Seeds of Hope: Drought-Tolerant Seed to Cushion the Kitui Farmers’ Plight

The rains in Kitui County are not what they used to be: the clutches of climate change can be immensely felt here. Not only has the rain become progressively erratic, but rivers have also dried up, farmers can no longer count on these sources to sustain and harvest produce, and very few can afford irrigation systems. With many communities in the country trying to cope with the worst recorded drought in 40 years, the Kenya Red Cross has put in place several Early Action Protocols, under which, there are different Anticipatory Actions that the National Society undertakes. These actions are guided by the risks, vulnerabilities and hazards that communities face.

To mitigate the adverse effects of drought, we distributed drought-tolerant seeds (Greengrams, Cowpeas and Sorghum) to 1500 smallholder farmers in Kwale and Kitui to help build the communities’ resilience to withstand the long dry spells. These seeds tend to mature over shorter periods and will help increase their production yield in a time when rain is increasingly erratic. These early actions coupled with the dissemination of early warning information to the farmers ahead of, and during the rainy season help to mitigate the impact of the amount of rain.

Like many other farmers in Kitui, Koki Mulu looks at the vastness of her empty fields in despair. Worry clouds her face as she describes the burden of uncertainty that befell her because of the drought. She is unsure of the fate of her crops this season. As the sole breadwinner to 8 young orphans, Koki is grateful for the reprieve, having successfully harvested crops from the drought-tolerant seeds last year.

Koki standing outside her farm tool shed. Photo: Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross

“The harshness of this drought has caused crop yields to be a fraction of those in the past, but some is better than none. It is sufficient for me to just feed my family.”

Koki recalls past seasons when she would harvest enough for her and her family’s sustenance and even sell some at the market.

Nicholas received seeds too, but at first, he was reluctant to sow them. To him, it would be a waste, but his neighbour Koki convinced him to, hoping they would harvest something in February if the rains do come.

A portrait of Nicholas Katana with his drought-tolerant seeds. Photo: Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross

In a focus group with farmers and village elders in Kalambani, the plights of many farmers came to light. Most farmers have been surviving on the relief food to muster enough strength to get up in the morning to go and till their farms. They share the hope that this harvest season will be different, for they have seen the promising harvest from years prior, although still with several hurdles to overcome as the drought intensifies.

Farmers’ focus group session in Kalambani Village in Kitui. Photo: Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross

Such focus groups and rapid assessments also help us determine the communities’ understanding of Early Action and their information needs to better our engagement with the farmers. They also give us an insight into the farmers’ outlook on farm management, farming input needs and their experience since adopting the drought-tolerant seeds, allowing us to walk them through to when they eventually harvest.

The Kenya Red Cross, with funding from the British Red Cross, has been implementing these early action activities through the Innovative Approaches to Response Preparedness Programme in Kwale and Kitui. The five-year-long programme intends to reduce the effects of climate-related disasters on vulnerable communities in Kenya and to provide timely and effective support to the people that are assessed to be the most vulnerable to a forecasted extreme event.

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Kelvin Njenga Digital Transformation Officer

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The Reach Out Blog is a curated collection of inspiring humanitarian stories, showcasing the impactful interventions we have made within communities in Kenya and the individuals who have benefited from the aid initiatives of Kenya Red Cross and Partners

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Kenya Red Cross Society is a humanitarian relief organization, created through an act of parliament CAP256 of the laws of Kenya

We are auxiliary to the National and County Governments and work to alleviate human suffering and preserve life and human dignity.