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Gaspard and his wife using gardening tools

Home-grown solutions to the climate crisis

01/10/2021

There are positive signs that governments are acting to support farmers in Africa who are struggling from the effects of the climate crisis. Gaspard told us:

“Our government is doing a lot to help us to overcome the climate change crisis. For example, today in our villages there are promoters trained by the government to help farmers to form groups where they can be trained on the best agriculture practices.”

Gaspard Rwanda

Send a Cow's work empowers families with the confidence and skills to grow sufficient food to feed their families and make an extra income. The techniques used are also climate-positive and help regenerate the natural environment. Within our planting programmes we include trees, shrubs and grasses, which, as well as improving soil quality, also have a net impact on removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.

We help develop techniques within communities rather than impose a solution from an outsider's perspective. All of our solutions are African-designed to enable farmers to grow enough to eat and generate an income. Rediscovering local skills and building new techniques which respond to new circumstances help farmers to combat the effects of falling crop yields, soil degradation and devastating pests, so they can do more than survive on the front line of the crisis. This work enables them to thrive: by building up their financial stability and giving them the opportunity to plan for better lives for their children.

These are some of the principles of our work that support families living on the front line of climate breakdown.

A woman harvesting crops from her farm

A farm systems approach

This way of planning and delivering our programmes encourages farmers to recognise the resources they have, the “inputs” they need as well as what they produce, and how they’re connected with their neighbours, the wider community and the environment.

A farm systems approach looks at the way a smallholding works as a whole, with everything interacting and farmers developing the skills to be able to cope with changing climate patterns.

Planting more trees and creating natural areas of vegetation increase biodiversity and also crop harvests. Planting a wider range of crops, and using the most effective, naturally time-tested seed types helps farms to be more resilient during “climate shocks”. And using all the resources of the farm effectively, including livestock manure and urine, cuts down on costly, environmentally damaging “inputs”.

A man, Henry, standing in a field smiling

No need for expensive fertilisers

Farmers can develop the full potential of their land with training in organic principles that reduce dependency on expensive artificial fertilisers or genetically modified seeds.

Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa often struggle to grow crops in dry, degraded soil. Manure from well-looked-after farm animals can be vital in rebuilding its fertility, and creating the kind of humus-rich soil that experienced gardeners and farmers recognise, which retains moisture well.

Many farmers regard the manure produced by cows and goats as even more valuable than the milk or meat that they provide. In a virtuous circle of sustainable farming, they quickly appreciate that well-kept livestock produce more and better-quality manure.

A brown cow standing in a paddock

Home-made compost

One of the techniques we help our farmers to learn is the construction of Keyhole Gardens (so-called because they look like keyholes when seen from above). These raised-bed circular gardens have a basket in the middle where compostable waste and water from the kitchen is collected, which is then spread to the surrounding soil. Families can be producing vegetables from their keyhole gardens in as little as three weeks.

A woman, Caroline, harvesting rainwater

Rainwater harvesting

Rain-fed agriculture is vital for supplying food in in Africa: 95% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is rain-fed. But across many countries in the region the rainy seasons are now unpredictable, and often catastrophic. Long droughts can delay planting, and wither crops in the field, and flash-flooding can destroy harvests and wash away soil nutrients.

For many farmers, collecting water from water sources, often kilometres away, is an arduous daily chore – usually regarded as women’s work.

We have trained farmers like Anna in how to harvest the rainwater from the roof of her house into collection containers, enabling her to grow a wider variety of food even during dry seasons.

A water system irrigating crops in a field

Increasing local biodiversity

Increasing the biodiversity of plant and insect-life on smallholder African farms can directly affect the farm burden of pests and weeds and improve the productivity.

The Push-Pull insect and weed control technique is an excellent example of how this works in practice, and helps farmers grow themselves out of poverty.

Maize is a vital crop for 300 million Africans, but invasive weeds like striga weed and pests including the stemborer moth, can wipe out maize harvests. The response often is to use chemical pesticides, which are expensive and highly damaging to ecosystems and plant and insect diversity.

Send a Cow has been working with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, to roll out the affordable, nature-based Push-Pull solution which ICIPE has developed, which eliminates pests and adds nutrients to soil, increasing both maize and fodder crop yields.

Push-pull plant technology uses desmodium (or tick-clover) intercropped with maize to control striga weeds and repel the destructive moths, which are “pulled” towards sticky napier grass planted around the field margins. Desmodium provides the additional benefit of adding nitrogen to soil, while napier grass is a valuable fodder crop.

A woman harvesting crops in a field

Our Agroecological Climate Positive Approach

Send a Cow’s ACPA is practical training that includes sustainable growing techniques, livestock management, pest and weed control, agroforestry and integrated farm management.

The techniques we use emulate natural organic processes that can be adapted to local environments and also remove the reliance on chemical fertilisers and GM crops. Farms improve their soil quality, crop diversity and productivity, and farmers are better equipped to adapt to climate pressures.