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New technologies that are helping farmers adapt to climate change

By STEPHEN NDEGWA
Bag farming which is the growing vegetables in both gunny and sisal bags. Bag farming is a very productive way to utilise small areas of land. In addition to improving food security by increasing the number of leafy vegetables that can be grown per square metre.

Young farmers in Kenya experience several challenges including lack of land, money and unpredictable weather patterns. While many of them can be solved by human action, some, like the weather, are impossible to control or influence.

For instance, the growing phenomenon of global warming and resultant climate change is bound to have the greatest impact on farming communities all over the world.

The effects of climate change are not new to Kenya. From rising sea levels to prolonged dry periods, the evidence points to a trend of climate-related disasters. Indeed, the situation is bound to worsen if urgent measures are not taken to curb rising temperatures.

Being an agricultural country, Kenyan farmers have already started feeling the effects of climate change. This has necessitated the introduction of innovative measures to mitigate and adapt to the situation. Food security is an important area that needs intervention in order to ensure continued and enhanced food security amidst an increasing population.

Bag farming is not a new agricultural practice in Kenya. There are many urban residents, particularly in the informal settlements, who have been growing vegetables in both gunny and sisal bags for several years. It has been quite an effective way of nourishing these residents in a cost-effective manner and with minimal use of space.

However, this practice has been rudimentary and fraught with many challenges, since these bags were not manufactured to suit the purpose. In addition to losing water frequently, the bags are also not durable.

The “one bag ? fits all” has also not taken into consideration the specific requirements for growing different types of vegetables, which has negatively affected the quality and quantity of produce.

To solve the above shortcomings and make portable gardening modern, a non-governmental organisation, Real Impact, has come up with new vertical farm bag technologies targeted at both urban and rural farmers.

The bags range in size from small to large that can accommodate 40 to 100 plants. There are also ready planted balcony bags that contain a mixture of plants including strawberries, tomatoes, coriander, Sukuma, spinach, herbs, lettuce, and carrots.

Vertical farms or gardens are tall sacks ? filled with soil from which plant life grows. This concept for a small, portable garden is good for areas where the gardener may have to continually relocate, as well as for areas where there is little or no healthy soil (as the soil in the bag is contained). Due to their vertical nature, sack gardens are also fairly e­fficient in terms of using water.

Says Ms. Louise Labuschagne, the Real Impact Joint Managing Director: “Bag farming is a very productive way to utilise small areas of land. In addition to improving food security by increasing the number of leafy vegetables that can be grown per square metre (by at least six-fold), this revolutionary technique makes good business sense while at the same time ensuring food security.”

One of the main advantages of modern customised bags is that they retain water for a long time, thus keeping the plants moisturised. Real Impact runs a demonstration farm at the Small Holder Enterprise Centre in Thika where for a small fee visitors are given practical training in drip irrigation management, bag farming among other water e­fficient technologies.

Since young farmers have the challenge to access land for farming, this is an ideal technology that does not require large space yet produces enough food for family and income generation!

Farmers are also benefitting from new information and communication technology that provides timely, relevant and usable weather and climate information. The award-winning Virtual Platform for Agro-Weather Advisory Services (Pawa-Farm), is an innovative cybernetic agro-weather advisory platform modeled in line with the projected weather/climate conditions to enable farmers to make informed decisions and improve farm management practices under climate risk conditions.

Pawa-Farm is the brainchild of Dr. Sam Owilly, a farmer, an information technology Ph.D. graduate from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, a climate change activist, and an entrepreneur. Owilly says that Pawa-Farm’s mission is to help farmers handle climate risks, such as prolonged droughts or floods. He notes that although climate bodies like Kenya Meteorological Department gather and provides weather and climate-related data, farmers do not know how to utilise it.

“Pawa-Farm takes this information, processes it and advises farmers on, for example, when there will be drought or too much rain. The platform also advises them on what to plant in order to minimise losses,” he says.

To use Pawa-Farm, a farmer simply needs Internet access or a mobile phone to get SMS alerts. Farmers register the environmental conditions they live in and the farming activities they undertake.

Those with smartphones do not need to register this information since their locations are accessible through GPS. They then get alerts about impending weather conditions and recommendations on what they should plant. This removes luck and guesswork from farming. The platform is a social enterprise and so farmers are currently accessing the service free-of-charge. Over 5,000 farmers in Makueni have bene? ted from the use of Pawa-Farm. Owilly says he now plans to start scaling it up to all counties.

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