How community-based organisations promote climate-smart practices in Kenyan drylands

Rachael Kisilu from KALRO explaining to farmers the importance of having drought resistant Sorghum varities as they did evaluations on on-farm trials during the farmer field day. Photo: S.Kilungu (CCAFS)

Smart farming innovations and financial services are now more easily accessible to smallholders in eastern Kenya. Farmers in the area regularly meet in community-based organisations to share crucial information and knowledge.

More than 450 farmers gathered in the Kikumini village and Wote Agricultural Training Centre in Wote in January to learn about climate-smart agriculture technologies and practices. The annual event was convened by local community-based organisations (CBOs) in partnership with the Makueni County Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Security, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Wote is one of the climate-smart villages of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in East Africa. The area is dominated by many dryland areas which are typical for the region. Agricultural producers are faced with severe erosion, low fertility, low capacity to retain water and strong soil crusting and compaction. What is more, long-term annual rainfall records show that amounts are comparatively low, at 500 mm. Climate change poses an additional challenge to local communities, by subjecting them to rainfall variability, and emerging pests and diseases.

Hunger months experienced per family

A survey by CCAFS in the year 2012 revealed that no more than 2% of the households in Wote are ‘food secure’ all year long. Only 1% had enough food for their families for at least 10 months of the year, and 97% of the households struggled to get enough food to feed their family for more than 2 months out of a year. Generally, most farmers grow maize, cowpeas and pigeon peas as the staple food; with a low yield of the maize crop of less than 0.4 tons per hectare and year, achieved by 53% of the farming households.

To tackle these problems, people have organised in 13 self-help groups from 452 households, and created two large community-based umbrella organisations. Subsequently, these organisations began to work with KALRO, ICRISAT, and county government extension agents to test promising sorghum legume intercrops. 

Under the new CBO [community-based organisation] arrangement, the farmers can be taught and provided with technical expertise on both improved agronomic and better water management practices. Once they embraced that, land and water use efficiency will increase and translate into more yield per hectare,” says Rachael Kisilu Crop Scientist, KALRO.

With a combined CBO innovation fund of USD 21,000, the CBOs are already linked to local micro-finance institutions for credit facilities. Through these services, one CBO has purchased a 0.5 hectare piece of land for intensive horticulture. The same CBO intends to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to promote conservation agriculture. By linking with the private sector and other development organisations, over 1,000 households will be mobilised this year to take part in a promotion of resilient dryland crops of sorghum, pigeon peas, and green grams, linking them with markets.

Farmer learning events for knowledge transfer

One of the strategies used by the CBOs to exchange knowledge in the local communities is to convene educational events for farmers to showcase new technologies and varied practices. Apart from the resilient crop varieties, improved agronomic and postharvest practices are displayed and used to teach the local farming community. Among those practices are crop rotation, intercropping, optimum spacing, use of terraces, water harvesting, micro-irrigation, improved processing and storage, integrated pest management, and composting.

Champion farmers from the region showcase the various technologies.

“Josephine Mutua is a farmer who can teach the others about the innovations on her farm”, says Mary Muteti, Makueni County Director of Agriculture & Food Security. If the other farmers embrace these practices, the whole community will thrive under the changing climate,” she predicts. 

Josephine’s farm has a water harvesting pan with a capacity of 50,000 litres. It fills up twice a year in each rainfall season. A shade net covers the top to reduce evaporation and a dam liner at the bottom prevents leakage. This water is pumped manually and brought to specific farm locations for irrigation when the soil is too dry to grow crops.

Related blog reading:

Read about Makueni field event in 2013: Intercrop innovations may help build resilience in semi-arid areas

Climate-smart farming in Kenya influences better policy-making

Testing sorghum and cowpea varieties to increase farmers’ production margins in East Africa

Access Makueni household baseline survey results


John Recha is a Post Doctoral Fellow - Participatory Action Research, Solomon Kilungu is a Communication Assistant and Philip Kimeli is a Research Assistant. They all work for CCAFS East Africa. The story was edited by Vivian Atakos, Communication Specialist, CCAFS East Africa.