Conservation Agriculture Meeting at the Elephants & Bees Research Centre
Report by interns, Maureen Kinyanjui and Rachel Abbott
FIRST CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE TRAINING BY FAO KENYA
The Elephants and Bees Research Center located in Mwakoma village, is a project of Save the Elephants. The aim of the research is to help reduce human-elephant conflict through an innovative approach using bees as a natural deterrent to prevent elephants from raiding crops. The center is supporting local communities by encouraging implementation of good agricultural practices, including Conservation Agriculture (CA), with the aim of increasing farm yields and thereby also improving nutrition and livelihoods. CA is the perfect complement to beehive fences because, when implemented, farmers are able to not only protect their crops from elephant raids, but see high crop yields as well, which, as previously stated, should contribute to improved nutrition and livelihoods.
Introduction to Conservation Agriculture and the Objective of FAO, Paul Kisangau, County Programme Officer
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’ main objective is to alleviate hunger and poverty. People should live a life where they are comfortable, without hunger, and are additionally able to take care of their needs. While hunger, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, is an individual-level physiological condition, food insecurity on the other hand, is the economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. CA, as defined by the FAO, is an approach to managing agro-ecosystems for improved sustained productivity, increased profits and food security, while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment. CA is characterized by three linked principles:
- Continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance;
- Permanent organic soil cover; and
- Diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations.
CA helps to address both food insecurity as well as the physical hunger that often is its result. In the hot arid climate of Kenya, and in this region of Sagalla hill in particular, where small farmers and their families depend on the success of their crops, both hunger and food insecurity must be addressed simultaneously.
Conservation Agriculture and Human-Elephant Conflict (Wildlife Conservation), Paul Kisangau, County Programme Officer
Conflict between humans and wildlife mostly arises due to human interference in the environment. CA can be used to restore the balance in nature where both humans and wildlife live. When people plant trees, maintain the integrity of the soil by planting cover crops, rotating crops and using the no tillage policy, the soil will be healthy enough to maintain its biodiversity and encourage productivity of crops. Increased productivity on small farm acreage will reduce human encroachment into wildlife areas, where oftentimes, due to drought conditions, wild animals are left in search of more fertile agricultural lands, hence human-wildlife conflict. Planting trees in the forests and avoiding illegal logging and burning for firewood will allow vegetation in the wildlife protected areas to regrow and the wild animals, such as elephants, will have access to the crops they are used to eating within the park and not raid farms in search of food.
CA also encourages farmers to keep livestock and bees. Bees aid in the pollination of crops and produce honey, which can be harvested and sold (or eaten) as an income generator. Additionally, when farmers maintain beehive fences around their crops, they are using a natural wildlife deterrent to protect their crops, and in turn to protect wild animals that may be prone to raiding in search of food and water.
Therefore, CA and bee keeping activities when implemented together by the farmer, are beneficial both tothe farmer and to the wildlife, and contribute to reducing human-wildlife conflict.
‘Go forth and spread the good news!’, Joseph Mwanganda, County Agriculture Extension Officer
Technology keeps on evolving and adapting to our various progressive needs. By adopting and implementing what knowledge we receive, we can be able to keep up with the changing times. CA is beneficial in the Sagalla area because it reduces drudgery in the farms, increases yield and will help farmers to still have yield when there is little to no rainfall. Joseph encouraged the farmers to share the CA information they have received, like specially chosen disciples, and always feel free to ask for assistance from the County Agriculture Extension Office.
‘Lazima tujitume!’/ ‘We must commit ourselves [to implementing what we have learnt]!’, Beatrice Mungima, County Agriculture Extension Officer
CA when implemented in Sagalla will save the farmers a lot of headache from lack of food, crop failure and loss of productivity. Farmers are encouraged to be active and implement what they have learned to benefit themselves and keep both their personal and wildlife habitat healthy and safe to reduce conflict. CA has worked in other counties such as Makueni which experiences less rainfall. Since Sagalla is lucky to have more rainfall, CA if implemented will change lives. For this to occur, farmers and their community of support, must be committed to this work.
Photos by Robbie Labanowski