A Glimpse into Smarter Farming in Kenya

From the largest of concentrated solar plants, to the most modest of farms in Kenya, the application of 'sustainable solutions' holds the promise of making the world a better place. 

The video below (see end of article), published by the World Bank, draws out some tremendous insights on how smart agricultural practices are helping to secure a more productive and prosperous environment for rural Kenyans.

While the solutions vary, they all share the characteristic of breaking circular patterns of unsustainable practice, and ushering in virtuous cycles — where one good practice, leads towards success in another. 

Crop Rotation, Diversification and Water Collection

Consider the changes made by John Obuom — the owner and farmer of a one-acre farm, close to Lake Victoria, in Kenya. 

John’s business, like so many, is one that is threatened by consequences of climate change. Already a hot, dry region, it is growing more so as the rainy season grows shorter every year. In an effort to secure his way of life, and provide for his family, he turned to innovation: “I had to get involved in smart farming because everything used to dry up,” he says.

For all his endeavors, whether it’s raising crops or tending animals, the scarcity of water was creating significant problems for his livelihood. Now though, John’s farm features water collectors that collect surface runoff during rainy seasons, allowing it to be saved for irrigation during dryer periods.

Previously reliant on a single crop, John’s farm is now more resilient through diversification of the crops it grows, which includes cow-peas, pawpaw, and Cashew trees. If one crop fails, the farm can still look toward another for income. Additionally, he now employs crop rotation techniques — growing a variety of crops in succession on the same plot of land — a practice that improves soil quality and fertility by conserving nutrients. 

Crop rotation also reduces pesticide use. Since many pests prefer certain crops to others, continuous growth of a crop leads to their populations increasing. By removing that crop temporarily, the reproductive cycle of pests is broken; significantly reducing pest problems. 

John’s also integrated different systems in his farm, such that they help one another. For instance, by raising animal pens  (see image below) above the ground, he’s now able to easily collect manure that he then uses as organic fertilizer. He’s also planted thickets of shrubs to act as fences; a solution adding biological diversity to his land, and protecting soils from wind erosion.  

John’s accomplishments are contrasted with some of his neighbors who were not yet employing climate smart techniques, but soon saw the value of sustainable practices and quickly began picking up on the techniques and implementing some for themselves.  

The video also touches on how sustainable practices are improving on Kenya’s natural grasslands: showing the Northern Range Lands Trust promoting climate smart techniques for herding. Here, several herders group together, herding their livestock alongside one another — a practice that carries positive consequences for the land.

Besides techniques, the video also highlights an important aspect to sustainable initiatives: development funds, which provide motivation and means by which farmers can adopt climate smart techniques. 

The World Bank Biocarbon Fund, for instance, has over 20,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya enrolled in one of their programs, the Kenya Sustainable Agricultural Land Management Project (SALM). SALM provides training in sustainable agricultural practices to farmers, and financial incentives for their commitment to sustainable practices and emission reduction. To date, it’s provided over $65,000 in carbon revenue for Kenyan farmers.

In one example from SALM, the cultivation of trees is financed. Not only are the trees themselves good for the environment, but they provide shade for livestock who in turn produce more milk. Moreover, farmers growing seedlings can sell them for additional income. 

These and other practices that have reportedly led to increases in crop yields of participating farms by over 20%. The fund estimates that the work it has supported has saved some 24,788 tons of CO2 from being emitted.

“The world has changed. Kenya has changed,” says John Obuom. “It’s time for people to wake up and work in a smart way. Those who haven’t started yet, please start now. So we can join hands and progress together,”. 

See Cleanleap article Building Competitive Green Industries: Opportunity for Developing Countries for additional information.