Terrace farming in Kenya, also known as step farming, is a farming method that has been used for centuries in many parts of the world. It involves creating a series of flat areas on steep slopes, which are then used for crop cultivation. This method is particularly useful in areas where the terrain is hilly or mountainous, and where traditional farming methods are not feasible.
Kenya is a country that has a long history of terrace farming. The practice has been used for centuries in the country’s highlands, where farmers have created terraces on the slopes of hills and mountains to grow crops such as maize, beans, and potatoes. Terrace farming has helped to increase crop yields and prevent soil erosion, making it an essential part of the country’s agricultural landscape.
Despite its many benefits, terrace farming in Kenya faces a number of challenges. These include soil degradation, water scarcity, and the high cost of building and maintaining terraces. However, with the right support and investment, terrace farming has the potential to play a key role in improving food security and reducing poverty in the country.
History of Terrace Farming in Kenya
Terrace farming has a long history in Kenya, dating back to the pre-colonial era. The practice was widely used by the Kikuyu people, who built terraces on the hillsides to cultivate crops such as maize, beans, and sweet potatoes. The terraces were constructed using stones, which were piled up to create level platforms on the steep slopes. The Kikuyu also used the terraces for irrigation, diverting water from nearby streams and rivers to irrigate their crops.
During the colonial period, terrace farming was largely abandoned in favor of large-scale commercial agriculture. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, terrace farming experienced a resurgence in Kenya, as small-scale farmers began to adopt the practice as a way to increase their crop yields and improve soil conservation.
Today, terrace farming is widely practiced in Kenya, particularly in the highlands regions where the terrain is hilly and the soil is prone to erosion. The government has also promoted terrace farming as a way to reduce soil erosion and increase food security in the country.
Despite its long history and widespread use, terrace farming in Kenya faces a number of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the high cost of construction, which can be prohibitive for many small-scale farmers. In addition, terrace farming requires a significant amount of labor, which can be difficult to find in areas where there is high unemployment.
Benefits of Terrace Farming in Kenya
Terrace farming has become increasingly popular in Kenya due to its numerous benefits. Here are some of the advantages of terrace farming:
- Increased arable land: Terrace farming allows farmers to cultivate steep slopes and hilly areas that would otherwise be unusable for agriculture. This increases the amount of arable land available for farming in Kenya.
- Prevention of soil erosion: Terrace farming helps to prevent soil erosion by reducing the flow of water down slopes. The terraces act as barriers, slowing down the flow of water and allowing it to seep into the soil, thus reducing soil erosion.
- Improved water conservation: Terrace farming helps to conserve water by reducing runoff. The terraces act as mini-watersheds, capturing and holding rainwater, which can then be used for irrigation during dry spells.
- Increased crop yields: Terrace farming allows farmers to control the amount of water their crops receive, which can lead to increased crop yields. Additionally, the use of terraces helps to reduce soil compaction, which can also lead to increased crop yields.
- Reduced labor costs: Terrace farming can reduce labor costs as it requires less manual labor than traditional farming methods. Once the terraces are constructed, they can be maintained with minimal effort.
Overall, terrace farming in Kenya has numerous benefits that make it an attractive option for farmers. By increasing arable land, preventing soil erosion, improving water conservation, increasing crop yields, and reducing labor costs, terrace farming can help to improve the livelihoods of farmers in Kenya and contribute to food security in the country.
Challenges of Terrace Farming in Kenya
Terrace farming is a common practice in Kenya, particularly in the hilly and mountainous regions. However, this agricultural technique comes with its fair share of challenges that farmers must overcome to achieve successful yields. Below are some of the challenges of terrace farming in Kenya:
- Lack of quality land area for agriculture: The hilly and mountainous regions where terrace farming is common often have limited land suitable for agriculture. This means that farmers have to work with the land they have, which may not always be the most fertile or productive.
- Erosion and loss of soil fertility: Terrace farming involves creating steps on the slope of a hill or mountain to create flat areas for planting crops. However, this can lead to soil erosion and loss of soil fertility over time, especially if the terraces are not maintained properly.
- High labor requirements: Terrace farming requires a lot of manual labor, from building the terraces to planting and harvesting crops. This can be a challenge for farmers who may not have enough labor available or who cannot afford to hire additional workers.
- Water management: Proper water management is critical for successful terrace farming, as excess water can cause soil erosion and crop damage. However, managing water on steep slopes can be difficult and requires specialized knowledge and skills.
Despite these challenges, many farmers in Kenya continue to practice terrace farming due to its many benefits, including increased crop yields and soil conservation. By addressing these challenges and finding ways to overcome them, farmers can continue to reap the benefits of terrace farming and improve their livelihoods.
Successful Examples of Terrace Farming in Kenya
Kenya, like many other countries, has faced challenges in agriculture due to issues such as soil erosion, unpredictable rainfall patterns, and limited land for farming. However, terrace farming has proven to be an effective solution to these challenges, especially in areas with hilly terrain.
One successful example of terrace farming in Kenya is the Kiptunga Farmers’ Group in Bomet County. The group, which comprises over 30 farmers, has been practicing terrace farming for over a decade. They have been able to increase their crop yields and improve their livelihoods by using terraces to prevent soil erosion and increase water retention. The farmers grow a variety of crops, including maize, beans, and vegetables, on their terraced farms.
Another successful example of terrace farming in Kenya is the Mihuti Women’s Group in Meru County. The group, which was formed in 2015, has been using terraces to farm crops such as bananas, coffee, and beans. The group members have been able to increase their income and improve their food security by using terraces to prevent soil erosion and increase water retention. They have also been able to plant more crops on their limited land by using terraces.
In addition to these examples, there are many other successful terrace farming projects in Kenya, including the Kijabe Environment Volunteers in Kiambu County, the Kiptagich Farmers’ Group in Kericho County, and the Kathonzweni Farmers’ Group in Makueni County. These projects have all been able to improve crop yields, reduce soil erosion, and increase water retention by using terraces.
Overall, terrace farming has proven to be a successful solution to the challenges faced by farmers in Kenya. By preventing soil erosion and increasing water retention, terrace farming has helped farmers increase their crop yields and improve their livelihoods.
Future of Terrace Farming in Kenya
Terrace farming has been a traditional practice in Kenya for centuries, but it has become even more important in recent years as a way to adapt to the changing climate. With the increasing frequency of droughts and unpredictable rainfall, terrace farming has proven to be a sustainable and effective way of conserving soil moisture and preventing soil erosion.
The future of terrace farming in Kenya looks bright, as more and more farmers are adopting this method of farming. The government of Kenya has recognized the importance of terrace farming and has provided support to farmers through various initiatives. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries has established a National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) to promote sustainable agriculture practices, including terrace farming.
In addition to government support, terrace farming has also gained the attention of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations. For instance, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) has been promoting the use of agroforestry in terrace farming to improve soil fertility and increase crop yields.
One of the main benefits of terrace farming is that it allows farmers to cultivate crops on steep slopes that would otherwise be unsuitable for farming. This means that terrace farming can help to increase food production and reduce food insecurity in Kenya. Moreover, terrace farming can also provide additional benefits such as increased biodiversity and improved water quality.
However, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of terrace farming in Kenya. For instance, the cost of constructing and maintaining terraces can be high, which can be a barrier for small-scale farmers. Additionally, the lack of access to credit and markets can limit the potential of terrace farming to generate income for farmers.
Despite these challenges, terrace farming has a promising future in Kenya. With continued support from the government and other organizations, terrace farming can help to improve food security, protect the environment, and provide livelihoods for farmers in Kenya.
Also Read: Subsistence Farming In Kenya
Sources: Ruto, Alice C. Optimizing moisture and nutrient variability under different cropping patterns in terraced farms for improved crop performance in Narok County, Kenya. Diss. University of Nairobi, 2015. Link: http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/handle/11295/93430
Thomas, D. B., and E. K. Biamah. “Origin, application, and design of the fanya juu terrace.” Development of conservation farming on hillslopes. (1991): 185-194. Link: https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19911958012