Smallholder farmer James Tsuma shows off some of the vegetables he has planted in his small garden in Zimbabwe's Mangwe district. AP

From ancient fertilizer methods in Zimbabwe to new greenhouse technology in Somalia, farmers on the African continent, which relies heavily on agriculture, are looking to the past and the future to respond to climate change.

Africa, which has the world's youngest population, faces the worst effects of global warming but contributes the least to the problem. Farmers are scrambling to ensure that a burgeoning population is fed.

Some experts say Africa, which accounts for more than 60% of the world's uncultivated land, should be self-sufficient. But three out of four people on the continent can't afford a healthy diet, according to a report last year from the African Union and United Nations agencies. Reasons include conflict and lack of investment.

In Zimbabwe, where El Niño has exacerbated drought conditions, smallholder farmer James Tuma has lost hope of ever harvesting anything from his fields. It's a familiar story in many parts of the country, where governments have declared a $2 billion state of emergency and millions of people face hunger.

But in the small garden that Tuma, 65, grows with homemade organic fertilizer and manure, green vegetables are thriving. Items that were previously discarded have become valuable again.

“Before chemicals and inorganic fertilizers were introduced, this is how our fathers and ancestors fed the earth and themselves,” Tuma said.

He applies biodegradable items such as livestock dung, grass, plant residue, small animal carcasses, tree leaves and bark, food scraps, and paper. Even the bones of animals, whose mortality is on the rise due to drought, are burned before being crushed and reduced to ash to obtain calcium.

Wander Ngezimana, associate professor of crop science at Zimbabwe's Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, said climate change is exacerbating many of sub-Saharan Africa's long-standing problems of declining soil fertility.

“This combination not only forces people to reconsider how things were done in the past, such as recycling nutrients, but also merges these with modern methods.” said Ngezimana, whose institute is researching a combination of traditional methods and new technologies.

In addition to being rich in nitrogen, organic fertilizers help increase the soil's carbon and water holding capacity, Ngezimana said. “Even if farmers put synthetic fertilizers into the soil, they are likely to be affected by water shortages as long as the drought continues,” he said.

Other transitions to traditional practices are also underway. Drought-tolerant millet, sorghum, and legumes, which were staples until the early 20th century when they were replaced by the invasive white corn, have begun to occupy more land in recent years.

Once a staple in cooking before being discarded as a weed, the leaves of a drought-tolerant plant are making a comeback on our plates. Like millet and sorghum, it can be found on the shelves of high-end supermarkets and served in upscale restaurants.

This could create a market for the crop beyond drought years, Ngezimana said.

Somalia's greenhouse revolution

In Somalia, conflict-prone East Africa, greenhouses are changing the way some people live, with shoppers filling carts with locally grown vegetables and putting pressure on traditionally nomadic herders to settle down and grow crops. exposed to

“It's organic, fresh and healthy,” said Sukhdi Hassan, a shopper in the capital Mogadishu. “It gives me peace of mind knowing that something was made on a local farm.”

Her new shopping experience points to relative calm after three decades of conflict and climate change caused by droughts and floods.

Urban customers currently produce fruit and vegetables in over 250 greenhouses across Mogadishu and its suburbs, ensuring a year-round supply. That's a big leap.

Mohamed Barre, Somalia's Minister of Youth and Sports, said: “In the past, even basic vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes were imported, creating logistical problems and increasing expenses.”

Greenhouses also create jobs in a country where around 75% of the population is under 30 and many are unemployed.

About 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the capital, agriculture graduate Mohamed Mahdi inspected produce at the greenhouse where he works.

“Given the high unemployment rate, we are grateful for the opportunity to work in our chosen profession,” the 25-year-old said.

Meanwhile, some pastoralists are being forced to change their traditional practices as they watch thousands of their livestock die.

“The transition to greenhouse farming will provide pastoralists with a more resilient and sustainable livelihood option,” said Mohamed Okash, director of the Climate and Environment Institute at SIMAD University in Mogadishu.

He called for greater investment in smart agriculture to combat food insecurity.

Kenya's more resilient beans

In Kenya, new climate-adapted bean varieties are offering hope to farmers in an area that has recorded reduced rainfall for six consecutive wet seasons.

The variety, known as Nyota or Star in Swahili, is the result of a collaboration between scientists from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization, the International Alliance for Biodiversity and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

New bean varieties are tailored to Kenya's diverse climatic conditions. One focus is to ensure they don't die out due to drought before they can thrive.

David Karanja, Carlo's bean breeder and national grains and pulses coordinator, says this variety of beans blooms and matures very quickly and is ready for harvest by the time the rains subside.

These varieties are expected to strengthen domestic bean production. According to Karanja, annual production of 600,000 tonnes falls short of annual demand of 755,000 tonnes.

Farmer Benson Gitonga said new bean varieties are increasing yields and profits. From one acre of land he harvested 9 to 12 bags and so far he harvested from 5 to 7 bags.

Another advantage of this breed is that it breathes fresh air.

“Customers appreciate its quality, especially as it has low flatulence levels, making it an attractive option,” Gitonga said.

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