After decades of dependence on donations and food aid, East Kenyan native Sophia Mwende Mutua discovered how to embrace tough climatic conditions by growing drought-resistant crops for commercial and domestic consumption.
“Eastern Kenya is a dry land area,” Mutua said. “At times, we can go three years without any signs of rainfall. Yet, the only way to survive when faced with these circumstances can only be through food aid distributed by humanitarian organisations and agencies,” said the mother of five.
She added, “We work at a community level through an organization known as Mbuvo Commercial Village, which has a membership of 560 farmers drawn from 20 self help groups.”
Mutua earns her living through cassava farming in the Katuluni region, growing around 680 stems on her farm. Cassava, also called yuca, is a root plant rich in carbohydrates and is a major source of food in developing countries. It feeds around 500 million people worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The idea to grow cassava for food security was introduced and popularised by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), through a European Union (EU) funded project called Kenya Arid and Semi Arid Land (KASAL) management.
Before the crop was introduced, researchers from KARI sampled the soil, identified nine cassava varieties and acquired the seed from the samples.
John Wambua, KARI’s Principal Investigator said, “All the varieties are drought tolerant, high yielding and fast growing.”
The Mbuvi group started producing cassava flour on a large scale, which they then package and distribute to various market outlets.
“This has saved us from hunger caused by the perennial droughts. Last year, none of our members went for the food aid,” said Mutua.
KARI, which began in Makueni County, is a perfect example of how organizations can use research to solve the main cause of problems associated with climate change.
“Climate is no longer a new phenomenon. We can observe the trends, and predict when the situation is going to worsen just by looking at the related historical background,” said Michael Arunga, the regional Emergency Communications Advisor for World Vision International – Africa office.
Like the KASAL project, World Vision has launched an initiative called “Securing the Future,” which aims to help address lasting solutions to perennial droughts.
Arguna said, “Although food aid is important as an emergency intervention, development partners must begin addressing the root causes of the cyclical droughts in adaptation, instead of focusing on symptoms of the problem, and running away once the problem gets resolved.”
Because he has a background in emergency aid, Arunga said he can easily predict that approximately every two years, a relief campaign will be launched within the Horn of Africa to help save thousands of starving Africans, including women and children.
“Within the East Africa region, I have witnessed World Vision launch relief campaigns that have saved millions of starving vulnerable people in 1999-2000, 2005-2006, 2008-2009, now 2011-2012, and the sequence continues,” he observed. “That is the reason why we need a long term solution.”
West Africa follows a similar trend. From 2010 to 2011, there was a severe food crisis in Niger and thousands were in search of food. This year, the world’s attention is drawn to the Sahelian food crisis affecting Niger and Mali, rendering millions ‘food insecure.’
In addition, there is evidence that the southern Africa region bears destructive floods every two years. Rivers overflow their banks and flooding incapacitates agricultural efforts. The season is followed by prolonged droughts that exacerbate the suffering.
These are some problems negotiators at the UN Climate Change Forums addressed in the hope of protecting African nations from looming disasters.
Many organizations are making strides in coming up with programs to address climate change issues.
The government of Kenya developed its first National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) to put in place thorough adaptation and mitigation measures to minimize disaster risks and maximize results. The strategy is meant to enhance Kenya’s participation in global climate change forums such as the Conference of Parties (COP) negotiations.
Kenya has long been a member of the Cartagena Dialogue, a forum that brings together about 40 countries willing to work towards the same plan of action during top international negotiation platforms.