Abraham Fundi, a tea farmer in Embu County, is fighting a battle many fear he might lose. He is one of the agents contracted by a major tea factory to lead farmers in a fight against climate change.
The 33-year-old says climate change is indeed here. The rains are more erratic, land is less productive and farmers are slowly bearing the brunt.
“Tea production has gone down and some farmers are contemplating replacing their bushes with other crops,” he says.
The local Rukuriri Tea Factory has however decided to confront the climate threat. The factory has recruited agents to teach its more than 3,000 members in improved land use practices and proper waste management to counter the threat.
“Poor farming practices and land use in the protected areas have interfered with the natural ecological processes including continued river flow, erosion control, water purification, crop yield, and farmers’ health. We now need proper land use, better farming practices and waste management in the tea growing regions,” says Fundi.
He currently walks round the county daily, exhorting farmers to adopt better farming methods and waste management techniques.
But statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show Embu tea farmers are part of an estimated 500,000 small-scale tea farmers countrywide, facing uncertainty when it comes to their livelihoods.
Kenya's tea production has see-sawed dangerously over the years, driven by unpredictable weather patterns.
The Tea Board of Kenya says tea production for the first six months of 2014 slipped marginally by 0.20 per cent because of adverse weather to 225.1 million kg from 225.6 million kg during the same period last year.
The industry has also been going through a dark chapter this year over allegations of price manipulation.
Fundi says the rampant dry weather has hit farmers hard. He however says the farmers can do something to cushion themselves.
The farmer trainings are being conducted courtesy of a partnership between Rukuriri Factory and Rainforest Alliance, a New York based non-profit organisation.
The farmers eventually receive Rainforest Alliance certification, which they require to supply their tea to the tea collection centres.
Fundi says the farmers are sensitised on how to conserve the few nearby forests like Kirimiri forest in Mukuuri area and the Mt Kenya forest.
Currently, due to dwindling rainfall and cutting down of trees upstream, some small rivers in Embu have dried up.
Fundi says although the dwindling rainfall is a sure sign that global warming has finally come, farmers can prevent it from getting worse.
He advises them to establish vegetative barriers along rivers and next to forests.
“We also advise farmers to ensure that areas next small and large rivers, about three metres or more, are protected with vegetative cover, such as napier grass,” says Fundi.
River banks near tea farms in Embu now look different after farmers were forced to uproot trees and other food crops.
Factory workers often visit farmers to ensure they adhere to the new practices.
Says Elijah Mwaniki, a member of Kirimiri tea buying centre: “For you to sell tea at the buying centres, you must show a certificate that you have fulfilled all recommendations on environment protection and land use practices.”
Fundi says farmers are also asked to separate biodegradable and non-biodegradable household waste.
“We advise our farmers to put the biodegradable wastes in the compost pit and put non-biodegrade waste into sacks, which the factory will collect later for proper disposal,” he says.
The factory says because of increased electricity penetration, farmers are nowadays confronted with dangerous electronic waste which includes toxins such as beryllium, lead, and cardmium.
“Although few studies explore the impacts of e-waste, chemical exposure to electronic waste is responsible for several ailments such as genotoxicity, cancer, fetal loss, cardiovascular ailments, and neuro-behavioral disturbances,” says Fundi.
The factory also requires members to dig soakpits to prevent toxic waste draining into farms.
Before the introduction of the soak pits, household water mixed with soap and other chemicals would be used to grow sugarcane and arrowroots.
This was associated with high health risk because the leachate contaminates crops and nearby nearby rivers.
Farmers nowadays dig two soakpits, which sieve all hazardous materials before the water is recycled to water crops such as arrowroot and sugarcanes.
The first pit is prepared using stones, sand and charcoal, which help in sieving hazardous material from the household wastewater.
The safe water is then directed into the second adjacent pit where framers can grow arrowroots and sugarcanes because it is free from hazardous materials such as soap.
A farmers report produced by the factory shows reduced cases illness like respiratory diseases.
Farmers also noted a significant improvement in the health and safety of their children who previously played in the contaminated environment.
Joseph Kinyua, a veteran small-scale tea grower in Mukuuri area, says: “We no longer have to seek refuge inside our houses from the odour of compost pit garbage and dirty waste water.”
The 53-year-old says he can now access his house easily because of better waste disposal, especially of non-biodegradable materials that previously littered most of homes and footpaths.
Fundi says tea factories control a large number of Kenyans and are the best avenues to teach rural populations how to mitigate against climate change.
According to Rainforest Alliance, at least 12,000 farmers are expected to receive the certification across the country, having met all of the strict standards on their small yet carefully managed plots of land.
Kenyan economy largely depends on agriculture, which employs around 64 per cent of the population.
Scientists say climate change is caused both by natural factors and human induced actions especially in developed countries.
The impacts are global and poor people in developing countries like Kenya bear the brunt because they have lower capacity to adapt.
Experts largely blame the low adaptive capacity on the lack of a national policy and law on climate change.
A 2012 Climate Change Authority Bill was rejected by former president Mwai Kibaki last year, largely because the public was not involved in its formulation.
However, a 2014 version of the bill is currently being discussed in Parliament. The new 2014 bill will establish a climate change fund to facilitate climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
John Kioli, the brains behind the Climate Change Authority Bill 2012 and chairperson of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group, recently told IPS news the current bill has been improved.
Kenya has also established a National Climate Change Action Plan will require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013 to 2014 national budget.