John Riveraby

Joel Kieti Mwangangi is an 88-year-old farmer who will have little to harvest this spring.

In the villages around Kambu in eastern Kenya, farmers look to the heavens with brows furrowed with concern.

April marks the shorter of two rainy seasons that are critical to these farmers who depend on these showers to water their crops in one of the driest regions in Kenya. There are white, puffy clouds in the sky, but no rain is falling. The ground where they will sow their seed in the coming weeks is dry and dusty.

Ripping their fields

I recently spent a week with my colleague, Carol Erickson, visiting these farmers and meeting with farmer groups in eastern Kenya. Despite the harsh conditions the farmers we met were proud of what they have accomplished and optimistic about the future. The members of our partner organization, a coalition of 54 farmer groups called Muungano Nguvu Yetu, were particularly eager to show us a farming technique called “ripping” that has dramatically increased their farm production.

Ripping is done by a tractor-towed plow that digs a foot-deep furrow, allowing seed to germinate in soil that retains much more moisture, even in dry conditions, that allow for great harvests during a good rainy season, and at least some production when rains fail. The plow is made up of a first blade that cuts existing vegetation, a second vertical blade that cuts deeply into the soil and breaks up the soil hard pan, and a third blade that breaks up clods of dirt. The space between the troughs is undisturbed, helping to keep soil undisturbed and reduce erosion, and channeling water into the troughs.

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