Climate-smart crop multiplication gardens to boost community resilience

Aiyura
Author
Rodney Aku

Negative impacts of climate change can significantly affect food and socio-economic security of smallholder farming communities. To enhance the resilience of these communities, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and NARI have collaborated under the Darwin Initiative - Climate Change Partnership project to diversify their access to improved crop varieties and farming practices in order to reduce unsustainable harvest of wild plants and animals. The project included a series of capacity building activities in target communities. These included Danbagl and Womkama communities in Gembogl district, Simbu province; and Miruma in Daulo district, Eastern Highlands province.

A key component of the capacity building activities was the establishment of climate-smart seed multiplication gardens. This ensured that the project was aligned to national development goals which call for increased use of climate-smart agricultural practices to contribute to sustainable levels of food and socio-economic security.

Climate-smart seed multiplication gardens were set up at each target community. They were to serve as seed banks for long term propagation and distribution of improved crop varieties. The gardens featured improved crop varieties that have the potential to enhance food security in general and can be disseminated after the drought events to re-establish food production. These included:

  • Nine highlands sweet potato varieties; five drought tolerant and four early maturing lines that can yield up to 15 tonnes per hectare (t/ha), in four months. In addition, pest and disease free (PT) planting material of the local sweetpotato varieties like Waghi Besta, Goroka Gimani and Wanmun was also promoted. The PT planting materials can significantly increase the yield compared to the same variety grown from field derived planting materials
  • Two highlands rice varieties. These are early maturing, drought tolerant and can yield up to five t/ha.
  • Four cassava varieties which are drought tolerant, low in cyanide content and high yielding.
  • A highlands wheat variety.
  • Two NARI released Irish potato varieties and the local Kumdi variety. These varieties are high yielding with a yield potential of 30-40 t/ha of marketable yields using current recommended management practices. They are highly resistant to potato blight disease; and possess qualities that are suitable for post-harvest processing. Farmers were also introduced to Fresh Produce Development Agency’s Seed certification system and encouraged to source Irish potato seeds from certified farmers.
  • African yam which is drought tolerant and can be stored for a long period; of good eating quality; and is high yielding.

The climate-smart seed multiplication gardens were also used to facilitate on-farm farmer training demonstrations of best crop husbandry practices. These trainings captured techniques relating to soil moisture and fertility management processes; pest and disease control measures; and improved planting methods for all the introduced varieties.

Demonstrations on different soil management practices were a notable feature of the training programmes. One of these approaches focused on how locally available organic fertilizer options or resources such as coffee pulps, chicken manure and various legume plants could be treated and applied to enhance soil nutrient content, in gardens.

Farmers were also introduced to different hedge rows such as vetiver grass, pineapple and highland pitpit. Field demonstrations helped farmers to be made aware of the benefits of these options in terms of how they can contribute towards pest and disease control; soil management and socio-economic returns. Importantly, the farmers were able to understand that the introduced hedge rows options could be integrated with their local soil and water management practices, like the Simbu ‘Giul’ system.

Capacity building activities also covered aspects of on-farm value-chain processes. This was especially demonstrated in the stages of potato production. These included crop healing and mounding; methods of fertilizer application; harvest and post harvest processes; as well as methods and rates for recommended pest and disease control products (chemicals) namely; fungicide Eko 720 and insecticide Lamba. They were also cautioned about counterfeit products and how to differentiate them from genuine brands and suppliers.

The partnership between NARI and WCS has been fruitful. Planting materials of improved crop varieties have become easily accessible to members of the target communities. More households are continuing to receive planting materials from the multiplication gardens that are established in fields managed by partners such as lead farmers, community resource centres as well as relevant public and private sector agencies. The positive response and interest in the improved technologies among the target communities is encouraging. There is great potential for similar climate-smart agricultural interventions to be rolled out to enhance the resilience of vulnerable smallholder communities against extreme natural events and stresses, in years to come.