What you need to know:
- Due to climate change, wheat and maize have been affected by diseases that have reduced yields.
- Farmers get between 10 to 15 bags per acre against an optimum yield of 40 bags.
For many years, Richard Bowen has been planting maize on his four-acre farm in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County. But for the last three years, he shifted to avocado farming to improve his earnings.
And now experts are banking on the cultivation of fruit trees to reverse the trend and increase tree cover in the region that has borne the brunt of the changing climatic conditions and unpredictable weather patterns.
University researchers and farmers have embarked on an initiative to promote the cultivation of fruit trees to increase forest cover.
According to Prof Paul Kimurto, a horticultural expert from Egerton University, avocado is one of the crops that help to attain water conservation and improve forest cover. He regretted that Uasin Gishu is one of the counties with the lowest forest cover at 11 per cent due to clearance of large farms for maize and wheat crop farming.
“When we first visited some of the farms, they were covered with wheat and maize but now they are covered with avocado trees. We want to encourage more farmers to plant more of these trees to attract rain,” said the expert.
“When you plant an avocado seedling it is a fruit tree and will curb soil erosion. It is one conservation tree which farmers can plant in their farms to earn money, ensure soil and water conservation,” said Prof Kimurto. “We want to use the fruit crop to fight climate change and tackle soil erosion in our farms.”
He explained that due to climate change, wheat and maize have been affected by diseases that have reduced yields. Farmers get between 10 to 15 bags per acre against an optimum yield of 40 bags.
Micah Cheserem, former Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) chairperson, is among the first farmers who ventured into avocado farming in Uasin Gishu three years ago.
Since 2018, he has been growing avocado trees on his 50-acre Limpopo farm and has been exporting the produce via agents.
“If a farmer decides to venture into these crops, then they need to specialise on one crop to realise a high tonnage in order to reap maximum returns. One needs to invest in water and work with professionals for good management of crops,” says Mr Cheserem.
Agriculture Executive Edward Sawe said the devolved unit is promoting avocado, coffee and macadamia due to better returns compared to traditional crops.
“We want to encourage farmers to start small by growing these high value crops to take advantage of the demand in the local and international markets,” explained the executive.
He revealed that they have since last November distributed over 200,000 avocado seedlings and are working to provide more seedlings to encourage crop diversification.
“From an acre, a farmer can get Sh1.5 million in one season compared to maize which fetches about Sh150,000 a whole year,” he explained.
A similar initiative has been rolled out in West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties to improve forest cover and tackle soil erosion.
Kenya National Farmers Federation (KENAFF) is spearheading planting of pasture in the two counties to mitigate the impact of climate change.
"We are reminded of the impact of climate change. We believe that farmers will play a critical role in complementing government efforts of attaining 30 per cent forest cover because they are the owners of the land. We encourage them to set aside 15 per cent of their land to trees or fruit trees," said KENAFF Chief Executive Mwendah M’Mailutha.
According to data released in 2021 by the Ministry of Environment, the Elgeyo Marakwet county forest cover reduced from 36 per cent to 29 per cent.