Vegetable growing helps battle effects of climate change

A climate change march in Nairobi on September 4. Maendeleo Women Group in Siaya County encourages its members to use a burner that uses less fuel.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

As the African presidents, climate activists and other leaders gathered in Nairobi for a key summit early this month, Maendeleo Women Group in Siaya was taking steps to battle global warming.

The group encourages members to embrace “forgotten” indigenous crops, in order to maximise output and profits even with the climate change crisis.

The crops are resistant to climate extremes and are highly nutritious.

Maendeleo Women Group has gone back to growing yellow maize, popularly known as nyamula, indigenous sweet potatoes, sorghum, pumpkin and traditional vegetables.

The Ministry of Agriculture has in recent years reported a drop in the cultivation of traditional crops.

According to an International Energy Agency, Africa accounts for less than three per cent of the world’s energy-related carbon emissions.

“From the training, we have learnt that the forgotten crops can help reverse the effects of climate change. We have to return to the ways our mothers and grandmothers cultivated their farms,” says Millicent Awino, the secretary of the group.

She adds that growing hybrid maize is no longer viable in many parts of Siaya County.

“To get better harvests, one has to use many inputs, but that is costly. The yellow maize we are growing does better than the hybrid we cultivated before,” she says.

The group was trained by an NGO that specialises in food security and climate change.

Vincent Omolo, an agricultural expert in Siaya, says growing indigenous crops has many advantages, including improving soil structure.

“Crops like sweet potatoes and cassava do not require the fertiliser hybrid maize needs in order to yield much. This is a big plus to farmers because chemical fertiliser is not good for the soil in the long run,” Omolo says.

Elizabeth Anyango, a member of the group, says they have also adopted inter-cropping to fight the invasive and destructive striga weed.

“Striga is the maize farmer’s greatest enemy. To fight it, Maendeleo Women Group members practise crop rotation,” she says.

“For now, we grow sorghum, soya beans and sweet potatoes on the same piece of land. This ensures maximum harvests and profits.”

Animals are also playing a role in the new farming systems the women have adopted.

The animals include indigenous cattle, sheep, chickens and pigs.

“We advise women to only buy what they cannot produce in their lands. The animals give them milk, eggs and the manure used on the farms. They can sell the animals and pay school fees and other debts,” she says.

“There are good results from these practices and we encourage Kenyan women to be part of the army battling the effects of climate change.”

Maendeleo members have also received training in agroforestry. Apart from crops, their farms have a variety of trees.

“We discourage the growing of eucalyptus trees as they are known to drain water and nutrients. The trees planted include grevillea, cypress, mango, orange, banana and pawpaw,” she says.

Maendeleo Women Group has also embraced the technology of fuel-efficient burners instead of the traditional jikos that use a lot of charcoal or firewood.

Mary Abang, a member of the group, says the burner is efficient and has helped reduce the destruction of woodlands for the purposes of firewood and charcoal.

“The burner uses only two pieces of firewood to cook many meals. Group members have been told to spread the message of the burner. We need to protect our forests. For every tree felled, several have to be planted,” the 66-year-old says.