By Clifford Akumu
Women in Masinga- Machakos County have turned to an innovation that would see them predict weather .The extreme weather patterns, often leave the ground too dry or too floody to grow any crop.
This innovation has come handy in Kivaa village,where families face vicious struggle to grow the crops they rely on for food and income.
The Eco -cultural calendar combines indigenous weather forecast techniques with modern knowledge to predict rainfall patterns.
For several years, this region of Masinga-Machakos County was known for rituals performed by elders when it failed to rain or the community recorded low yield from their farms.
Infact, according to locals, Kivaa Hill-where the rituals were performed, was so sacred that being seen there when there was no ritual ceremony amounted to grave punishment and attracted enormous fines.
“We were meant to believe that these rituals were associated with the low harvest, and so we obliged to the myths. However, the cycle of poor harvest did not stop and there are seasons we harvested nothing” recalls Mary Kivisia, a peasant farmer and a mother of five.
Regrettably, even as the rituals failed to yield good results for the farmers, Kivaa elders clung to the gods sinking farmers deeper into poverty and hunger.
“At some point we got used to the rituals and just waited for miracles to happen,” said Kivisia,65.
Seasonal predictions of expected weather patterns in local languages using eco-cultural calendar are helping farmers increase their production in Masinga region.
However, swapping rituals for eco-cultural calendar has enabled Kivisia to increase her harvest from one sack of pigeon peas to an average of five sacks.
Kivisia is one of several farmers in Masinga who, through training on how to use eco-cultural calendar to manage their planting season under a collaborative project between the Institute of Culture and Ecology(ICE) and Va-Mweki self-help group-has transited to resilient climate-smart agriculture.
Last month, she sold green grams and pigeon peas at an average price of sh150 and sh200 respectively making about sh31,500 from the 90kg sack and invested in a new parcel of land.
Women farmers in Kenya are struggling to cope with increasingly wild weather, including unexpected swings between drought and floods.
Women play a predominant role in Africa agriculture, constituting up about 80% of the country’s farmers, they bear the brunt of low yield and ability to survive from one planting season to the next.
“When the rains come and we plant-our expectancy is cut short when the rains vanish, leaving our crops to die and this means another round of food donations” said Francisca Wavinya, a farmer from Kivaa village.
A new World Bank report titled Unbreakable: Building Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters, warns that the combined human and economic impacts of extreme weather on poverty are far more devastating than previously understood.
The report reveals how natural disasters such as drought and floods are driving at least 26 million people around the world into poverty each year, and costing economies more than $500 billion.
In Kenya alone, the effects of climate change, as indicated in a 2009 report by Stockholm Environment Institute titled-Economics of Climate Change Kenya- could be equivalent to a loss of 2.6% of GDP each year by 2030 for the country.
Both women and men are affected by and are vulnerable to climate change and global warming, but women often bear more of the burden magnifying existing gender inequality.
High vulnerability of women due to climate change is formed by the prevailing social, institutional and legal context.
“Women suffer most during these disasters hence the need to empower them” said Clarice Wambua, natural justice lawyer and legal researcher.
According to Elijah Kamau, program officer, food sovereignty and community livelihood with ICE, the initiative is aimed at strengthening the promotion of indigenous knowledge and practises relevant to environmental rehabilitation.
Kamau explains that the calendar also helps the small scale farmers conserve the environment, preserve and recuperate the agro-biodiversity that is on the verge of extinction.
“Farmers have incorporated the weather knowledge of the past and present using these calendars to remain food secure in the region even when the rains fail” said Kamau.
Through the eco-calendar, farmers in the region are now able to plan their activities. Using indigenous knowledge, the farmers observe the movement of stars in the sky to ascertain weather conditions.
“We now know when to expect heavy rainfall and when there is lack of it, thanks to this new innovation” said Kivisia adding that she is now able to plan what to farm.
Under the program, the farmers are also trained on seed selection, preservation and post-harvest management.
“We are focusing more on the traditional methods of seed production and storage and particularly in seed preservation to deal with post-harvest losses.” noted Kamau.
The farmers are sure that the solution to address hunger in Kenya lies within the country’s borders. With the right support, they can feed Kenyans with healthy, nutritious food that is grown ecologically.
Ecological farming is a bouquet of technologies that combines local farmers’ knowledge with the most recent scientific knowledge to create new technologies and practices that increase yields without negatively impacting the environment.
“Smallholder farmers from Masinga that have put this initiative are reaping the benefits”.
“Governments needs to put in place mechanisms that allow for a paradigm shift towards ecological farming. Agricultural production methods that has its core resilience, equitability, food sovereignty, and environmental sustainability.” said Greenpeace Africa’s Executive Director, Njeri Kabeberi.
But, explains Kivisia, a major challenge with the eco-calendar is in predicting the right rain seasons.
Sometimes, she continues, the rains fail at all even after observing signs from the calendar.
According to the African Development Bank,315 to 400 billion dollars will be needed in the next decade to implement the continent’s agricultural transformation agenda.
Va-Mweki self-help group chairperson Luka Kioko explains that the calendar is benefiting while also empowering women farmers and making them food secure.
In the villages that Kioko and his team have visited to train farmers about the benefits of eco-calendar, a new technology does not rank as high on the farmers wishlist as a television or donor food.
But by encouraging women farmers in the village to adopt the technology, the self-help group has seen high uptake of the initiative.
“Women farmers now use these calendars more consistently and are reaping the benefits” she said.