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Films from the climate change front line

How Kenyan farmers are adapting

Farmer in her field Tim Webster/IRIN

Seven in 10 of Kenya’s rural population makes a living from agriculture, mostly on small plots. In a good year, subsistence farmers harvest enough to feed themselves and their families, with perhaps a little surplus to sell at market.

But like farmers across Africa, those in Kenya are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is largely because almost all of them depend on rainfall to water their crops, and rainy seasons are becoming shorter and less regular. Rains were especially sparse towards the end of 2016 and in early 2017, leading to a prolonged drought this year. The number of people classed as food insecure, meaning they no longer have constant, reliable access to the right kind of food needed to live a healthy life, has doubled.

Faced with forces beyond their control, those working the soil to make a living have had no choice but to change the way they farm.

These four films show the different ways Kenyan farmers are adapting to the realities of climate change.

Turning the sun from foe to friend

One major effect of climate change is rising temperatures. Too much heat can be damaging to crops, especially when water is scarce and rainfall becomes less predictable. And when a harvest is all farmers have to make ends meet, a low yield can spell disaster, literally taking food off the family dinner table. As Lucia Ngao in Machakos County discovered, poor national infrastructure can make the most obvious solutions impracticable. But, with a little ingenuity and a modest investment, fortunes can be turned around by making a friend of what was once a foe: the scorching sun.

Information to the rescue

Unpredictable weather not only makes it harder to know when to sow seeds, but it can also complicate post-harvest processing, particularly when this involves drying crops. When the difference between profit and loss depends on sunshine, an accurate forecast is essential. In Kenya, which boasts one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates on the continent, it is easy as Rahema Madaga explains in this film, to access such valuable information with the touch of a handset.

Seeds of success

As Frederic Ondayo discovered on his farm in the western county of Siaya, extremely dry weather can wipe out entire crops if one plants seeds that can’t handle the harsh weather. In Ondayo’s case, a whole field of tomatoes wilted under the scorching sun. He has since made a few simple changes to increase his chances of turning a profit, and suggests several ways farmers across the country could be helped to cope with the burdens of climate change.

The many blessing of trees

Planting trees together with agricultural crops – a practice known as agroforestry ­­– offers many benefits to farmers who adopt it, especially in zones affected by decreasing rainfall. Trees provide shade, improve the water retention of soil, and deliver a range of sellable products such as fruit, nuts, and firewood. What’s more, since trees absorb CO2, they help to mitigate global warming. Despite all these advantages, and the rampant deforestation all around them, farmers on the edge of the Mau Forest in Bomet County took some persuading before agreeing to take action.


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