Except for the simmering temperatures, it’s easy to tell Ali Dido’s farm in the sprawling Odha village in Tarasaa, Tana River County.
The vast Dido pepper plantation is a drop of greenery in the region currently ravaged by drought. His two-and-a-half-acre chili farm is now part of what is set to revolutionize agricultural fortunes in the Delta.
Dido is one of 217 farmers from seven chili producer groups who formed production associations targeting the export market after the Green Heart Initiative, an ambitious plan to boost growth in the Tana Delta, took shape. âThis is my first time planting chilli and I am doing miraculously well, as almost everything is drying out. I learned about the new crop at Farmer Field School (FFS), and in a few days I will start harvesting and delivering it, âsaid Dido.
He is also one of the farmers who aggressively implemented lessons from three FFSs in the Delta as part of the Climate Smart Agriculture Integration Initiative.
The aim is to stimulate growth in the delta in the face of climate change.
The project implemented by Nature Kenya is supported by the Community Resilience Building in Livelihoods and Disaster Risk Management (Rebuild) project of the European Union and the Restoration Initiative of the Fund for global environment (GEF).
At Ngao FFS, research on tomatoes is underway. The research aims to establish the viability of growing tomatoes in certain areas of the delta. It also educates farmers on technologies, including greenhouses suitable for warmer temperatures; and also how they can maintain crops without using chemicals.
âWe are already learning a lot from this project. We learn how to manage crops in greenhouses and outside greenhouses. We also have access to the extension services of agronomists and other experts who regularly visit the FFS, âsaid Anastacia Nawa, President of Tana Delta Farmers.
The FFS is located at Ngao High School, where learners also have access to climate smart knowledge.
âIt hasn’t rained in the delta, but the FFS in Ngao is proof enough that we can plant anything here,â Ms. Nawa said.
The three FFS of Ngao, Hewani and Kipini target sustainable agriculture in extreme weather conditions.
It also seeks to introduce high value-added crops that require little water. They include sunflower, sesame, chili and green grams, and encourage agro-industry where farmers will also consider supplying the products to green industrial parks that will be set up in the delta.
Yona Dhulu Makondeni, an official with the Tana Delta Conservation Network, said the FFS also offers poultry and fish farming. The initiatives will cover the 19 sites of Tana Delta. âCurrently the farmers in the Delta have a problem with feed, but within the FFS we have lessons on how to produce our own feed. A lot has changed in the delta, and as farmers we have to adapt, âMakondeni said.
Tana Delta Agricultural Cooperative Treasurer Amuma Mkoloto said Greenheart-linked FFSs have helped farmers secure a market for their produce.
âFarmers are now empowered, market availability motivates them to increase their productivity. Old agricultural technologies are becoming a challenge and that is why these FFS have arrived at the right time, âsaid Mkoloto.
Under the project, farmers also have access to free seeds, including sesame, corn, green grams, chili and sunflower. Breeders are also improving their breeds with gala goats, a hardy breed that grows and matures faster.
Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku said introducing FFS to cover 55 villages in the delta was a way to tackle the effects of climate change while helping farmers improve yields with available resources.
“We are encouraging farmers to form cooperatives so that it is easier to sell their products, wholesale, to businesses that are now expanding in the delta,” Matiku said.