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Climate change research, capacity building in Kenya face challenges

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 13 Dec 2013 12:30 AM
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A resources centre for the pastoralist Maasai community, in Isinya, near Nairobi, in Kenya. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Justus Wanzala

NAIROBI, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Facing erratic rainfall and frequent dry spells that are affecting crop and livestock production and leading to food insecurity, Kenya, like many countries in Africa, is anxious to take measures to cope with the effects of climate change.

But experts say that although some promising initiatives are under way, the country currently lacks the resources and expertise to undertake substantive research for effective climate adaptation and mitigation.

The challenges facing the country due to climate change are enormous and wide ranging, which makes it hard to bring together the right people and define a research agenda, said Alice Oluoko-Odingo, a lecturer at the department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi.

“People in the energy sector may not be aware of what is happening in the water sector, yet they need water for hydroelectricity generation, while the agriculture sector requires it for irrigation, thus the need for coordination,” she said.

Oluoko-Odingo points out that there is insufficient Kenyan financing for climate change research, noting that many climate researchers rely on external support.

“Without research funds, a country can’t develop new technologies, hence (it) lags behind in adaptation and mitigation,” she said. She added that some institutions are organising climate change training without having their curricula validated by the relevant authorities, which may compromise the quality of the training.

“Some people merely undergo theoretical training on climate change without any field work experience (and) they thus end up with inadequate skills,” she said.

However, Oluoko-Odingo noted that efforts are being made at both continental and regional levels to support climate change research and to build the capacity to implement coping strategies.

These include the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development, a weather and climate centre, and the Climate for Development in Africa Programme coordinated by the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC).

Oluoko-Odingo urged the inclusion of women in climate research and training. ACPC has trained over 300 women scientists and farmers in the Horn of Africa on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Although farmers cannot be classified as experts, she said, it is important that women – who are often responsible for feeding their households, especially in rural areas – gain the skills to safeguard their livelihoods by increasing food production and conserving water.

Lucy Kamande of the Department of Environment’s Climate Change Secretariat says the government is taking steps to build capacity in the area of climate change.

“The problem of lack of capacity is being addressed through intraministerial coordination. For instance, personnel from the ministry of energy, transport and those involved in waste management have been receiving training on curbing emissions from harmful gases such as carbon,” she said.

Kamande noted that the major handicap affecting climate research in Kenya is poor funding.

Richard Samson Odingo, a climatologist and lecturer in the geography of agriculture at the University of Nairobi, says the Kenya National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation should commit more funds to climate change research.

“The country has a vision to industralise by 2030, yet the policymakers appear to have a blurred vision of how climate change could undermine (it),” he stated.

The challenges of climate change research and capacity-building are a problem across Africa, according to Benjamin Gyampoh, a programme officer at the Nairobi-based African Academy of Sciences.

Gyampoh said that Kenya, like other African countries, has a weak understanding of climate change research, with gaps in observation systems and inconsistent data collection.

He also cited lack of finance and of a collective research agenda on climate change, along with inadequate observation, vulnerability assessments and mitigation and adaptation measures as factors that have a negative impact on climate change research and capacity-building in Kenya and other African countries.

According to Gyampoh, policymakers, development planners, farmers and people in sectors such as health need timely, reliable, and easily understood climate information, hence the importance of enhanced research on climate issues in countries like Kenya.

“Africa contributed less than two percent in research on climate change in 1990s,” he said, adding that the continent experiences poor uptake of climate research findings in part because experts fail to simplify the information.

He lauded regional efforts that are taking shape on the continent, such as the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development, which provides weather and climate information.

Gyampoh’s own organisation runs the Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) programme, a $7.9 million, five-year initiative supported by the UK Department for International Development to increase the number of African researchers on climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gyampoh said indigenous knowledge should not be ignored by researchers. African communities, he argued, face a challenge due to the fast rate of environmental change against the slow rate at which their practices evolve.

Still, “modern techniques and practices have everything to learn from traditional practices,” he said.

Cecilia Mueni Kioko, a programme officer at the Kenya Climate Change Working Group – a national climate change network composed of 270 agencies – said Kenya needs increased investment in research to inform capacity-building and development, as well as the introduction of climate change in school curricula to foster environmental stewardship.

“Climate change is an emerging and dynamic issue,” said Kioko. “The Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute, for example is the focal point for generation of technologies. However, uptake and utilisation is slow,” she said.

Justus Bahati Wanzala is a writer based in Nairobi.

 

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