Climate-smart farmers Ruth and Peter Nguli show East African policy-makers why they should support climate-smart agriculture.

For a number of years Peter Nguli and his wife Ruth from Makueni Kenya sold their sun-kissed mangoes at the local market. They were searching for ways to turn it into a more profitable business, but didn’t know how to boost this golden yield.

After receiving a series of fruit management trainings including pruning and fertilizer application, as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) climate-smart village activities, annual revenues finally jumped from 220 USD to up to 660 USD. Thrilled with the improved fruit production and quality, the couple is now able to invest in more income-generating farm activities and most importantly pay for their children's school fees.

The pair has been part of the climate-smart village project for two years now. Together with scientists and extension officers from partners International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), they are trialling a selection of climate-smart farm practices and hybrid, drought-resistant seeds to see which techniques work best in this dry region, and which ones are not a suitable match.

Their farm is a fully-fledged learning site, which farmers can visit and see climate-smart farming in practice.

In the photo: Farmer Ruth Nguli showing off the farm's golden mangoes. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

“Our participating farmers choose themselves which farm practices and hybrid seeds they want to work with through seed selection activities,” says Justus Ngesu, agricultural extension officer from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries working closely with the project.

“We buy and disseminate the selected seeds and provide the agriculture trainings that go with them. Our aim is to, though better seed varieties and improved farm management increase farmers’ yields per hectare.”

Farmers are changing with the climate

Climate-smart farm practices have the ability to support smallholders adapt to, and mitigate, climate change while improving yields and income. In an increasingly dry and heating climate, change is much needed. Both Peter and Ruth can feel a difference in both weather and climate compared to the 1980’s, which is why they are eager to try new farm practices:

“Before I used to grow a lot of vegetables and rain-fed maize, but I can’t do that anymore. Now, there’s little rainfall and the water tables are going low. The temperatures are also changing; it now gets very, very hot,” says Peter.

To manage a hotter and drier climate, Peter and Ruth have turned to soil conservation. They use manure and inorganic fertilizers and improved rain-water harvesting techniques to ensure the soil is kept moist and fertile.

“The rain-water harvesting techniques have helped the most”, says Peter. “Especially capturing the water run-off from the road, through ditches leading straight to my fruit trees, has really helped with the mango production.”

“Water is the main issue in this part of the country. It is very dry and when the rains do come, it is erratic and doesn’t penetrate the hardpan soil; almost 70 percent of the rainfall is lost here due to run-off,” says Philip Kimeli, a researcher with the CCAFS East Africa program who has been working closely with the participating farmers.

“However, with the right farm management this can be changed," he continues. "We encourage everyone to start with water conservation. This includes harvesting the road water run-off, preparing zai pits and micro-irrigation, or constructing terraces to increase water retention and reduce soil erosion. Without water, it will be very hard to implement any climate-smart practice.”

In the photo: terraces have been built across Peter's and Ruth's farm to prevent water run-off and ensure rainfall penetrates the soil. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

With the support from the water saving practices, Peter has tested and documented a myriad of different hybrid, drought-resistant sorghum, millet, bean and pigeon peas varieties through participatory seed selection activities.

Through the various tests, Peter has found that Seredo, a white fast-maturing sorghum variety with a sweet taste, grows really well on his farm and is appreciated by the family. At the same time, sorghum can be challenging to sell on the market, as it has very little local demand, but it does help keep hunger away from the household, Peter explains. 

In the photo: Peter Nguli inspecting his drought-resistant sorghum, trialled on the climate-smart learning plot he manages. Photo: S. Kilungu (CCAFS) 

Policy-makers learn from farmers  

It is not only Peter and Ruth and their neighbouring farmers who are learning what works under a changing and more extreme climate.

The generated knowledge combined with farmer feedback is used to inform policy-making and institutional change for climate-resilient food systems in East Africa. This is done through various channels, one being engagement in regional networks, for example the Climate and Agriculture Network for Africa (CANA). CANA is a web-based platform seeking to link policy-makers with scientists to address climate change and food security issues. The platform showcases the most recent climate-smart agriculture research while creating opportunities to merge lessons on the ground with regional policy-making.

Policy-makers are also interested to see the climate-smart village activities with their own eyes. Climate-smart farmers in Nyando Western Kenya have on a number of occasions shared their experiences and lessons learned from working with climate-smart farm techniques to various ministries, and delegates from national departments. Most recently a delegation from the Ethiopian Government, keen to explore which climate-smart practices could be replicated, and scaled-up in their own country, visited the activities. Later this year a delegation from the Rwandan Ministry will be visiting the Makueni village-activities.

Climate-smart knowledge goes global

Ruth and Peter's experiences, and the experiences from many other climate-smart farmers, will be further presented and discussed at the Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture held in Montpellier, France, in mid-March.

The ambition is to get the scientific community on climate-smart agriculture up to speed with the most recent advancements while outlining recommendations for policy-makers. Here, sharing smallholders’ own experiences will be critical to establish a sustainable global research agenda for climate-smart agriculture.

Stay tuned on our blog for live-stories and updates from the Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture conference. Follow @cgiarclimate using #CSA15 on Twitter.

Related blog reading:

- Inspiring action: Nyando climate-smart villages host policy makers
- Testing sorghum and cowpea varieties to increase farmers’ production margins in East Africa
- Introducing Africa’s bridge between science and policy
- Photo-story: Kenya's climate-smart farms through a lens

Story by Cecilia Schubert, Communication Officer for CCAFS Flagship on "Policies and Institutions for Climate-Resilient Food Systems", and the CCAFS East Africa team, Vivian Atakos, Communication Officer and Philip Kimeli, Researcher.