The long brownish head wrap made from an old cloth shield Jane Akinyi’s hair from the African blazing sun. Near the edge of a waist-high thorny fence, she carefully sinks her hoe down the sodden earth.
Akinyi, is on day two of a back breaking task of digging a swimming pool-sized fish pond by hand with local tools at Ochieng Odero village in Lambwe, near Kenya’s Lake Victoria.
Once a thicket and woodland, Lambwe valley turned degenerative down the line as people started clearing vegetation to mitigate infestation of tsetse flies in the 80s.
“There used to be bumper harvest of sorghum, millet and even maize in the fields around. Things began to change as people cleared trees,” Akinyi, 42-year-old mother of three told Climate Tracker.
Farming in Kenya is an important investment
To Akinyi, fishing along Lake Victoria drives the demand for fuelwood which is used by fish mongers to preserve this highly perishable commodity, driving depletion of the few remaining standing trees within the locality.
In Lambwe, villagers have opted to a traditional method of pooling labour, locally referred to as saga in which members of an organised group can carry out tasks on a rotation basis.
“The year 2018 and back, we faced a tough three-year drought period. Had we started this initiative years ago, maybe, we would be safe. We would be food secure,” says Akinyi as she points at a sinewy paw paw tree rise from the green landscape of Aringo village.
Maxwell Ochoo, the brain behind the initiative and a resident of Aringo village says fish pond plays multiple tasks, from collecting flood waters to fish using its water to irrigate planted indegenous trees adaptable to the environment.
“Establishing a big fish pond from an individual investment requires huge finances which goes about to $300. This is the reason I initiated the saga approach, where we dig for group members a fish pond on rotation basis,” says Ochoo.
For Ochoo, his has been a challenging journey of trial and failure after his community health worker’s job with an NGO came to a close in 2018.
“I invested in watermelon farming, targeting some $80 from it, but drought drained the initial investment. The next season, I gave a shot at butternut farming and managed to get little profit,” Ochoo, who injected the butternut income in drilling a borehole told Climate Tracker in an interview.
This year, several parts of western Kenya witnessed heavy flooding when rivers draining water to Lake Victoria broke its banks, on top of water backflow from the lake itself. Farming in Kenya is one way to fight the effects of climate change.
And with rivers sluggishly sitting in the valleys along the shoes of Lake Victoria, inhabitants have been attempting to protect their homes from flooding, proofing a losing battle played across the country.
Ochoo’s farm currently plays host to hundreds of locals’ visits to learn about the benefits of encouraging regeneration of adaptable trees, planting new food-based tree seedlings and the establishment of farm fish ponds.
Ochoo, together with his villagers around Homa Bay County’s intensification site are beneficiaries of an EU-funded project that targets some 50,000 households and 150,000 ha under land restoration in Kenya over a five-year period ending 2022.
Dubbed the Regreening Africa, the project targets Smallholder farmers, pastoralists & agro-pastoralists eight countries in East and West Africa which are Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Niger, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, & Ethiopia.
“Through evergreen agriculture, the project seeks to improve livelihoods, food security and resilience to climate change by smallholder farmers and restore ecosystem services,” Susan Chomba, a programme manager for Regreening Africa Project at the World Agroforestry (ICRAF) told Climate Tracker.
For Chomba, the project further seeks to build the resilience of the farming landscape in Kenya, by introducing trees that not only help in capturing carbon from the atmosphere but also help water penetrate deeper into the soil.
By 2030, Ethiopia targets to have restored some 15 million hectares of degraded forests and landscape by 2030 as part of the Bonn Challenge Barometer.
For Akinyi, losing her job as an HIV counselor two years ago drove her to start a business of buying old newspapers, then resale on retail to businesses, including fish mongers who use them for packaging.
“Through the saga approach, I have completed my fish pond and will soon start stocking fingerlings. On the other hand, I have already planted paw paw fruits, which are first-maturing and resilient to drought,” says Akinyi, who now uses pond water to irrigate her indegenous vegetables.
Countries like Nigeria, Niger and Kenya are said to have increased crop production by encouraging regeneration of indegenous trees adaptable to the environment.
In Nigeria, it is estimated that farmers produce an additional 500,000 tons of cereals a year than in the 70s, resulting in 2.5 million people being more food secure.
When floods hit parts of western Kenya in May, Ochoo says flood waters impact was not as intense as before because of regenerating vegetation. For this reason, it is critical to encourage farming in Kenya.