Having been hit by the reality of climate change, several communities in Africa have now braced themselves to address issues of land degradation and other forms of environmental hazards through simple but effective measures.
In the village of Love near Katumani in Kenya?s Eastern Province, small holder farmers have adopted tree planting strategies to combat the increasing threats of land degradation.
Twenty-six farmers belonging to the Love Farmers Self Help Group (LFSHG) with technical support from the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) are planting 10,000 commercial trees on a 33 acre farm land in that semi-arid region. The World Bank is providing funding for the project.
The seedlings for the start of the nursery were provided by the Association for Strengthening Research in East and Central Africa, a sub-regional not-for-profit association dedicated to conducting research to develop and improve the livelihoods of farmers. After harvesting, the farmers will use proceeds from the sale of the trees to procure other needed items for their farms.
This initiative forms part of a bigger plan to introduce the farmers to sustainable land management practices as a measure to mitigate the unbearable effects of climate change. It will also eventually ensure food security.
A researcher at KARI, Kizito Kwena, explained to a group of African journalists who paid a working visit to the area that the farmers are being equipped with the technical know-how and funding to be able to start and manage nurseries of their own.
?We are taking care of the environment and the only way to do that is to plant trees? he said and went on to add that ?we have trained them in aspects of nursery management and they are now able to raise seedlings from their own nurseries and take care of them?.
The nursery, which uses animal manure as fertilizer was started in January of 2013. With a pond nearby, water is in abundance for the farmers to use in watering the seedlings, which they do religiously every other day.
The farmers decide on the kind of trees to plant but this is usually based on their needs. They are currently preparing to plant trees that will be harvested as timber, for fuel and some that will provide shade and protect them from the scorching sun.
The trees being nursed now will be moved onto the farmlands during the next rainy season, which starts in October and Kwena says they should expect to reap the benefits of their labour after five years.
After successfully harvesting for timber and fuel, farmers at Love will then prepare and plant fruit trees such as mangoes and oranges. Funds for this next project will come from the sale of the first batch of trees for timber and fuel.
The researcher from the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute explaining the reason behind the idea to introduce the farmers to fruit tree farming in addition to regular crop cultivation said that ?if they encounter a bad season they will definitely have something to fall on?.
He told the journalists that with crop rotation the farmers, who used to rely on the Kenyan government for food aid, will apply the practices of conservation farming as a measure to also mitigate the effects of climate change and also adopt sustainable land management practices.
Practicing crop rotation also means that the farmers will make use of whatever amount of rainfall that comes every season. Crops do not require the same amount of water to be cultivated, whiles some would need heavy rainfall, others can germinate and grow with the smallest amount of rain.
A vice secretary of the Love Farmers Self Help Group, Agness Nzembi, said trees arbitrarily cut down by the menfolks in the past and sold as firewood led to the near desertification of the area and it now requires intensive tree planting to restore the vegetative cover of the community.
She explained that women who form the greater number of the membership of the group play equal roles as the men in the nursery management and will do same in the tree planting exercise to commence soon.
Agnes who is in her mid-thirties and has spent all her life in the small village said ?we come to plant, to water and to transplant?. They also provide some other domestic services whiles on the farm.
The secretary of the group, Paul Muindi explaining some benefits they hope to get from the exercise said ?trees pull rain, brings energy and shade?. ?We need to plant trees in our area to change the environment to look green? he added.
He never lost sight of the financial benefit to be derived from the project and he proclaimed to the journalists that ?we will sell to get money?, a similar dream echoed by Agnes, who said ?we will sell the trees and get more money to help us in our homes.
The Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, World Bank and the Association for Strengthening Research in East and Central Africa are meticulously monitoring the project to ensure its success. ?We hope it will generate good lessons to be replicated in other parts of the sub-region that are also hard hit by the effects of climate change? Kwena said. He thinks that much has not been done to combat land degradation in Africa.
?Land degradation is clearly a cause for concern, it puts the product potential and general wellbeing of communities at risk because it result in a significant reduction in economic, social and ecological benefits of land for crop, livestock and tree planting purpose? he noted
Other sub-regions on the continent such as West Africa can also emulate this initiative, although other measures might be in place to ensure sustainable land management to benefit small holder farmers.
Climate change has become a reality and the only way to address it is to practice sustainable land management and as the farmers in Love have shown it can be done using very simple strategies.
It is estimated that two thirds of productive land is affected by land degradation with the cost of poor land management in Sub-Saharan Africa pegged at about $9 billion annually and 3% of agriculture domestic gross product is also lost during a similar period, which calls for concern to direct attention towards addressing this problem.
It is now very important for governments in Africa to take charge and work with communities to implemented concrete strategies to help small holder farmers, who have become the mainstay of local economies.