The steadily changing climate patterns are causing Kenyan farmers to grow drought-resistant crops. | Photo taken from Daily Nation
Rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall patterns, and various climate shocks - such as floods and droughts - are just some of the increasingly frequent symptoms Kenya is facing due to climate change. This has become a major threat to crop yields, leaving the agricultural sector one of the most impacted, and by extension, their nation’s sense of food security. Climate change is said to be the leading cause for Kenya’s changing rainfall patterns - research shows over time that as the rainfall has reduced, the temperature has also steadily increased.
“Historically, it is normal to experience variability of weather,” said Mr. Bernard Chanzu, the acting deputy director of Kenya Meteorological Department in an interview with the Daily Nation, “some years you get good weather, others you don’t. This is usually a possibility but the frequency with which these inconsistencies are happening is a hallmark of climate change”.
According to Chanzu, these changes not only have effects on East Africa but in many ways throughout the world, “which is associated with the global atmosphere where precipitation patterns are being moved in new directions by climatic changes”.
Poor rains have interfered with the regular planting cycle and reduced pasture in pastoral areas. The ‘long rains’ season, which typically runs from March to May, is the most important for agricultural production, but most particularly for the western, Rift Valley and central regions, which many consider Kenya’s breadbasket. Some regions of Kenya have experienced crop failure for more than three rainy seasons in a row. More than a million people in pasture and pastoral areas are fighting for survival due to food and nutrition deficits, coupled with increasing production costs. According to the latest Famine Early Warning System Network (Fews) at least 2.6 million people are experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity. Unless sustainable action is taken, production will continue to dwindle, unemployment rates will rise, and hunger will continue to be a major issue if Kenya becomes further food insecure.
Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the workforce and about 25 percent of Kenya’s annual GDP. It is evident that Kenya’s economy relies so heavily on rain-fed agriculture, which is why the agriculture sector is looking towards new proactive innovations.
Kenyan farmers are accustomed to growing rainfed agriculture, which accounts for 98 percent of the agricultural output. Unfortunately, research is clearly pointing to a decrease in rainfall patterns over time. Private and public stakeholders are looking for long-term solutions that can work against frequent cycles of drought and other worrying present and future trends.
“There is a need for sustained innovation in areas like drought-resistant varieties of seeds, environment-friendly farming practices and better post-harvest management to reduce on losses,” says Dr. John Recha, a research scientist at Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Programme.
The Netherlands Development Organization (SVN) has invested €39 million (Sh4.4 billion) in a project known as Climate Smart Agriculture - East Africa (CSA-EA). This 5-year project helps Kenya, and additionally Tanzania and Uganda, to entrench climate-smart agriculture. SVN continues to encourage public and private stakeholders to give more attention to research and knowledge-sharing on how to incorporate technology in farming and a variety of crops to invest in.
About 75 percent of Kenya’s working population consists of small-scale farmers dispersed across the 47 counties, yet the implementation of climate-smart agriculture is often limited to large-scale farmers. According to the SVN project manager for Kenya, Joseph Muhwanga, “knowledge dissemination to small-scale farmers for implementation at farm level and climate proofing agricultural value chains will be critical”. Most private and public stakeholders agree that smallholder farmers are the key in delivering food security, at any measure.
Professor Pascal Kaumbutho of Agrimech Africa Limited, who spends a lot of time with farmers in rural areas training them about the benefits of mechanization, urged SVN participants to incorporate technology in their farming to boost yields. In an interview with Citizen Reporter and Daily Nation he noted: “with potatoes, for example, 48 people will take a whole day to harvest on a one-acre farm manually while a harvester will take barely two hours on the same piece of land”. He also encouraged farmers to invest in irrigation instead of relying on the rainy seasons that are expected to continuously dwindle year by year.
Cooperative Societies also play a beneficial role in the work towards food security in a climate that continues to change against the country’s benefit. Working in groups can collectively increase the farmers’ bargaining power and ability to order inputs in bulk, which in turn would lower the cost of expenses while increasing their chances of accessing markets at better prices.
Nina Plummer is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on malnutrition, early childhood development, and learning outcomes.