agroforestry Centre

Farming First views on climate change, agriculture and food security

In this year’s climate change negotiations, farmer’s needs must be central to the decisions and mechanisms under discussion. Farmers are on the frontline of climate change, and their lives and livelihoods are directly affected by its impact. They are also vital to putting into place many of the solutions we need to delay and deflect it.

Leading up to Cancún, Farming First calls on governments to support the unique role of agriculture in the global climate change response.  We need concerted action on climate change that builds consensus among policymakers on the global agricultural agenda. In some areas, like carbon markets and carbon standards, a lack of uniformity across nations can create uncertainties and prevent farmers from taking advantage of the opportunities offered by carbon standards. It is also important for private sector investment in technology development to have clarity on the priorities of policymakers, in order to know where best to direct funds.

Watch the Farming First video here or the photo below:

The global effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change in agriculture is already underway, and we need to concentrate on replicating and scaling up existing successful initiatives. Amongst the programmes currently being run, there is a significant uptake gap that is hindering the adoption of beneficial practices and technologies by farmers – policymakers must address this whilst also investing in future solutions.

Finance will play a key role, especially to enable farmers, who are often risk averse due to financial insecurity, to change practices and adopt new technologies. This funding will be needed both to mitigate the risk of change, and also to mitigate the increased risk of farming in a new climate. The private sector has a critical role to play in helping to provide the finance and tools to lead farmers through these steps to improving their agricultural practices.

In these crucial days of global climate change negotiations, collaboration between stakeholders is key to getting governments to put into place the right policies that will help best to mitigate and adapt to climate change while meeting growing food needs.

Since early 2009, the Farming First coalition has provided a platform for the world’s farmers, agronomists, scientists, engineers and industry, to advocate for upscaling and replication of proven sustainable agricultural practices.

At Copenhagen last year, the coalition called for a dedicated adaptation fund for agriculture to help farmers deal with the effects of climate change.  Farmers need to be given practical help to fulfil their potential in tackling climate change, particularly those in developing countries, where the environment is least resilient to extreme or erratic weather patterns. It is also their farming practices that contribute most (27%) to developing countries’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Through sensitising farmers to the need for climate change adaptation, and enabling them to practice sustainable agriculture techniques, farmers can play a more central role in addressing the critical issues of food insecurity and climate change facing the world today.

Within the multifaceted debates governing food security, water, biodiversity, agriculture and climate change, Farming First has developed a global action plan that pinpoints six essential principles for increasing agricultural output in a sustainable and socially responsible manner. These include safeguarding natural resources, sharing knowledge, building local access and capacity, protecting harvests, enabling access to markets and prioritising research imperatives.

While easy solutions do not exist, we urge this year’s climate negotiators to look at the world’s food and climate challenges as a joint battle with farmers as key factors to their ultimate success or failure.