Let’s get Climate Smart

Let’s get Climate Smart

CLimate change and global warming are happening and we are currently reeling from the effects of a long drawn out drought, with soring temperatures, empty rivers, hot dry bare soils and dying animals and hungry people.

Climate change brings hotter weather, more extreme weather, droughts and floods, heat waves, cold snaps and frosts and a much higher unpredictability and uncertainty on the weather patterns. To be forewarned is to be forearmed! What can we, as mere mortals, do to make a difference?
Understanding and reducing our individual carbon footprints will help reduce the overall effects of global warming. Better planning, reducing waste and unnecessary trips and fuel use, buying local produce, recycling, and planting and nurturing trees and generally increasing our carbon awareness will make a difference.

Tree Planting and Protection of Forests
Trees are key to reducing the effects of climate change. Trees are a great carbon and water store, support numerous ecosystems, provide shade and fodder, cool the earth and break the wind. From 2001 to 2021 there was an 11% decrease in Global Tree cover and a loss of 437 million hectares of trees, releasing roughly 174 Giga Tons in CO2 emissions. In recent years, under the 2030 Vision Kenya has actually managed to increase its tree cover to about 10%. President Ruto has pledged to increase forest cover by more than 15 billion trees, and the Kenya Forest Service is working on a strategy to produce 1.5 billion trees a year, to reach the Government Target of 30% tree cover by 2032. This is an immense undertaking and the plan is that every Kenyan contributes towards this initiative. If you have nowhere to plant your trees, support an organizations that that protect our Forests and Conservation Areas (Friends of Karura Forest, Eburru Rafiki, Mount Kenya Trust, Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, The Forest…to name but a few).

Wetlands – protection and rehabilitation

Wetlands are amongst the World’s most economically valuable ecosystems and are essential regulators of the Global Climate. Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. Wetlands include some of the most carbon dense ecosystems on the planet and reduce disaster risk as they mitigate floods and protect coast lines. Wetlands are critical to human and planet life. Wetlands tend to be under-valued by policy makers and between 1970 and 2015 we lost approximately 35% of the Global Wetlands. The remaining wetlands are under threat due to climate change, population increase, urbanization, water drainage, pollution, sedimentation, disrupted flows, invasive species and unsustainable use. Wetlands provide almost all the world’s consumption of freshwater.
Wetlands cool the earth, clean and store water, alleviate floods and droughts, and are very important for the groundwater recharge of aquifers.

While the anticipated effects of Global Warming are well documented, the localized effects are not. It is important that we monitor our temperatures, rainfall, forests, rivers and wetlands to understand what is happening, so that we can react quickly and plan accordingly.
The Lake Naivasha Umbrella WRUA has a team of Citizen Scientists, coordinated by Enock Kiminta, that monitor the health of the catchment of Lake Naivasha. They look at water levels, water quality, micro-invertebrate diversity and other key measurable parameters that are fed into an Android App and sent to a central database. The Umbrella Group is able to detect and react to changes that arise sooner rather than later. Over time the effect of climate change will be known. This projects showcases the success of combining fact based science, and training and creating awareness to get important community buy-in to a project.

Water Management
We are expecting rainfall incidences to be further apart, but the rate at which the rain falls to be faster. This means much more run off less often. It becomes increasingly more important to plan deeper, more efficient drains and ditches to be able to handle this extra run off, to avoid flooding and road network damage. We also need to increase the capacity of our water storage systems to sustain us through longer dry seasons. It should be no surprise that our natural water storage systems, the Lakes in the Rift Valley, are rising. Is this due to the extra run off from climate change?

Soil Management
As the rain falls heavier but rain events are further apart, we need to do everything we can to encourage water infiltration and moisture storage in our soils. Making sure our soils are protected by permanent plant cover and cultivating land to maximize water infiltration is essential.
Digging bunds to catch and slow down rain water, increases water infiltration into the soil, prevents the loss of valuable topsoil and promotes rehabilitation of the environment, the plant regeneration cools and greens the area and improves climate resilience.

Biochar Use
Biochar is basically charred organic residue that takes carbon from the air and stores it in a stable form in the soil. Biochar increases soil fertility, soil quality and crop productivity. Not only does the use of biochar effectively sequester carbon and alleviate climate change but it also reduces the volatisation of applied chemical fertilizers, increasing the efficacy of fertilizer uptake and reducing the carbon footprint of the fertilizer application. Biochar also improves water infiltration and the soil moisture storage capacity of the soil, acting as a buffer against floods and droughts. Biochar supports microbial activity and biodiversity in the soil. Biochar usage is a climate smart practice!

Farming Methods
We need to go back to the drawing board and look for more Climate Smart Farming methods that reduce our carbon foot print, and are more resilient against climate change. Systems that include permanent vegetative cover of soil, sequester carbon, build soil organic matter, encourage water infiltration, cool the soil and the planet and incorporate trees are some of the options available to us. For broad acre agriculture, no till farming is definitely an option to look at. In this drought we have seen that No Till farmers have been far more likely to fruitfully harvest their crops, due to more moisture availability in the soil, while many conventional farmers have lost their crops. Permaculture and Agro-forestry are gaining momentum. One very interesting farming system I was looking at recently combines both very effectively. Forest Foods have successful, productive farms showcasing Synotropic Agroforestry in different climatic zones. This method combines row crops and tree crops, mimicking nature. The trees harvest nutrients and water from deep within the soil, cool and shelter the row crops, and provide valuable mulching material for the row crops, as well long term economic benefits. The row crops provide food and short term income.

Insect Pressure
With climate change comes a change in the insect and disease pressure. In Sub-Saharan Africa we see problems with emerging insects like fall army worm (FAW) and Tuta Absoluta. There have been locust swarms for the first time in years. Insect life cycles become shorter when temperatures rise, and we have to look closely at how we can manage them. Mealy bugs lay less eggs at higher temperatures but the time to produce a generation shortens dramatically. It can be three months in cool weather and only one month in hotter weather. Thrips cause damage in a wide range of crops: the egg to egg cycle can take about 44 days at 15C and 18 days at 25C. Spidermites love hot dry weather completing their life cycle in 17 days at 20C, but 8-12 days at 30C. With shorter, quicker life cycles, insect populations build up faster AND insects develop resistance to chemical sprays quicker. Alternating active ingredients, reducing spray interval times, and implementing Biological Control are ways to become Climate Smart against insects. Note that higher temperatures also increase the risk of spray damage to your crops.

It makes sense to go around your farm and look at every aspect of your system, and the effect that higher temperatures, and heavier rainfall and longer dry seasons will have on each process so you can write a Climate Smart Management Plan so as not to be caught short.

Ruth Vaughan is an Independent Agricultural Consultant who is passionate about Soil Conservation and Soil Health, Climate Smart Farming and Rehabilitation of degraded soils. She can be contacted on ruthanitavaughan@gmail.com

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