How diversity can strengthen farmers' resilience in the face of climate change

OFC 2024

This blog summarises the 2024 Conference session on how diversity, globally and locally, is shaping productive farming and changing lives.

Dr Diana Onyango works with FarmAfrica, based in Nairobi, Kenya and opened with discussing the challenges they face with underperforming agriculture, degrading natural resources and poor market access.  FarmAfrica consequently works in agriculture, environment and market engagement.

Firstly, they are helping diversify smallholder farming with regenerative agriculture via crop rotation, intercropping, crop diversity. Working on livestock diversity, both in mixed farming and breed diversity, alongside developing agroforestry and biodiversity through tree planting, increasing the use of beneficial insects and pollinators.

Beyond the farmgate their approach includes market diversification to help farmers develop diverse income streams and improve market access and with environmental conservation they focus on ecosystem services and water management.

FarmAfrica has a strong gender and social inclusion programme based on gender-responsive design. Examples include helping youth and women coffee farmers  in Uganda, empowering  Tanzanian women sunflower farmers and supporting women adapt to climate change in Ethiopia. In summary delivering diversity in smallholder farming practices, crops, livestock, income sources and knowledge sharing networks.

Next up local farmer Andy Cato from Wildfarmed took delegates on his route to including diversity in his crops and farming.

He considered how to bring diversity into existing systems, by Maintaining diverse plant populations for as long as possible.

“I became obsessed with not ploughing up, but realised planting a grass into another grass didn’t work, but diversity did work,” Andy said.

Taking the classic three sisters seed blend of maize, beans and squashes, which performed better and has done for indigenous populations worldwide for millennia.

He found different crops delivered different rooting depths to encourage ‘spongier’ soils to handle rain fall events and harvest nutrients. In practice he mixed beans, rapeseed and oats with the limespreader and harrowed this mix in. To produce a successful crop.

Wild farmers  have about 90 growers and 20 customers “using The power of plant diversity in cropping systems.”

The take home from Andy was “Diversity is nature's organising principle”.