Kenya: Farmers gain from radio broadcasts on climate change (IPS)

| July 9, 2012

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Small-scale farmer Josephine Mutiso listens to Radio Mang’elete 89.1 FM to hear meteorological experts discuss changing rainfall patterns in the county.

Ms. Mutiso lives in Makueni County, one of Kenya’s driest areas. She has previously followed advice from the community station, such as successfully using “Zai” planting holes to restore her dry farmland.

This traditional technique involves digging pits about 30 centimetres deep and filling them with manure and topsoil. When it rains, the mixture of topsoil and manure retains moisture for a longer period, and ensures crop nutrients are concentrated in the pits.

Makueni County suffers from persistent drought and famine, and about half of the population lives below the poverty line.

While Makueni County has always been an arid area, the rains have become more erratic over the last 15 years. Farmers like Ms. Mutiso have had to change their methods.

In June 2011, a drought in the region was declared a national disaster. Many harvests failed. Dependence on food aid in the region has increased. According to the World Food Programme, over two million people in Kenya were given emergency food aid towards the end of 2011.

Food insecurity in Makueni County and Kenya’s Eastern Province is one reason why Radio Mang’elete was established in 2009.

The Mang’elete Community Integrated Development Programme, or MCIDP, is a network of 33 women’s groups in Makueni County. The organization owns the station.

Sabina Mwete is Chairperson of the MCIDP. She says the world is experiencing new challenges brought by disease and climate change. Technology is needed to help get important information to farmers. She explains, “To survive in the new world, we thought that we needed a tool that would guide us as we cope with it.”

The station’s producers devote much of their broadcast time to programs on adapting to climate change. They’ve covered how to plant drought-tolerant crops and keep drought-resistant animals. They have also broadcast programs on how to integrate modern agricultural techniques with traditional farming methods.

Dominic Mutua is head of programmes at the station. He says the station invites experts or people with experience to share their knowledge on-air.  In order to help local farmers determine the correct planting time, says Mr. Mutua, the station has “…been forced to integrate the scientific meteorological forecasts with indigenous weather prediction knowledge.”

Small-scale farmers in the region are benefitting from Radio Mang’elete’s broadcasts. Ms. Mwete says they have seen a change in how people adapt to climate change. She says, “They attribute it to the information learnt from Radio Mang’elete. This gives us much pride.”

Susan Wambua is one of the small-scale farmers who are now very aware of the changing rainfall patterns. She uses radio to help her predict when rains will fall, so she can plant maize seed before it comes. The predictions are not always accurate. Wambua has had losses as well as successes. But, she says, “It is better to risk with the seed than to risk with the harvest.”

Recently, Ms. Wambua used a combination of the radio and indigenous knowledge to calculate that it would rain in six days. Five days later the rain came, just as she predicted.