Climate change has made it difficult to accurately predict weather patterns thus farmers must adapt their farming practices and grow crops with higher resilience to the impacts of a changing climate.
One such crop is green grams also known as mung beans or ‘ndengu’. The crop has the potential to perform better than maize, which is considered the predominant crop in Kenya despite most farmers struggling to grow it in semi-arid and agro-ecological zones.
Green grams not only require minimal rainfall but also have high nutritional values which help in weight control, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, minimizing the risks of heart disease, fighting cancer and boosting immunity.
Kenya’s major green grams producing counties include Kitui, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, Machakos, Meru and Embu which according to a survey by SNV Netherlands Development Organization, account for more than 95% of Kenya’s annual green gram production with at least 51% of the producers being women.
The crop generates high financial returns and is highly valued by producers in Kenya and in the international markets like Asia.
If a farmer invests an average of Kshs18,000 to grow green grams on one acre using certified seeds and applies the proper climate-smart agronomic practices, the minimum yield is 500 kilograms. Going with an average farm gate price of between Kshs 75 to Kshs 90 per kilo, a farmer can earn a minimum gross profit of Kshs 19,500 per acre.
However, green gram has not escaped the challenges posed by climate change; such as unpredictable rainfall seasons; extreme high temperatures and droughts; as well as an upsurge of pests and diseases.
A recent analysis by the Climate Resilient Agri-business for Tomorrow project (CRAFT) shows a decline in green grams yields in Kenya, ranging from 0.4 to 0.6 tonnes per acre against a global average yield of 0.73 tonnes per acre. Far below the crop’s potential.
In addition to the low yields, there is considerable loss after harvest as the produce either rots or is infested by pests and diseases. This has affected the markets due to unreliable supply and poor quality forcing farmers to sell their grain at measly prices yet market prices are already at rock bottom.
An economic review of the agriculture sector carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture between 2014 and 2016 indicates that Kenya produces 103,234 metric tonnes of green grams annually. While this appears impressive, it is significantly below the average national consumption of 130,000 metric tons.
To cover the supply deficit, Kenya has been importing over 6,000 metric tons of green grams from neighbouring countries annually. This is an opportunity for Kenyan farmers to increase the productivity of the crop, targeting the local market as the primary consumers.
To achieve this, there is a need to invest in appropriate climate-smart agriculture technologies and practices that can cushion farmers against the effects of climate change and its attendant risks, for increased productivity to be realized.
A recent climate change projection undertaken by CRAFT indicates that there will be an increased temperature rise in all parts of Kenya. Unlike other crops, green gram yields are likely to increase substantially during this period.
If farmers integrate climate-smart technologies and practices like the use of climate information to determine the choice of variety and planting dates, use of certified seeds, optimum spacing, practising conservation agriculture and use of improved storage, they will increase market value and reduce post-harvest losses which ultimately boosts their household income.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that produces triple-win outcomes including enhanced crop resilience to the impacts of climate change, increased crop production, and minimized emissions of greenhouse gases.
CSA interventions also help farmers manage unpredictable weather patterns because they are location-specific, soil and crop-specific, actor specific and knowledge-intensive.
Hence a collective approach from production to marketing will bring the desired change in green gram farming, minimize food shortages and build the capacity of farmers and other agriculture sector service providers.
One example of Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices that can help extend the shelf life of green grams and minimize the risk of storage pests is storing well dried and cleaned grains in hermetically sealed bags placed on raised ground or pellets.
The hermetic bags use the suffocation technique to keep any pests away from damaging the grains and also control humidity which can lead to the growth of fungi if exposed to moisture.
SNV and CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries seeks to provide insights on climate-smart farming, harvesting, processing and marketing.
The article was written by John Recha - Scientist, Climate-Smart Agriculture and Policy. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Joyce Mbingo – Agronomic Advisor, SNV Netherlands