, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 13 – The World Agro Forestry Centre says Kenya can increase its maize yield by up to 200 percent irrespective of the impacts of climate change.
Director General Dennis Garrity said on Monday that a new concept known as Evergreen agriculture which integrates trees into food crop systems could save Kenya and other parts of the world that experience constant food shortages.
“The options of Evergreen agriculture are trees that will increase the fertility of the soil and increase the yields of the crops that they are growing with. These are trees that are very compatible with crop yields particularly the indigenous acacia tree from Africa,” Dr Garrity said.
He noted that Kenya was yet to advance in evergreen agriculture as fast as some of the neighboring countries but still had an opportunity to develop the concept with trees that would be suitable for Kenyan farmers.
The government through the Ministry of Environment recently introduced a new rule where farmers were required to have 10 percent of their land under tree plantations.
“We recommend that the trees be planted at about 100 trees per hectare so that you get a full canopy of trees producing the nitrogen rich fertiliser that is useful for the crops,” Dr Garrity said.
“The evergreen agriculture is a potent weapon against climate change because as the land becomes drier and crops are affected by climate change, the use of trees will help to retain the nitrogen in the soil, the water holding capacity of the soil and so the evidence shows that generally crops will have higher yields under drought stress in the presence of the trees,” he added.
He said that the technology would also enable farmers to tap into the global carbon offsets to market the carbon from the trees as a contribution to reduce green house gas emissions in future.
At the same time, Cabinet Minister Noah Wekesa said that heavy rainfall in parts of Transzoia district could destroy up to 30 percent of the maize crop in the area.
Dr Wekesa said that there had been profound rainfall since February which had made it impossible to harvest maize that is ready.
According to the Minister, this could cause a serious problem with food production in the country especially if the projected la Niña condition occurred.
“My region called Kitale is a food basket for Kenya. We have food crops in the field but large scale farmers cannot access it because the tractors cannot go into the fields due to too much rain,” he said.
The Minister speaking at the opening of an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) workshop on Environment, Agriculture and Climate Change where he said that political leaders must take the responsibility to educate the population on climate change and its impact.
“We have had floods and many people had to be evicted and this is happening this month and it is something I have not seen in my lifetime. These are challenges that we have to address,” he said.
Dr Wekesa also once again cautioned Kenyans against planting the controversial eucalyptus trees along river banks.
He however said that it was not wrong for farmers to plant the eucalyptus trees which were said to consume more water than the indigenous trees anywhere else.
“In fact eucalyptus can grow on hill tops, on stony places and we are encouraging people to plant short varieties of eucalyptus and within six years they will have timber for producing products,” he said.
Although no scientific research has been done to ascertain that eucalyptus trees consume a lot of water, it has led to the drying up of water catchment areas where planted and Environment Minister John Michuki recently ordered the uprooting of eucalyptus trees from wetlands.
Dr Wekesa said that his Ministry of Forestry was currently identifying tree varieties which could be planted in rainfed as well as arid and semi arid areas for people to benefit with charcoal.
“We are encouraging those people on the mountains to plant bamboo because it can be used for charcoal making and in fact in my Ministry we have worked out a charcoal policy and very soon we will be bringing it to the cabinet for discussion,” he said.