Kenya: Chickens give farmers new hope when the rains fail (Africa Science News)

| October 10, 2016

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Sabina Julius always had hope that when she planted crops, she would get a good harvest. If the rains didn’t come, she kept praying. But recently, she is becoming more frustrated. If the rains fail completely, all her hopes will be lost.

So Mrs. Julius has turned to rearing chickens as a way to thrive even when the rains fail. Chickens are building her resilience to climate change.

Mrs. Julius is one of the many farmers in Kitui County who have been affected by frequent droughts. She explains, “I farm a range of things, including beans, cowpeas, and passion fruit, but in recent years I have had lots of crops fail because the rains have been poor.”

Poor rains mean the 43-year-old mother of five loses money because an unfruitful harvest doesn’t allow her to recover the cost of seeds and labour. She adds, “It is painful, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions. You sell whatever you have to make sure that you can feed your children.”

Onesmus Mwangangi is an agricultural expert at Farm Africa, a non-governmental organization. He says climate change has greatly affected rainfall patterns in the area. He explains: “Things started changing in the early 1990s. The rains have become more unreliable, and many water sources in Kitui have completely dried up. This year, the first rain came at the end of April, a month later than it was supposed to. It only lasted a few weeks with poor distribution and stopped before the crops were able to grow to maturity. As a result, farmers in this region have lost over 80% of their crops due to lack of rain.”

Mr. Mwangangi is advising the farmers on ways to fight the effects of climate change, including growing drought-tolerant crops, using high-quality seeds, adopting water conservation techniques, and diversifying their sources of income.

He says one great option is rearing chickens, which helps farmers diversify their income so they are not totally reliant on crops.

Mrs. Julius is now chairperson of a women’s farmers group called Ninye Naku Self Help Group, which she set up to gain easier access to training on rearing poultry. She says, “We have learnt lots about poultry farming, and this has made me see things in a different light. It is a good way to make money.”

Chickens are also easy to manage. Mrs. Julius says that, once she feeds them, she can leave them and attend to other things. She adds, “Chickens have a short production cycle, which means I don’t have to wait too long to make a profit, because within three months a chick will have grown big enough to sell.”

Mrs. Julius has been keeping poultry for two seasons and now has 38 chicks. She has separated four hens from the rest of the birds so they can lay more eggs. She says: “I am planning to rear the chicks to maturity to sell, and meanwhile I will produce more chicks to keep the cycle going.

In addition to selling eggs, I have been able to use some for home consumption. Before, I couldn’t afford to buy eggs, but now they are part of our diet and are contributing to the health of my family.”

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