Scientists warn farmers on practices

February 9, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 9 – Scientists have warned that low fertiliser use and poor rain water management among small scale farmers will threaten food security in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

According to research carried out by the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), better use of fertiliser and utilising rain water will increase food production even if the climate changes for the worse.

“Climate change is a reality so we have tried to look at the future to see its implications to farmers may be in 30 years time. So we have had to use computer based simulation models which can tell you what production would have been in any year that you have weather information for,” ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa Principal Scientist Dr Peter Cooper said on Tuesday.

But he said this would not apply in areas that did not receive rainfall at all.

“When we look at what people are predicting as far as rainfall is concerned, it is going to get wetter in East Africa which is good news for the region,” Dr Cooper said.

He however said that farmers needed to implement ways in which they could minimise risk if the predicted wetter conditions resulted in flooding.

“You can prepare your land in a certain way so that the run off from your field (farm) is reduced or stopped, mulching with crop residues and in the pastoral areas they can manage the grazing better so that there is more grass cover on the ground which helps absorb rainfall better and you get less of the terrible run offs and soil erosion,” he said.

Dr Cooper said that using possible climate change scenarios, the scientists were able to show that if farmers adopted recommendations which would help them in the present, they would be able to produce a lot more even in future when the climate does change.

A 2008 study by Tegemeo Institute (Research and Analysis on Policy in the domain of Agriculture, Rural development, Natural resources and the Environment) showed that 70 percent of small scale farmers used fertiliser on maize in 2007 compared to 56 percent in 1996. It stated that this had led to a 20 percent increase in maize yields.

It however said fertiliser use had only increased on the intercropped fields and was less on monocropped fields.

Another senior scientist at ICRISAT-ICRAF, Karuturi Rao said farming in semi arid areas was a bit unsafe because rainfall variability was higher than in other areas.

“As a result farmers tend to use some sort of risk avoiding techniques which are not necessarily very productive in the sense that they limit the use of fertiliser, improved seeds and other things,” Mr Rao said.

He said this was evident from the yields recorded in some parts of Kenya like Machakos, Makueni, Kitui, Mwingi and Mutomo that experience erratic rainfall patterns.

“The yield that the farmers are getting in good seasons is not as high compared to what they are getting in other seasons,” Mr Rao said.

He said this was because of the low use of farm inputs like fertilisers and increased population which had led to extension of agriculture into marginal areas where the farm inputs were needed more.

They said policy makers need to design agricultural policies that will help small scale farmers improve their yields and consequently their livelihood.


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