Enhancing food and nutritional security through adoption and upscaling of sustainable technologies in the drylands of Kenya
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Drylands comprise of approximately 80% of Kenya’s land mass and they are characterized by erratic and low rainfall, crop failure, reduced livestock carrying capacity, environmental degradation and recurrent droughts. The effect of climate variability has been more felt in these areas with communities having to contend with crop failures, death of livestock subjecting millions of people to starvation. Poor nutrition and food insecurity exemplified by famines are a common feature in these areas. Despite these hardships afflicting drylands in Kenya, a few farmers have over the years coped with the situation by using innovative technologies that have enabled them to raise crops and thus, be able to feed their families with augmentation of their income by selling the surplus. Some of these technologies involve rainwater harvesting, use of drought tolerant crop varieties, preparation of kitchen gardens by lining with polythene paper buried around 30 cm in the soil to reduce the loss of water through percolation, diversification of farming activities, among others. The team from the University of Nairobi and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) identified these innovative technologies with the aim of validating and improving their effectiveness with the eventual objective of upscaling and outscaling to other areas with similar challenges. Appropriate methodologies for data collection such as development of family portrait, administering structured questionnaires, focused group discussions and key informant interviews were used to gather relevant data. The study was initially conducted in Kibwezi district and later outscaled to Kilifi, Kaloleni and Mwatate districts. The research team also introduced other techniques such as grass reseeding of the denuded areas with the purpose of improving pastures. Farmers were also taught innovative techniques in value addition especially preservation of vegetables. Farmers also learned how to identify various pests and diseases of cassava (Manihot esculentum) and cowpeas (Vigna ungiculata) and their management. The farmers were also linked with various outlets where they could market their produce including grass seeds. Farmers who adopted these techniques were able to meet household food requirements with diversification of farming activities thus, improving their nutritional base. Some techniques such as water harvesting contribute to land rehabilitation enabling the communities to cope with the highly variable climate in drylands. The inexpensive and locally adapted techniques can be used to harness the enormous potential that exists in dryland areas taking care of the fragile ecosystems through promotion of environmentally friendly and sustainable innovative approaches.