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How Makueni fruit farmer outsmarts climate change

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

When Justus Kimeu, 45, quit his job as a legal clerk in  2003, he wanted to concentrate more on his charcoal business, which was booming at that time. However, six years down the line he closed the business and went back home to venture into farming.

Kimeu, who hails from Kathiani village in Wote constituency, Makueni county knew exactly what he wanted to grow. He had set his mind on citrus farming after having a positive experience with the crop for few years.  “I started growing citrus fruits in a small-scale in 2007 when I was still running a charcoal business. I was not sure whether this crop could be a main source of income for me,” he said.

Kimeu started by collecting seeds from mature lemons, drying them up and putting them into a seedbed.  After two weeks, seedlings sprouted. 

Three weeks later, he transferred the seedlings to some pots and after the seedlings outgrew these containers, he transplanted them to the farm.  Five months down the line, Kimeu grafted his citrus onto a different rootstock of sweet oranges, pixie and tangerine. 

This is how Lotta Agrifarm was born. Some 18 months after the transplant, Kimeu was ready for his first harvest. Unfortunately, he only managed to pick three kilogrammes per tree. “I started with 150 trees which I planted in half an acre. So I only managed 450kg, which I sold locally,” he says.

Kimeu never gave up. Season after season, his yields kept increasing. In 2009, he closed his charcoal business to concentrate on farming and increased the acreage to three acres.

By then he was harvesting two to three tonnes per season but his trees were not meeting his target of 70 kilogrammes per tree. “I tried applying more fertiliser to my citrus trees so as to increase the yield, to no avail. My harvest stagnated each season,” he said.

Lady Luck knocked on his door in 2012 when Pafid (Participatory Approaches for Integrated Development), a Kenyan non-governmental organisation that train’s farmer on climate-smart agriculture and conservation methods, offered to train him. Pafid aims to help improve farmers’ livelihoods, increase food security and reduce the negative impacts that conventional farming methods have on the environment.

“I was told Pafid was training small-holder farmers and cotton growers in the arid and semi-arid counties of eastern Kenya on conservation agriculture. They were also training private sector service suppliers to provide professional, timely and cost-efficient mechanised minimum tillage extension services and herbicide application services for farmers,” remembers Kimeu.

At first he was reluctant to learn, but since he wanted a solution to boost fruit yields, he consented. He does not regret because after one year, he had increased his acreage to five and now he is growing tangerine, sweet and pixie oranges on seven acres. Kimeu is also grafting seedlings for sale.

“My yields have increased drastically and I am currently harvesting over 20 tonnes from my 2,000 trees. I would recommend climate smart agriculture to any farmer who is willing to embrace change,” he says. 

Kimeu has introduced underneath water basin to collect and retain water during dry seasons and is using organic fertilisers.

Apart from increased yields, Kimeu says this kind of farming increases the shelf life of the fruits from one month to around five months after harvest. To ensure that his fruits are pesticide free, he uses pest traps. 

Another benefit is that one can incorporate cover crops such as beans, green peas and pigeon peas and watermelons. These crops help in weed management, prevents direct sunlight to the soil. They also help in maintaining soil moisture and fixes nitrogen into the soil.

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an agricultural practice that sustainably increases productivity and system resilience while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “CSA is being widely promoted as the future of African agriculture and as a viable answer to climate change. This method has the potential to increase productivity and resilience while reducing the vulnerability of hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers,” says Eric Kyongo, a field officer/trainer with Pafid. 

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