Transforming smallholder farming into lucrative commercial enterprises is at the core of most government policies and efforts by development partners across the continent but such efforts must be built on agricultural practices that build resilience and protect the environment.
One technique that can guarantee this is regenerative agriculture. Frida Muendo has applied this to very good effect on her small farm in Kinyonga village in Makueni County.
Kinyonga was once known for its maize production but is now reeling from the impact of weather fluctuations due to climate change, land degradation, limited access to extension services and weak input and output market linkages.
Last year, Ms Muendo was trained in the application of regenerative and climate smart agricultural technologies such as minimum tillage, cover cropping, intercropping (use of legumes), crop rotation, composting, use of organic mulch, agro-forestry, the use of certified stress/drought tolerant crop varieties and seeds, and soil and water conservation technologies. She was also trained in business-to-business linkages and post-harvest management skills.
She is now a resource on the use of these ecological and climate friendly technologies that have so reduced production costs by a third, improved her farm soil quality and increased her yields. Where she was harvesting three bags of maize before, now she is harvesting an average of six to 10 an acre.
She set up a cereals store where she offtakes grains from farmers in the surrounding villages. She also sells post-harvest handling equipment such as hermetic bags, hand shellers and tarpaulins.
Ms Muendo is now transferring her skills and knowledge to others. She has so far trained 73 farmers on land preparation, seed spacing and how to apply manure and crop protection. Farmers have also been taught how to mulch, use fertiliser and on minimum tillage to help increase farm productivity, soil health and thus earn more income.
In the past, she only used to plant maize. She did not know about soil and water conservation structures or agroforestry but she now intercrops pigeon peas and maize and cowpeas as well. She also has established a tree nursery in her farm and implements soil and water conservation measures.
Ms Muendo’s story demonstrates the effectiveness of nature-positive approaches that are rooted on the principles of local ownership that is based on bottom-up processes, strengthened by science and an enabling policy environment. More investment is needed for scaling and increased adoption of such nature-positive systems. Further investments in awareness and empowerment is required for complete transformation of food systems.
The experience garnered from Makueni alludes to the need for more robust and innovative extension programs that pay special attention to women and the youth. Having these ingredients will accelerate replication across the country and the continent.
Mr Amede is the Head of Resilience, Climate and Soil Fertility, AGRA – firstname.lastname@example.org