Many on this blog have written about the triple win of improved livelihoods, increased climate resilience and carbon capture. That vision of climate-smart agriculture and sustainable forest management is one of hope and necessity against a backdrop of food price volatility and climate extremes. Last week I was able to spend time studying the said “backdrop” – in the Eastern province of Kenya, where farmers who have last seen rain in March 2010 are cutting down trees to survive.
I spoke to farmers in Mboti, a community of about 100 families scattered in a world of thorny white bushes, red earth and isolated trees. Even in good times, they are brave people living on rain-fed agriculture in a region that gets much less average precipitation than Kenya's lush and populous highlands. They live on the edge – coexisting and sometimes competing with nomadic herders for salty water drawn from boreholes, one jerrycan at a time.
But the farmers' endurance has been stretched to the limit. The heavy rains of November didn't materialize (it drizzled) and the April showers never did either. Priscilla Mwangangi, a 60 year-old widow, plowed her fields this spring hoping she could sow millet and sorghum, but instead spends her time minding a mound of charcoal which she feeds by chopping down acacia trees around her property. One big bag of charcoal sells for 400 Kenyan shillings – about $5.