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Combatting Drought in Kenya

Content by: South-South News

6 July 2017, New York, USA | South-South News — Up to three million Kenyans are struggling to find enough to eat, as drought grips the nation. Insufficient rain over the past two years, has led to crop failure and decimated livestock in some parts of the country.

It is anticipated that some regions may reach emergency levels by September this year, and many families are making do with just one meal a day.

Joyce Muthangya is a local farmer in Kitui county. She relies on rain for her farming, but now with climate change causing prolonged droughts and erratic rainfall her livelihood is threatened. A hole is her only source of water, and the villagers have had to dig deeper and deeper to find it.

Her crops have also suffered. She has had to stop farming maize, Kenya’s staple food and also one of its main cash crops, as her harvests were continually failing due to the lack of water.

Now she is cultivating sorghum and mung beans (green grams) that are better adapted to the dry conditions. She said, “In the past we used to depend on maize in this area instead of sorghum, but now maize is not growing and we are looking to increase our sorghum production. It is doing better both for selling and for eating at home.”

Sorghum is a versatile drought-tolerant crop that needs three times less water than maize and is more far more nutritious. Mung beans are a good source of protein.

Joyce is one of 24, 000 farmers currently benefitting from a program funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Union and the Government of Kenya. Since 2015, this $153 million program has focused on responding to insufficient rain in 13 counties in Kenya, introducing soil and water conservation, more efficient farming practices and promoting drought-tolerant crops, with the aim of reaching 185,000 smallholder farmers by 2022.

Esther Magambo, a Senior Program Coordinator for IFAD, said, “We start with the farmer right from land preparation and the various practices around the farm to ensure that the farmer conserves as much moisture as possible at farm level, employing practices like conservation agricultural so that not much water is lost at the farm. We work with the farmers so they get the most appropriate seed and the best fertilizer for the farm and ensure that the farmer has been given skills so that all the agro-economic practices are done in such a way so the farmer gets the maximum yields possible.”

Now farmers in some areas have doubled their yields despite the dry conditions, providing food for their households and communities. By adopting these improved farming practices, farmers could help feed an estimated 10 million Kenyans already suffering from poor nutrition, a figure likely increase with the ongoing drought.

Arid and semi-arid lands make up more than 80 per cent of Kenya’s land mass and are home to approximately 36 per cent of the population.

Experts say the water situation in East Africa is the worst the continent has seen since 2011, when a famine-inducing drought killed as many as 260,000 people in Somalia, Kenya and other parts of East Africa. According to UNICEF, 2.6 million Kenyans have become food insecure as a result of the lack of rainfall.

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