Kenyan farmers shift to climate resilience crops in arid areas

In northern Kenya’s arid areas like the Turkana County, residents have been embracing climate resilience crops.

And as the practice picks up, things are getting better for the pastoralists. The latest crop farmers grow in the arid region is groundnuts, thanks to its fast maturity, resistance to pests and diseases, high yields and ability to thrive under high temperatures.

Meshack Elim is one of the farmers growing the crop at the government-run Katilu Irrigation Scheme in Lokichar. Wearing a white vest, Elim, a former pastoralist, drives his hoe into the soil to extract dozens of groundnuts attached to a leafy plant. “This crop has done well despite the environmental challenges here,” he told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Elim farms the crop on half-acre and this season, he expects to harvest up to seven 90-kg bags, selling each kilo at 90 shillings (0.73 U.S. dollars).

The crop was introduced to farmers in the area by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2021 to help them build resilience as the climate crisis worsens, especially in arid areas.

Turkana County is one of the arid regions in Kenya that are suffering severe drought, the worst in decades, after rains failed for four consecutive seasons, according to the National Drought Management Authority.

Joseph Okumu, FAO’s regional agronomist, said the fact that groundnuts are rarely affected by pests and diseases makes the crop suitable for farmers in resource-poor areas like Turkana. According to him, the crop is not only enabling residents to have food and nutrition security but also offering their animals fodder in an area where pasture is scarce.

“Since the crop matures in three months, it can be farmed up to three times a year guaranteeing animals and residents food, unlike maize or sorghum which can only be farmed once a year. This is how these farmers are building resilience even as the climate crisis worsens,” he said.

Once harvested, the crop is dried for up to a week, sorted and sold to buyers under contract farming terms.

Lillian Jeptanui, a crop scientist from Egerton University, said the crop has a high commercial value.

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