Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Small seed packets, big policies tackle Horn of Africa drought

Alina Paul-Bossuet in AlertNet: The Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years destroying crops, killing livestock and causing hunger and famine across parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda. Governments and humanitarian organizations are responding to the crisis, distributing food as well as agricultural inputs such as seeds.

Given that drought regularly strikes this region – and researchers say climate change will bring more extreme weather - we need to use the current emergency operations to support longer term agricultural recovery and development. In the coming weeks, we must involve the affected farmers and the existing local economy (such as the village shopkeepers, mostly agro-dealers selling seeds) wherever possible to find durable solutions to make communities more resilient when the next drought comes.

This concept is not new. Back in 2000, a UN task force on food security in the Horn of Africa highlighted the need for farmers to adopt drought-tolerant crop varieties. The challenge is to get these seeds to farmers and encourage them to grow these crops on a large scale.

Eunice Makenga is part of the answer. She runs a small shop in Kenya’s Nzaui district selling seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. She is one of only a few agro-dealers to sell drought-tolerant seeds of sorghum, pigeon pea, cowpea and beans which she buys as small ‘trial packs’ from Janey Leakey’s farm in Nakuru. Leakey’s seed business is the first in Kenya to specialise in these “neglected crops” and to supply them in small packs designed especially for the small holder farmer.

“I can afford to stock them because they are cheap,” Makenga says. “This is also a good way to get farmers to try these seeds. But there is not much demand. Farmers need more incentives to buy them,” she adds. The reality in the field is that the demand for and supply of such drought-resistant crops is poor in this region. Farmers grow some for their household consumption but mostly focus on growing marketable crops like maize that suffer in dry areas....

Cabbages growing on a farm in the Kibirichia area of Mount Kenya. Pictures from the Mount Kenya region for a project examining the impact of climate change on agriculture. Shot by CIAT, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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