Where’s the mulch?


Climate change is threatening rain-fed agriculture in a lot of poor places.

Two recent New York Times stories about droughts in India and Kenya suggest the scope of the problem.

I know nothing about farming in Kenya or India. But as a gardener, I look at the photos of parched, cracked fields with one thought: “Where’s the mulch?” It’s not an answer to months or years without rain, but it sure helps to keep soil from drying out.


  1. I do not know anything about farming either, but mulch works for me. My garden is at my weekend house 2 hours north of Toronto, where I live in a condo all week. I do not have an outside water tap there,why this is, I do not know, the house is 130 years old, surely I have not been the only one to want to water outside. Plus, I am not there to water on a regular basis anyway. I do mulch heavily, not only does this help keep the soil moist, it prevents (some) weeds as well. Mulch is easy to come by, you can use so many different things!

  2. My guess is the cost of mulch is extremely prohibitive in this regions and/or not available at all. I would think that it is out of reach of most farmers in areas that are struggling.

  3. I read those NYT articles as well and was at a loss as to a solution. But you’re right, in less severe situations mulch can be a great water saver. It’s worked for me in San Diego, where the summers are dry and windy.

  4. Sadly, agribusiness doesn’t support, encourage or educate the folks actually working the soil about good soil maintenance programs, like mulch, compost, crop rotation, etc… There’s not enough profit in education, you see.

    No, no, clearly the answer to falling crop yields isn’t to nurture the soil, no, no, that sounds like hippie psuedo science. We want the real science, the stuff that comes from a lab! Stuff you can charge for (after all, most mulches can be had for free.) Add this chemical to your soil, plant this GM crop, and don’t worry about things like soil health…

    This is one of the things that makes me want to scream. 🙁 And then it makes me go dig up another few feet of the yard for veggies.

  5. The problems facing those farmers are so far beyond more complicated than needing some mulch that this post comes off dismissive at best.

  6. Angelchrome-okay, I said I knew nothing about farming in India. But sorry, no mulch is just wrong in any situation in which you hope to grow a plant! And almost any organic matter will serve.

    Notice how green the weeds are in the photos of Indian fields. Not bred for coddling, unlike, say the Green Revolution varieties mentioned in story! So chop those weeds off, lay them on the field, plant some tough native crop varieties in between their corpses, and let’s see.

  7. angelchrome said it. I’d like to report this to the Department of Perspective. Did you even read these or simply jump to post about your agenda of climate change? In the face of suicides, kids walking 20 miles a day looking for water, shortages sparking already hot tribal tensions that easily lead to brutality, you ask for mulch?

  8. One drawback to using mulch is that many of our native bees create their homes in the ground. Mulching prohibits them from doing so and therefore keeps them from taking up residence in your yard where they can be a particularly beneficial insect. So to say that no mulch is wrong in any situation doesn’t take this fact into consideration.

  9. I’m a farmer and gardener. I mulch my gardens which cover maybe .2 of an acre. Where the heck am I going to get enough mulch for 1200 acres? Not just once, but every year. Farmers plant the crops close enough together so they canopy early, thus shading the soil which cuts down on evaporation.

  10. Not to be a smart a$$, but to have mulch you must have enough water ‘rain’ to produce vegetation to be used as mulch. Much of what the US and UK use as mulch would be consumed by poor farmers livestock or burned for heat and cooking.

  11. Maybe help for East Indian and African farmers affected by climate change lies in our backyards. Cutting back on our extravagant lifestyles, gas-guzzling cars, endless shopping, all the things that are polluting and affecting the atmosphere with reprecussions for other parts of the world.

  12. I also thought about the availability of anything to use for mulch, but wondered whether another answer might be no till farming. Planting among the debris of the previous year’s crop – if there was some kind of crop the previous year.

  13. I live in a town where nurseries mostly sell herbicides and pesticides aren’t so big with anything that might be useful for raising plants. Ironically, the big box stores are the only places that carry mulch, and they only carry it sometimes. I didn’t mulch last year; I couldn’t find mulch for love or money. I found some this year. But I’ve quickly reached the conclusion that if I’m going to mulch here, I have to grow my own. That doesn’t mesh with my goal of growing my family’s veggies in my small urban garden. I’ve been experimenting with underplanting with living mulches, but they aren’t a panacea. I’ve been saving plant matter that looks particularly promising for next year’s mulch instead of adding it to the compost pile. I believe that next year I’ll be able to mulch maybe a 20th of my garden with it. Some of it’s going to decompose, so I can’t assume that in 20 years I’ll have enough mulch for my entire garden, can I. I could halve my garden and grow cover crops and use them as mulch, but then I’d have to start buying vegetables. It’s something I’m seriously considering, but I’ve decided to wait a few years and see if the local culture changes enough to create enough demand for what I’d like to buy that someone will be willing to sell it. Cutting production is an option for me, but it’s not an option for a subsistence farmer. If middle class gardeners in certain verdant parts of North America can’t get their hands on mulch, where exactly do you imagine farmers in drought stricken areas are going to get mulch from?

  14. C’mon people. Open your eyes. The problem here isn’t mulch. It’s overpopulation. Failure (and even, yes, refusal) to adapt to a changing environment. Poverty. Ignorance. We see it all the time in nature, the weak perish. Why can’t we as humans accept the fact that we’re a part of nature? That sometimes not everyone is meant to survive?

  15. clearly you dont know much about farming in india. first, farms arent gardens. secondly, andhra pradesh(where the picture was taken) is the rice bowl of the south. rice needs transplanting..which means the fields will be flooded before paddy is transplanted…

    while i understand that you cant quite possibly know about farming in india, the last comment(by MiSchelle Carpenter) is downright disrespectful. and idiotic. an american single family home’s lawn/garden uses more water per day than the entire water consumption of an average family in rural india..and that includes water for bathing, cooking, drinking.

Comments are closed.