Life was pleasant back in the late 80s when we ate roasted maize and freshly harvested boiled beans every August and December. I still eat roasted maize today, but the experience is different from my childhood. I grew up in the western parts of Kenya to parents who were small-scale maize and bean farmers. The rains were adequate and on time. By the second week of March, farms were already planted for the first rainy season. In August, we planted in anticipation of the short rains. We never heard about hunger or starvation back then. In late 1997 and early 1998, El Niño hit Kenya and seriously affected food production and distribution networks. The floods caused extensive damage to food crops, and large numbers of livestock died. It was the beginning of the evidence of the effects of climate change. Over the years, Kenya has experienced more El Niños and severe droughts. Lives have been lost, tons of food crops destroyed and infrastructure damaged. The ASAL regions of Northern Kenya are facing a historical four-year drought, moving hundreds of thousands below the poverty line and children starving to death.
Seven years ago, global leaders met in Paris and signed the landmark Paris Agreement (PA), focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and providing financial assistance to developing countries affected by climate change. Countries developed their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), expressing their current and future efforts to reduce national emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. Today, the headlines speak for themselves – sadly, global inaction is leading us to a catastrophic future.
Climate change is real and present. It is a gigantic global challenge and even worse for developing countries like Kenya, whose economy is largely dependent on rainfed agriculture. Climate projections indicate that recurrent droughts and floods will likely be worsened by increasing temperatures, heavy and intense rains, and rising sea levels. These challenges threaten food security and water availability, especially for the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs), which make up 89% of Kenya. Critical commodities like tea and coffee are already being affected by climate change, and productivity is already declining. In a study conducted by CIAT, some tea-growing regions in Kenya will become unsuitable for tea, and production areas will shrink by up to 40 % by the year 2050 due to climate change. Staples food such as maize is attacked by new and invasive worms (Fall Army Worm), which can cause up to 100% crop loss.
The agriculture sector is vital to Kenya's economy, contributing 33% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The sector employs approximately 40% of the population and 70% of Kenya’s rural people. Small-scale farmers predominantly make up the sector, averaging between 0.25 acres to 3 acres, accounting for about 70% of the total agricultural production and meeting 75% of the national food demand. Small-scale farmers are unable to grow their farming operations and improve the quality of products when they continuously face climate change challenges.
As the population increases, the demand for food is growing, and urban and rural consumers depend on small–scale farmers to supply agricultural commodities. However, farm production costs are increasing due to climate-related risks, and lending institutions shy away from lending to primary producers because of the risks associated with agriculture. Farmers are therefore finding it hard to reinvest in their farms. For Kenya to become food secure, it will require the new Government to include and act on climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in its agenda. The Climate Change Act of 2016 is an excellent step toward tackling climate-related risks.
The Government should collaborate with adaptation and mitigation organizations to develop and execute action plans for the implementation of adaptation strategies in different agricultural value chains and regions in Kenya. Identifying potential diversification strategies should also be considered to enhance farmer incomes. The Government should also ensure increased lending to the sector, enable access to markets and information, and improve farming infrastructure. Policies that support and protect organizations that are helping address some of these challenges that farmers face, must be considered.
We at ADAPTA continue to develop solutions using the latest science, technology, and climate-smart approaches for adaptation in agriculture. We stand well-positioned to participate with the new Government in its mandate to tackle the climate crisis and develop public-private partnerships that work for this important sector. There is enough talk that now must be put into correct practice and reality. Kenya has the potential to become the first climate-smart agriculture country globally. We did it with Mpesa. Why can't we do it with agriculture?