Climate smart weather-based advisories to touch millions of smallholder farmers

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Climate smart weather-based advisories to touch millions of smallholder farmers

Over 1 million residents of Machakos County in Kenya are set to benefit from climate smart weather advisories following efforts to out scale this service which is extremely essential to the performance of the agricultural sector, particularly in drier parts of Eastern and Central Africa.

 A good harvest of cow-pea in Makindu Kenya

Only a week to the expected onset of the long rains, a workshop to translate the weather forecast for Machakos County into advisories was held on the Easter eve in Machakos town, Kenya. The workshop was convened by the Agricultural Sector Development Programme of Kenya (ASDP) to enable agricultural value chain actors including scientists, meteorologists, farmers, NGOs, traders and experts from ASARECA and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), who are promoting climate smart landscapes to share scientific and local weather predictions to produce best agricultural management options for the March-May season.

What are weather advisories?

According to Kwena Kizito of KALRO, a leading implementer of two successive ASARECA climate change adaptation projects through integrated watershed management approach, weather-based advisories are succinct summary of climate-smart agricultural decisions proposed to farmers to help them minimize loses in bad seasons. “The decisions include when to prepare the land, when to plant/sow, planting density, what to plant, how to plant and how much to plant,” Kizito explains. The advisories are usually developed after the National forecasts have been released by the Kenya Meteorological Service (KMS), at least a month to the start of the season. This is done deliberately to allow farmers ample time to internalize the advisories and mobilize the resources required to implement the decision therein.

ASARECA/KALRO provide leadership

Weather-based advisories are a brainchild of ASARECA and KALRO’s two successive projects; “Integrated management of water for productivity and livelihood security under variable and changing climatic conditions in ECA”, and “Sustainable agricultural water productivity enhancement for improved food and nutrition security in ECA”. (They were implemented back to back 2009 -2013 and 2014 -2016).

According to Dr. Hezron Mogaka, the theme leader for Natural Resource Management and Ecosystems Services, ASARECA, the projects brought back to life the critical but much ignored use of weather-based agro-advisories to enable farmers in marginal areas make the most out of good seasons and minimize risks/loses in bad ones.

Participants at the workshop in Machakos, Kenya.png

Demand for agro-advisories increases

ASDSP in conjunction with Machakos county authorities picked a leaf from ASARECA’s climate smart landscapes in Mwania and Kalie watersheds in Machakos and Makindu districts three years ago. Farmers in the two watersheds have embraced weather-based agro-advisories and other technologies such as tied-ridging, seed priming, improved agronomic practices, improved crop varieties, and micro-dosing among others, and have posted good yields even in marginal seasons. Over 90% of the 6,500 households are now food secure. For example, by 2015, maize yields had improved from 1.2 t/ha to 3.2 t/ha compared to the baseline yield of less than 500 kg/ha before the projects. Besides Kenya, the projects have built capacity in farmers in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Madagascar. The successor Agricultural Water Management project brought on board Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan to harness and enhance utilization of water resources including rain and ground water both at farm and watershed levels.

Farmers involved

During the workshop, two forecasts, one based on scientific research and the other based on indigenous knowledge were presented to a plenary of stakeholders.  Despite slight differences, both forecasts predicted late onset of rains for the March-May season. The season is predicted to commence between the last week of March and the first week of April and cease by the second to third week of May. It will be   very short season, slightly over three weeks, with depressed and poorly distributed rainfall. There is therefore need for farmers to adopt appropriate measures to cope with this scenario.

The advisories at a glance

The advisories are imploring farmers to prepare adequately for the season by rehabilitating existing water harvesting and conservation structures, laying out and constructing new ones, de-silting existing water pans and earth dams and constructing new ones, repairing gutters; breaking soil pans, applying organic manure, making rows and contours; selecting appropriate seed varieties. The advisories are discouraging farmers from growing maize, due to its low chances of success given the short season.  Instead, farmers are advised to grow fast maturing and drought tolerant crops varieties. Farmers are also discouraged from applying artificial fertilizers due to the low rainfall anticipated. Instead, they have been advised to use organic manure.

The advisory is currently being widely disseminated mainly through announcements and call-in talk shows on local FM radio stations such as Mbaitu FM. The group also plans to disseminate the advisories further through non-traditional media such as Barazas, sms, and political and civic meetings as well as through the church.

Article by Ben Moses Ilakut

Date Published: 
Sunday, 03 April 2016