African Rice Farmers Using New Technology In Farming In A Bid To Mitigate Climate Change Effects
By the looks of things, the industrialized nations who bear most of the responsibility for Global Warming are either taking no steps or slow-steps towards the directions that would “Turn Down The Heat”. Sadly the effects of Global warming are most felt in developing nations in Africa and Asia. This leaves the people leaving in these areas at the mercy of nature. Kenya is one such nation; it has been experiencing a drastic fall in the amount of rainfall being received annually, and the situation keeps getting worse as the years progress. Being a developing nation, the backbone of its economy is agriculture which account for about 60% of its GDP.
It is estimated that Kenya produces about 110,000 tons of rice annually against a demand of 300,000 tones which is what would be enough to support its population of over 40 million. Rice is one of the main staple foods in Kenya, hence naturally the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture has to look for a way to meet this shortage. Hence the Kenyan government relies on importing rice from Asian countries like India, Thailand and Pakistan among others to meet the deficit.
Kenya has the capacity to produce enough food for its people and possibly export to other countries. The main hindrance to this is the ever decreasing supply of irrigation water mainly attributed to climate change, and the situation is getting worse as the years go on. A New Climate Report by the World Bank indicates that every 2°C and 4°C temperature increase due to green house gases, has a devastating effect in Sub-Saharan Africa country’s water resources and food security.
Kenya has adapted to the situation, as the world leaders still debate on the way forward for fighting Global Warming. Conventionally rice farmers in Kenya have been growing their crops in paddies flooded with water from the time they plant the seedlings to the time of maturity. Keeping the paddies flooded has become difficult over the years due to the drop in level of rainfall over the years. Thus the farmers have adopted new technology in terms of crop management systems that enables them to grow their rice without having to flood the paddies throughout the planting season.
The government of Kenya in conjunction with the Mwea Irrigation Agricultural Development Centre (MIAD) has adopted a technique borrowed from India referred to as System of Rice Intensification (SRI). This new farming technology has so far proved to be a productive way of planting rice with limited supply of water to flood the rice paddies. The SRI system has been in practice for over 10 years in Asian countries with impressive amount of yields. However it has been introduced in Kenya via the MIAD initiative.
In the SRI system, farmers don’t randomly plant the rice within the paddies as has been the tradition, instead they use predefined lines in planting. The spacing between each seedling has always been about 10cm apart, but with the SRI technique farmers are now placing the seedling at 25cm apart. This enables each individual seedling to get enough soil nutrients and sunlight, according to experts this enables the plants to produce stalks that are stronger and have more tillers. Also in the SRI technique the seedling are planted when they are much younger (about 8 to 15 days old) as opposed to conventional technique of planting seedlings that are 30 days old.
In addition to the above benefits, the SRI technique does not require flooding of the paddies throughout the season as has been the norm in most parts of the world. The SRI technique focuses on just enough irrigation to keep the soil moist by practicing alternating wetting and drying of the paddies. This practice enables the soil to retain more air, thus resulting to increased supply of oxygen to the plants enabling them to grow roots profusely and be better able to take in more nutrients effectively from the soil.
According to MIAD’s records, over 2,000 farmers across Kenya have already adapted the SRI technique of farming. For example one farmer Moses Kareithi Mwangi who has a quarter-hectare (0.6 acre) plot of land, and used to get a harvest of nine 90kg bags of rice, he now gets twelve bags of rice from the same plot of land, but he does not require as much water to flood his rice field as before. This he says comes in quite handy considering that rainfall and irrigation water supply is becoming scarce over the years.
Environmental experts are raising the alarm that the climate is becoming increasingly tougher and making it even harder for farmers to experience satisfactory yield let alone profitable yields. Hence this requires more adaptation techniques that will improve food security.