Kenya Red Cross Society’s Early-Action seeds help farmers beat drought

By Denis Onyodi, Climate Centre, Kwale, Kenya

Man on maize farm

Farmers in Kenya’s southern region of Kwale county who had turned to logging and quarrying after a prolonged period of drought have been harvesting a huge variety of crops over the past few weeks thanks to an early-action distribution of specialized seeds by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).

In a story from Kwale county late last month, Kenya’s Star newspaper noted that most drought-hit Kwale county residents have relied on food aid to survive: “Some were reported to have one meal a day with children and women suffering the most,” the paper’s correspondent Shaban Omar added. Citizen TV Kenya also reported last week on the KRCS project’s success.

The Kenya Drought Early Action Protocol Light Activation, supported by the British Red Cross and Dutch Red Cross, began last October with the distribution of three types of drought-tolerant and disease-resistant seeds; green grams, cowpeas and sorghum to 1,500 Kwale farmers.

Green grams
These seed types that replaced traditional but vulnerable maize were selected in consultation with the farmers and experts from the Department of Agriculture. Field surveys now show that the green grams were particularly successful in Taru village.

The project also supported the rehabilitation of a borehole that supplies water to 750 households in three villages. “I think this has been a very successful project,” said KRCS branch leader, Mohammed Mwaenzi. “Kwale county is currently faced with a serious drought situation, but in areas where we have handed out these crops, most of the farmers are doing well.” He added: “If we could support farmers with this type of drought-resistant seed during the short rains [in November and December], we would not talk about people needing food aid. They would still be in a drought situation, but they would get some food from these crops. This is the way to go.”

Project monitoring that included face-to-face community meetings has now established that 80 per cent of the beneficiary farmers had high yields from the crops. Coastal Kwale – although relatively small compared to its neighbouring counties to the north – incorporates a wide variety of micro-climates. Most of Kwale experienced some rain during the November–December 2022 short season.

No farmer got the full yield that was theoretically possible from the quantity of seed planted, given the patchy short rains, but the harvest of green grams especially was above the long-term average.