To counter this, smallholder farmers, need to adopt a set of climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies that can reduce the moderate to severe climatic risks experienced throughout the production cycle.  Climate-smart agriculture initiatives sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience to climatic stresses and shocks, and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Broadly, climate-smart agriculture focuses on developing resilient food production systems that lead to food and income security under progressive climate change and variability.

Climate Variability in Kenya

Kenya has a tropical climate- hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland, and very dry in the north and northeast parts of the country. Most of the country is arid or semi-arid- 80% of the country receives less than 700 mm of rainfall per year, while some areas in the northwest and east receive only 200 mm per year. With the current climate variability, most of the areas are receiving less rainfall than before and it has become hard to predict the volumes of rainfall to be received as well as the distribution throughout the seasons which are characterized by prolonged dry and cold spells.

The Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) 2020/21 climate change projections for Nakuru County suggest an unreliable and significantly reduced March, April, and May (MAM) season. In addition, the first rains are occasionally insufficient to support a harvest. The short-wet season of October, November, and December (OND) now witnesses fewer rainy days, dropping from 60 to 30 days. However, the rainfall intensity has increased, and the season now extends into January and February, resulting in higher total rainfall. Consequently, farmers are investing more in the OND season.

How farmers are adapting to these changes.

CRAFT and its agribusiness partners are supporting farmers to adapt to these changes. For example, the smallholder farmers producing potatoes in Nakuru County are incorporating climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies at the different nodes of the production cycle to achieve optimal yields. This has led to increasing in productivity from 4 tons/acre to 7.5 tons/acre. Below are the practices that farmers are adopting to mitigate the effects of climate change in Nakuru County.

Before the start of the season, farmers equip themselves with certified drought-tolerant seeds. In addition, they receive cropping calendars highlighting the various activities throughout the season. The planting dates in these calendars are determined through weather information/agro advisory retrieved from Kenya Agriculture Advisory Platform (KAOP) blended with traditional weather forecasting.

At planting, the farmers are applying soil conservation measures to increase water retention, this is done through surface planting, potato seeds are placed on the surface and heaped with soil forming ridges. Also at planting, farmers use soil nutrient uptake enhancers that hasten germination, increase crop development surpass the weeds as well as ensure uniform growth.

When it comes to soil nutrition, farmers are now using soil testing and amending soil based on the recommendation thus increasing fertilizer efficiency. Previously the crops remained unhealthy even after fertilizer application as a result of acidity but through soil testing, the farmers are now able to correct the soils through liming.  

For pest control, farmers are using Integrated Pest Management control which helps farmers detect pests early in advance and apply management practices such as uprooting, rouging, etc. with the last result being the use of chemicals – application is as per the recommended regime.

Finally at harvest farmers are practicing dehulming which involves slashing the crop above the ground, this is done two weeks to harvest to ensure the skin is hardened thus reducing damages at harvesting as well as increasing the shelf life.

To achieve optimal yields smallholder farmers, need to apply a combination of CSA practices and technologies and if possible, at each node of the production cycle.

By Oscar Nzoka