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Climate services and subsidized fertilizer programmes must be synchronized

As the economy begins to open up and people focus on production in this era of the Covid-19 pandemic, one group that needs concerted support is small scale farmers. More than 78 per cent of Kenya’s food comes from small scale farmers while over 65 per cent of economically active people are employed across different points of the agriculture value chain.

Given the reality of climate change, it is now well acknowledged that seasonal patterns are shifting and climate extremes, particularly droughts and floods are becoming more frequent. This means that the optimal “window of production” for farmers is no longer predictable.

One of the most needed services for small scale farmers, most of whom practise rain-fed agriculture, is climate information generally and information about the onset of rains specifically. In recognition of the value of small scale farming to the overall economy, the government has recently (in the the course of the last 10 years) been providing subsidised fertiliser, aiming to help small scale farmers, most of whom live below the poverty line, to increase production.

For optimum crop production to be achieved, the timing of planting is one of the most important elements to get right. In ideal situations, a farmer should have needed inputs, namely quality seeds, fertiliser and labour, ready before the onset of rains. This way, farmers would be able to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by good rainy seasons.

However, in practice and in too many regions, access to quality inputs, particularly seeds and fertiliser are not synchronised. This means that farmers end up planting too early or too late in the season and therefore fail to achieve the full production potential of their land.

The solution to this apparently ironic reality is linking climate services such as weather information with other services such as fertiliser subsidy programmes.

This would call for concerned government departments, namely the meteorology departments, which are traditionally under ministries of environment to work in concert with agencies responsible for availing fertiliser and seeds, which often fall under ministries of agriculture.

In Kenya, this synchronisation does not always happen. It is therefore about time that provision of climate services is aligned with the initiatives of the Ministry of Agriculture aimed at boosting production by small scale farmers and therefore better food security and more secure livelihoods for them.

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