Research on the effects of climate change on agricultural productivity and food security in Kenya shows that the country can be a leader in adaptation to a warmer climate.
Kenya is very vulnerable to climate fluctuations, according to the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2013-2017, which lays out a roadmap for adaptation.
The April to September 2014 Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS NET) indicate that while the March to May long rains are “expected to be normal to below normal in terms of total amount,” they have “been poor and erratic in their timing and coverage” and “characterized by uneven spatial distribution especially in the arid and semi-arid areas…
“Between July and September, food security will decline, driven by the gradual increase in maize prices as supply tightens,” the FEWS NET assessment notes.
In Baringo County, MP William Cheptumo called on the government “to put in place measures to deal with the looming food shortage”, and claimed that thousands of people in the county were facing starvation.
The agriculture sector accounts for 75 percent of Kenya’s labour force, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and “uncertainty posted by climate change is affecting development and livelihood options,” NCCAP noted.
It also places a financial burden on the country’s resources. The government has already set aside Ksh600 million (US$6.8 million) in emergency funds for drought-stricken areas for the duration of this dry spell, according to Devolution Principal Secretary John Konchellah.
But IFPRI, in a report released in September 2013, said climate change could open up greater opportunities for agriculture and result in a shift in Kenya’s cereal production, with regions previously not viable for growing these crops becoming more conducive.
Experts say solutions exist, but government systems need to be mobilized into action, and farmers communicated with.
“Policymakers at both the national and county governments need to move with speed to harness the opportunity, while those that are likely to suffer, [need] to review their policies and strategies to accommodate the impending reality,” Evans Kituyi, senior programme specialist for climate change at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC - part of Canada’s foreign aid programme), told IRIN by phone.
“One option would be to help farmers migrate to new maize-friendly areas. And another one is to help farmers find better crops to grow in their current locations,” said Michael Waithaka, a co-author of the report and a leader in the Policy Analysis and Advocacy Program at (ASARECA).
Communicating vital information about the climate to farmers is also crucial. In pastoralist communities, where livestock have died during droughts, the government is providing information about grazing systems and livestock diversification. Farmers are holding lower stocks, and taking out insurance to mitigate against shocks.
“Such policies should, for instance, ensure people have access to micro-credit facilities. We must ensure there are safety net mechanisms that cushion agriculture against the negative impacts of climate change,” said James Kinyangi, regional programme leader for East Africa of the research programme Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), told IRIN.
While researchers have developed innovations such as drought-resistant crops to help farmers, experts stress the need for constant innovation.
“Production of drought-resistant crops is fundamentally viable and ought to be strengthened. Even if we were to develop a new solution today, it may not be sustainable for 100 years. Researchers need to continuously come up with solutions that solve present and future problems,” said Kituyi.
Governments in the region have been establishing “Climate Smart Villages”, supported by CCAFS. In Kenya the villages were established in 2011 in the western Nyando Basin region, and farm faster-maturing goats, disease-resistant sheep and chickens and improved cassava that is resistant to a deadly virus in the region.
“Given that the international negotiations to mitigate the effect of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions are basically at a standstill, Kenya’s leadership in adaptation planning is particularly important,” Kinyangi told IRIN.
“Still in reactive mode”
Analysts warn that still not enough is being done to counter climate change. According to a World Bank report released in June 2013 Turn down the heat, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius worldwide would jeopardize food security and economic growth across Africa.
By 2080, annual precipitation might decrease by 30 percent in Southern Africa, while East Africa will experience more rainfall. Drought and aridity across Africa could lead to farmers losing 40-80 percent of their croplands used to grow maize, millet and sorghum, by 2040.
“Many countries including Kenya are still in reactive mode, where responsible institutions wait for a calamity to strike, then rush to look for solutions - usually well-documented and tried options,” said Kituyi. “The country has, over the years, gone through frequent tragedies such as flooding, severe drought and hunger, but no lasting solutions have been developed,” he added.
“Policymakers need to use documented research findings and regular early warnings from the Kenya Metrological Departments to proactively address the circumstances,” he said.