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Coping with drought

By Alex Wachira
Mr Oyoo Awuondo, a farmer at a maize farm in Bondo. The area has been experiencing drought for over one month now. (Titus Munala/ Standard)
For crops to grow they require adequate sunshine for photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, nutrients and adequate water.
All these are required in good proportions for the crops to be healthy and thrive ensuring food security.
The weatherman has announced the onset of a dry spell which may spell doom for some farmers who might not be prepared with adequate water for their crops and animals.
Semi-arid and dry areas farmers need to adapt to receive the same amount of produce they have been receiving, least they get losses from their farming.
For this to happen, farmers should learn how to increase production while using less water.
There are several practices a farmer can follow to be best equipped in the changing environmental conditions and remain successful as ever.
One common way is harvesting rain water which entails storing water in tanks or trenches with paper bags for the water not to be drained away into the soil.
When the sunny or dry season kicks in a farmer may use the stored water to irrigate crops and give it to the animals to drink.
A farmer may also use drip irrigation on the farm to save on water and have it last for longer.
A farmer should save on water harvested by using it sparingly, using only the necessary. Plants should not be over watered or animals given excess water to save for another day.
Farm ponds can also be covered to prevent loss through evaporation.
A farmer should use conservation practices that reduce runoff and encourage infiltration of water into the soil which include having grassed water ways and ditches.
Crops should be irrigated during the morning or the evening which are the cool times of the day to minimize loss through evaporation.  
Mulching of crops using straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves, dead weeds should be done. Mulching helps save on water during the dry conditions as it helps preserve soil moisture, deters weeds and adds organic matter to the soil as it decays.
A farmer with the capability can consider putting up a greenhouse to farm crops in the dry season and areas. Crops in greenhouses are grown in controlled climatic conditions thus are not affected by the weather conditions outside ensuring maximum yields.
A farmer should consider growing plants from seed varieties with better heat and cold tolerance to adapt to the changing weather conditions. Such crops do better despite the weather conditions being current experienced.
A farmer should also do weeding to ensure crops do not compete with weeds for water in the soil. This benefits the crops by them having adequate soil nutrients and staying away from pest hosting weeds.
A famer may also consider crop rotation by doing away with some crops and growing drought resistant crops like Katumani maize which does well in the dry season.
Planting more cover crops like legumes also comes in handy as the soil holds more water.
A livestock farmer should prepare by having hay during the dry season and outsource for alternative animal feed sources.
Farmers may also come together and join funds to dig a borehole which would be a very good sustainable source of water that would ensure adequacy.
Another sure way is conservation tillage which is leaving behind residue from previous crops in and on the soil before planting new crops.
This has a wide range of advantages from improving soil tilth, more organic matter, more water and moisture is retained and reduced soil erosion. 

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