Transitioning to climate-smart agriculture ensures sustainable food security and rural development amid changing environmental conditions.

Farmers are embracing the climate-smart sustainable agriculture concept to mitigate the advanced effects of climate change on agricultural productivity and sustainability. Transitioning to climate-smart agriculture ensures sustainable food security and rural development amid environmental changes. Farmers are embracing the climate-smart agriculture concept to mitigate the advanced effects of climate change on agricultural productivity and sustainability.

What is climate -Smart sustainable Agriculture?

According to Concern Worldwide, climate- smart sustainable agriculture is a set of farming methods designed to increase the resilience and productivity of land affected by climate change. It involves working with farmers so that they can better use and manage the natural resources available to them. It enables them to find more efficient methods, based on their land and climate, of producing, processing, and even marketing their harvests.

What is Sustainable agriculture?

USDA defines sustainable agriculture as eco-friendly farming, producing crops and animals harmlessly while benefiting communities and the environment.The approach prevents harm to water, soil, ecosystems, and resources, safeguarding farm workers, residents, and neighboring environments.  Crop rotation, mixed farming, agroforestry, multiple cropping, and permaculture are constituents of sustainable agriculture. To ensure sustainable agriculture farmers are embarrassing climate-smart sustainable agriculture

Traditional Bakhulo Farming Methods and Food security

The Bakhulo people historically led agrarian lives, harmonizing with nature, preserving culture, and fostering social harmony for centuries. They hence embraced the concept of climate-sustainable agriculture. The free-flowing Suo River drew legions of swimmers and other outdoor enthusiasts along its beaches. In addition, the river recreational activities generated some income that supported local livelihood.  The common income-generating activities were fishing, boat racing, sand harvesting, and other river-related activities. On the other hand, forests were also used as a source of fun, excitement, and inspiration. Young boys and girls explored forested open areas year-round, using them as playgrounds for recreational activities like hide and seek.

With time, as the population increased, there was an equal need for increased output in agricultural and fishing activities.  The community shifted from traditional to Western farming methods, mastering them locally after colonial administration recommendations, departing from tradition.  The need to conserve the local environment was less motivating for the colonial imperial interests. Hence, commerce rather than culture became the motivating force behind man’s activities.

Communal life changed drastically with the advent of the colonial administration. New crops and new tree species were introduced and encouraged by the incoming white administration. Traditional crops such as millet, sorghum, cassava, and simsim were slowly but steadily discarded for cotton, maize, and beans. Indigenous trees were cleared for settlement and charcoal burning, replaced by exotic species like blue gum due to increased population..

Effects of climate change on Food security

In the process, the community lost the trees with rich medicinal value and deep cultural and spiritual sentiments. These values and sentiments were strong forces in forest conservation practices, without which we lost the environmental war. Human activities like farming, settlement, and charcoal burning led to deforestation, causing soil erosion and land degradation worsened by heavy rains. These effects has amplified the call for climate-smart sustainable agriculture

Horticulture along riverbanks led to wetland encroachment and water catchment destruction due to inappropriate farming practices like steep cultivation. Encroachment and water catchment destruction cause floods, damaging property and spreading environmental diseases like malaria and bilharzias. Water in the rivers and streams has been polluted and contaminated with pesticide chemicals and drugs used in horticulture farming. These have affected the fish population.

Land faces twin issues: forest cover destruction and water pollution due to short-term livelihood needs, neglecting long-term environmental sustainability. Because of this scenario, environmental sustainability is being threatened at a time. Agricultural productivity has continued to decline, causing food insecurity and general poverty with catastrophic effects on rural development. Dwindling agricultural out calls for climate-smart sustainable agriculture methods. 

Embracing climate-smart sustainable agriculture methods

Rachiebo Foundation and affiliated groups implement climate-smart sustainable agriculture to manage environmental resources, addressing sustainability challenges effectively.. Through the support of the Busia County government and Kenya’s national affirmative support program, the following farming methods are being encouraged besides indigenous poultry farming, beekeeping, and fish farming:

Small holder Indigenous chicken farm

Conservation Agriculture

Conservation agriculture where farmers are encouraged to adopt soil management practice based on three principles: crop rotation, no tillage (or minimal tillage if needed), and mulching and soil cover. In other words, the method  involves planting seeds in small holes (instead of furrows), using the stalks from last year’s crops to cover the ground, and alternately setting plants like legumes to replenish the nutrients sucked out of the soil by a crop like maize. In the end, this preserves fertility. For busy farmers, it also means less labor during the planting season and a new supply of alternative crops which just happen to be a good source of nutrition for young children. This one of the most effective method of climate-smart sustainable agriculture

Improved crop variety & diversification

 To increase harvest yields and make farms more resistant to the effects of climate change farmers are encouraged to focus on crop varieties that have improved traits, such as tolerance to crop disease or shorter growth cycles including cassava and millet which are more drought resistant with early.  Farmers are further encouraged to plant short-cycle crops preferably horticulture in response to short rain seasons or floods during heavy rains when crops are washed away between planting and harvest

 Soil & water management

Another tried-and-true climate -smart agriculture method uses special hole and pit-digging methods, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, raised mounds of earth, to collect, divert, or slow down the flow of water during seasonal rainfalls. These simple interventions can reduce water loss as well as soil erosion. By ‘hacking’ the ground (in some cases literally), we can keep moisture in the soil for longer periods of time, ultimately increasing harvests in dry lands.

Irrigation

Key to climate-smart sustainable agriculture is irrigation. Farmers adopt water harvesting technologies during the off-season, collecting rainfall in ponds for off-season crop and livestock farming. For the farmers along the river streams tread pumps are used to make pumping water from nearby streams an easy task. These farming technologies have allowed families to thrive, nutritionally and financially, with high-value vegetable crops.

Agro-forestry

Agro forestry involves planting trees and shrubs on farms. Depending on the species and the goals, this can improve soil fertility and stability, produce firewood, and grow new crops like fruits and medicinal plants. 

Agro forestry nursery – one of climate smart agriculture method

Post-Harvest Management

Farmers produce enough food for the household during good seasons, but crop loss and spoilage are some of the main causes of food insecurity. As such, farmers need to be supported in improving harvesting techniques and their crops’ storage, handling, transportation, processing, and packaging. The goal is to reduce crop losses and spoilage at each step of the supply chain, which ultimately improves food security. 

Extension services

Besides techniques and tools, the success of climate-smart agriculture’s ultimate empowerment to agriculture happens when farmers have the skills, knowledge, and well-being to evaluate and make their own informed decisions about their farming practices. This calls for a focus on extension programs that place education and knowledge-sharing in the hands of farmers.

Read More: The role of Indigenous knowledge in food security

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