In recent years, many countries across the world have witnessed reduced crop yields occasioned by the prevailing effects of climate change.
High temperatures and depressed rains are no longer a tale in many countries, especially in Africa where agriculture is highly dependent.
In Kenya for instance, agriculture contributes approximately 33 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs more than 40 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the rural population.
The sector is also the main driver of the non-agricultural economy including manufacturing, providing inputs and markets for non-agricultural operations such as building/construction, transportation, tourism, education, and other social services.
Despite the key role the sector plays, studies show that the sector is extremely vulnerable to climate change. This is currently being witnessed as farmers grapple with the effects of climate change in the form of increasing temperatures, extreme, weather events as well as invasive crops and pests.
As a result, millions of shillings have been lost due to reduced crop yields and livestock production.
Causes of Climate Change
According to a United Nations (UN) report, fossil fuels-coal, oil, and gas are the biggest contributors to climate change, accounting for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and close to 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.
These emissions trap the sun’s heat leading to global warming which is a risk to human beings and other forms of life on Earth.
Even though agriculture is the top sector affected by climate change, it is also a player in climate shocks. A report by the World Bank indicates that the agricultural sector currently generates 19-29 percent of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, warning that this could rise further if no action is taken. Moreover, 1/3 of food produced globally is either lost or wasted.
Climate change is affecting water availability making it scarcer in many regions, especially in the Arid and Semi-arid areas (ASALs). These areas are the worst hit, with the country suffering a 70 percent drop in crop production.
Problems related to water scarcity and poor regeneration of pastures and limited water availability for livestock are expected to increase in these areas. Farmers will have no choice but to go the extra mile in protecting their livestock from death as a result of hunger.
This is as livestock deaths continue to rise in the country. The ministry of agriculture reported that 1.5 million livestock died between January and March this year, as a result of drought. Farmers lost 253,000 cattle, 43 camels, and 1.21 million goats and sheep with most cases reported being in arid and semi-arid areas where livestock farming is the economic mainstay. This includes Garissa, Turkana, Wajir, Marsabit, Mandera, Isiolo, and Tana river counties.
The government is now looking to embrace measures that will help mitigate livestock deaths as a result of the effects of drought. Some of them include the growing of hay and fodder to reduce reliance on commercial feeds as well as the drilling of boreholes, construction of water pans, and massive livestock vaccination.
Given that over 95 percent of Kenya’s agriculture is rain-fed, the country has suffered food insecurity as a result of failed rains. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says the number of people suffering from food insecurity in Kenya is 4.1 million noting that it will increase to 4.35 million by October 2022.
In 2020, the widespread flooding damaged cropland and increased post-harvest losses. Also, desert locust infestations destroyed about 175,000 hectares of crops and pastureland. This affected the livelihoods of nearly 164,000 households, pushing Kenya to depend on imported food to bridge the deficit.
The government has also rolled out measures to promote food production during drought periods. Some of them include irrigation schemes as well as the construction of dams. The government is also advising farmers to plant crops that will survive the effects of drought. Some of these crops include millet, sorghum, cowpea, pigeon pea, and green grams.
What Farmers Need to Do
To mitigate the effects of climate change, farmers, with the help of the government need to embrace the use of innovative farming ways to ensure enhanced production. Some technological ways such as the use of drones can help farmers map their fields and identify areas that need attention.
Cloud seeding is also helping countries alleviate the effects of drought. This type of weather modification involves the use of an aircraft to spray chemicals into clouds, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. This in turn changes the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds in form of rain.
This method has been used in various countries including China Australia, India, and South Africa among others. Some countries use this technology to lower temperatures, clear pollution as well as create artificial rains.
The development of Drought Monitoring Systems (DMS) is also helping countries mitigate drought. This tool is assisting policymakers to implement appropriate drought-response strategies and ensure millions of farmers have sufficient food.
Such innovations are highly essential considering agriculture is a significant source of livelihood and income for many Kenyan households.
Farmers should also aim at planting drought-resistant crops to ensure enhanced food production. Millet, sorghum, cowpeas, pigeon peas, cassava, and green grams are said to have the potential of improving the nutrition status of 100,000 households by over 25 percent. These crops are proven to provide an assured harvest even in bad years.
However, adoption of these crop varieties has been low on the back of inadequate foundation seed, lack of seed systems, and undeveloped value chains. This can be revived if farmers use ways such as social media to market their products and connect with buyers.