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Arid parts of Kenya could get more rain as climate shifts - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 8 Nov 2013 07:00 GMT
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Farmer Joshua Amolo Omolo keeps fast-maturing red Maasai sheep on his farm in Obinju, in Kenya's Nyakach District, as part of his efforts to adapt to climate change. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Geoffrey Kamadi
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NAIVASHA, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Dry areas of Kenya could gain additional rainfall as a result of shifting weather patterns, a report on climate change and food security says.

Drier region not normally associated with crop production, such as Kitui, Samburu and Isiolo, could begin seeing enough rain to transform them into maize growing regions, according to the report, contained in a new book from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and partner organisations.

The chapter on Kenya assesses how shifting weather patterns could alter farming and the country’s food security status between now and 2050.

According to this report, a number of regions in the country will become more suitable for the cultivation of Kenya’s staple crop of maize, even as some become less productive.

Besides dryer areas becoming wetter, regions that were too cold for maize production will become warm enough to encourage the cultivation of the crop, the report said.

The report relies on predictions using data from four different climate crop models and readings taken at over 6,000 locations across the country. What these models show, the study said, is that maize production in some regions could be boosted by more than 25 percent.

The findings suggest that some Kenyan farmers may not only survive but could even thrive in the face of climate change. However, more needs to be done to prepare the country for climatic variations, which can be hard to predict precisely, the report says.

“As long as we offer farmers the right services and policies now, and more options in what they grow and where they grow it, Kenya can make a major transformation in its ability to cope with the changing climate," said Timothy Thomas, a research fellow at IFPRI and co-author of the analysis.

THE DOWNSIDE

That’s not to say that climate shifts will have an overall positive effect on the country’s food growing prospects. One climate model suggests that maize production in parts of the Rift Valley and Coast provinces will drop by as much as 25 percent.

This could be a cause for alarm, especially considering that Kenya’s Rift Valley is one of the country’s most important bread baskets.

Michael Waithaka, a co-author of the report, said Kenya needs to be prepared for both positive and negative consequences of climate change.

“The science clearly shows us that big changes are likely to occur and we need to have a number of notions available so farmers can adapt to the new conditions they will encounter,” said Waithaka, who leads the policy analysis and advocacy programme at the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).

One way in which farmers can begin learning about adapting to unpredictable weather patterns in the future is through what are known as “Climate Smart Villages”.

CLIMATE-SMART VILLAGES

These are model villages established across East Africa. Villagers in these models are raising faster-maturing livestock, for instance, or cultivating drought-tolerant crops in place of maize as a way of coping with changes in the climate.

One of these villages was established in 2011, in Western Kenya’s Nyando Basin, a region said to be one of the country’s most food insecure and prone to droughts and floods.

Farmers at the village keep fast maturing breeds of Gala goats and Red Maasai sheep as well as improved breeds of indigenous chicken. They are also cultivating improved maize and sorghum varieties and other drought-tolerant crops in addition to adopting new ways of producing, treating and storing seeds on the farm.

The Climate Smart Village initiative is testing a range of crops, technologies and farming methods that are best suited for a particular community.

Those that prove effective could eventually be adopted by farmers throughout the country to boost overall food production in the face of more difficult growing conditions, experts say.

The CGIAR Consortium programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is working with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce sorghum, pigeon peas, cowpeas, green grams and sweet potatoes to supplement maize and other traditional staples as part of the initiatives.

“By supporting the creation of climate-smart villages we are building the capacity of these local communities to respond to climate variability and informing farm-level decisions,” said James Kinyangi,  the East Africa regional programme leader at CCAFS.

Kenya also aims to promote agroforestry and improved land management, and better water harvesting and efficient use of water to help improve the resilience of its agriculture to climate change, officials said.

Geoffrey Kamadi is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi. He has written widely on science and health issues for local newspapers as well as online publications.

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