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Modern technologies help turn Kenya dry areas into food baskets

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- A number of semi-arid areas in Kenya that for many years relied on food aid have now become major sources of food as residents embrace water harvesting technologies and drought-resistant seed varieties.

The regions mainly in eastern, central, coastal and northern Kenya are producing tons of food sold across the east African nation.

In upper and lower eastern Kenya, farmers are producing tomatoes, watermelons, onions, green grams and sorghum in bulk, thanks to water harvesting technologies that include sand dams, water pans and drought-resistant seeds.

Northern Kenya, once a huge mass of patched land, is now a major source of tomatoes, onions, melons and citrus fruits.

In the dry parts of the coast, residents are producing mangoes, onions and melons in plenty, among other foods.

The rise in food production is a great transformation for the regions that initially relied on food imports and donor aid.

This is happening amidst decline in food production in arable regions due to poor soil fertility after years of over-use of fertilizers.

Joseph Makau is a farmer in Makueni County, a dry region south of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

On his three-acre farm, he has a pond in which he stores rainwater that he harvests and uses to grow a variety of crops.

Makau dug the farm pond in 2016 after getting lessons from a non-government organization working in the area.

On the floor of the farm pond he put a polythene liner to stop infiltration of water into the ground.

"I harvest water from all the roofs of the houses in my compound and also direct the surface runoff into the facility.

"This has helped me harvest huge amounts of water whenever it rains," Makau, who grows melons, tomatoes and spinach, among other crops, said on Thursday.

In Kajiado County, another dry area neighboring Nairobi, farmer Collins Nderitu grows traditional vegetables and tomatoes using water he sources from a sand dam constructed on the edge of his leased five acres of land.

He supplies the produce to markets in Nairobi, making a fortune.

The dry region is currently the biggest source of tomatoes sold in the capital, a change of fortune for an area where pastoralism was the main farming activity in yesteryears.

"I was introduced to farming in this area by a friend and I took it up after seeing how fertile the soils were.

"For the first three seasons, I never used fertilizer yet I harvested in plenty," he said.

On a section of the farm, he says a variety of traditional vegetable known as spider plant grows on its own thanks to fertile soils, boosting his profits.

Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with agro consultancy Growth Point, noted that besides the water technologies, development of drought-tolerant crop varieties for arid areas has come as a huge boost for farmers.

"It is not enough to have reliable source of water, but the farmers are also growing right seeds for the regions and have embraced efficient irrigation system.

"This has boosted yields turning the dry areas into food baskets," she said.

Over the years, Kenyan research organizations have developed tens of drought-resistant crop varieties that include those of finger millet, sorghum, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, melons, maize, cassava, soya beans, rice, cotton, groundnuts and beans which are widely available to farmers in the region.

"For many years, no meaningful crop farming took place in the semi-arid areas because of lack of water.

"The soils in the area, therefore, are still virgin and fertile especially in areas where residents keep livestock as compared to the arable areas where over-use of fertilizer has destroyed soils," she said.

She noted that as farming activities in the semi-arid areas grow, the once unproductive regions will now feed the east African nation in the coming years.


Kenya to invest in climate-smart farming in arid lands

by Naftali Mwaura NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya will channel investments towards climate-resilient farming in arid and semi-arid lands in order to achieve food security, an official said on Thursday.

Hamadi Boga, principal secretary for agricultural research at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, said the government has prioritized policy reforms, research, innovations and capacity development for local communities to ensure arid lands are the next hubs for climate-smart food production.

"The arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) have the potential to contribute to food security and manufacturing agenda in the country," said Boga at a forum on promoting the contribution of arid lands to Kenya’s development blueprint on food security and manufacturing.

Boga said that Kenya’s ASALs that comprise more than 70 percent of the country’s total land could be the next frontier for food production subject to investments in climate-resilient crop production and pastoralism.

"It is high time we adopted alternative farming methods in the ASAL regions that are climate compatible to promote food security and employment for future generations," said Boga.

He said that promotion of climate-smart farming and pastoralism in arid lands will help position Kenya as a hub for agro-processing.


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