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Villagers find formula to keep farms greener amid dry spell

Saturday June 22 2019

Onesmus Muange, a smallholder farmer in his farm which hosts a dryland forest, in Machakos.

Onesmus Muange, a smallholder farmer in his farm which hosts a dryland forest, in Machakos. He ensures that any shrub or tree that sprouts on his farm or even tree stumps, roots or seed brought about by rainwater are well-taken care of, and pruned if necessary to give them the most conducive environment for growing. PHOTO | ISAIAH ESIPISU | NMG 

ISAIAH ESIPISU
By ISAIAH ESIPISU
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On June 6, Nairobi received over 50mm of rain, according to the Kenya Agricultural Observatory Platform (KAOP).

Mwala sub-county in Machakos recorded over 10mm, but there was zero in a number of villages.

“This is how it has been since December when it last rained in this village,” Antony Nzioka from Mikwani village said during a recent visit by Seeds of Gold to the area. “We have always been unlucky, we can only see the clouds, but when it rains, this village is usually left out,” he said.

But using simple techniques of landscape management and regeneration of naturally growing shrubs and trees, most of the villages in Machakos have remained green and productive despite the tough climatic conditions.

In Mikwani village, farmers have formed a self-help group known as Umiisyo wa kwa Kathee, which brings together 27 men and women, who work as a team to ensure that their village remains habitable even during the toughest droughts.

“For the past two years, we’ve rehabilitated bare land by planting trees and supporting growth of naturally occurring vegetation,” said Nzioka, the vice-chair of the group.

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The farmers have dug terraces on sloppy ground which help curb soil erosion, managing to rehabilitate tens of acres of land that were totally unproductive to grasslands. The land now provides pasture for their animals and is also a source of income.

In the terraces, they have planted different species of indigenous fast-growing drought-tolerant trees.

In Linga village, some 3km away from Mikwani, Onesmus Muange, a smallholder farmer and a member of another group known as ‘Sweat is Good’ has completely transformed his three-acre piece of land into a ‘dryland forest,’ by regenerating the existing trees and shrubs, as well as planting new ones whenever it rains.

A PROMISING CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURAL PRACTICE

The last time it rained in Linga village was seven months ago. This is despite the fact that the April rainfall pounded other parts of Machakos County.

Muange ensures that any shrub or tree that sprouts on his farm or even tree stumps, roots or seed brought about by rainwater are well-taken care of, pruned if necessary to give them the most conducive environment for growing.

“I have seen that any vegetation that sprouts naturally has very high chances of surviving the prevailing climatic conditions however tough they may be,” said the farmer, noting the system is known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).

Muange points out that leaves from the trees and shrubs have greatly improved the fertility and soil texture on his farm, while at the same time providing cover that helps in reducing evaporation whenever it rains.

On the trees and shrubs, the farmer keeps honey bees, which are one of his sources of income throughout the year.

So far, there are 17 similar groups in Mwala sub-county under the umbrella of Miindu Water Resource Users Association (WRUA), whose main aim is to improve livelihoods of the residents through community-led initiatives, according to Cosmas Munuve, the secretary of Miindu WRUA.

Emmanuel Fondo of World Vision, Machakos County, says members of the groups have been trained on different techniques to conserve their farms.

According to a research programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security, FMNR is considered as a promising climate-smart agricultural practice that represents affordable means of enhancing rural livelihoods as well as contribute to climate change mitigation.