Published on Voices

Plump Goats and Pawpaws: A Story of Climate-Smart Farming in Kenya

John Obuom
John Obuom and Poline Achieng’ Omondi are talking about their goats to a group of visitors that includes me. Turns out, cross-breeding local goats with Gala goats increases size, and cross-breeding Red Massai sheep with local sheep increases tolerance to heat and parasites. The result is a dramatically growing family income. Local goats fetch the equivalent of $20 at the markets; the improved goats bring in $80-90. The goats on the Obuom farm are noticeably plump and big for their age.
But that’s not the only benefit of the climate-smart techniques that John is describing. Milk production has tripled, leaving enough milk for the family and plenty left over to sell; flood and rainwater ponds reduce erosion and provide year-round water for irrigation; improved maize crops have increased disease-tolerance and productivity; intercropping pawpaw trees and food crops maximizes land use and more than doubles profits.  A small woodlot provides income and fertilizes the soil.
The countryside around the Obuom farm, where I was traveling last week, is not rich. The landscape is scarred by deep gullies caused by soil erosion. Half the people live below the poverty line; and malnutrition affects 45 percent of children under the age of five. Climate change and the resultant increasingly unpredictable rainfall will make this land even tougher to farm. Over the next 70 years, climate change could reduce food crop yieldsby as much as 16 percent worldwide and up to 28 percent in Africa. Yet climate-smart approaches are giving farmers better options and helping them increase production, incomes, and resilience, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Obuom farm is part of a climate-smart village pilot site in the Nyando Basin of western Kenya run by theCGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS is supported by the World Bank and a long list of partners and donors. It is dedicated to using the best available agricultural research to help smallholder farmers move out of poverty and build resilience, as well as to finding ways to reduce emissions from agriculture. CCAFS researchers bring new technologies and expertise to the farm – improved livestock breeding, improved food crops, water management, fish harvesting, agroforestry, and farming systems, plus on-farm emissions tracking and data collection.  
A small lab built into the back of a truck allows scientists to track emissions levels of different farming practices, as well as rainfall, humidity, and wind speeds. It is not only helping build a better database of local weather patterns and emission levels, it is also helping farmers better understand the varied risks and benefits of farming practices.
You don’t start a conversation with a struggling farmer by talking about the benefits of emissions reduction. You start with productivity, with resilience to drought and floods and with profit margins. From a global perspective however, identifying farming practices that increase production and resilience and reduce pollution or capture carbon is critical.  If agriculture and land use change continue to produce up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gases, it will be close to impossible to slow or stop global warming. CCAFS’s on-farm experimentation with emissions levels is providing data that will serve us all.
It’s clear that some sustainable intensification of agriculture is vital if we are to meet the food and nutrition needs of future generations without turning to more marginal land and cutting down forests. There is no other choice; we have to make the farming practices on the Obuoms’ one-hectare farm work for them and their children and for hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers like them.
Many visitors are drawn to the Obuom farm. Local community groups and nearby farmers come to observe and learn and are regularly “gifted” the plumper, healthier goats or improved food crop seeds so the benefits spread.
I assured John and Poline that I would tell their story to others keen to understand how climate-smart agriculture works. The Global Landscapes Forum this weekend at the UNFCCC climate conference will be one such opportunity. At a time when some delegations and negotiators are reticent to see agriculture addressed fully in the climate talks, understanding how building resilience and curbing emissions can be built into farming systems is essential. Time to get behind the language and go down to the farm and give John and Poline our support.

Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000