Why climate change matters in Kenya: This figure shows the close relationship between drought events and GDP growth in Kenya over two decades (figure by IFPRI 2006).
As a prolonged drought bites harder in northern Kenya and other regions of the Horn of Africa, it may be useful to review a report on a ‘Kenya Smallholder Climate Change Adaptation’ project, published in October 2010, which gives an overview of Kenya’s climate variability and change and the impacts of both on the country’s agriculture.
The project was conducted by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Food Policy Research Institute and funded by the World Bank and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
ILRI agricultural systems analyst Mario Herrero is the lead author of a note on the project, some of the main findings of which are summarized below.
- With agriculture accounting for about 26 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 75 percent of its jobs, the Kenyan economy is highly sensitive to variations in rainfall.
- Arid and semi-arid areas, which comprise 80 per cent of Kenya’s total land area, are prone to floods despite their low levels of rainfall (between 300 and 500 millimeters annually).
- Kenya experiences major droughts every decade and minor ones every three to four years.
- The negative effects of these droughts are spreading among the increasingly dense population and fragile arid and semi-arid lands.
- Intensification and transition to mixed agro-pastoralist systems are increasingly marginalizing Kenya’s nomadic and pastoralist systems.
- Rainfed agriculture is, and will remain, the dominant source of staple food production and the livelihood foundation of most of the rural poor in Kenya.
- We need to better understand and cope with Kenya’s existing climate variability.
- We need to plan for future climate variability on this continent: Climate model simulations under a range of possible greenhouse gas emission scenarios suggest that the median temperature increase for Africa is 3–4°C by the end of the 21st century, which is roughly 1.5 times the global mean response.
Rising monthly means of temperatures in Kenya from 1907 to 1998 in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem (graphic by ILRI’s Joseph Ogutu, 2001).
- Predictions about future levels of precipitation in Kenya are complicated both because precipitation in the country is highly variable across space and time and because we have few data available for analysis, but some total annual precipitation projections for Kenya suggest increases by about 0.2 to 0.4 per cent per year.
- Although the projected increases in rainfall might appear to be good news for Kenya’s arid and semi-arid districts, increased evapo-transpiration due to rising temperatures means few if any increases in the length of growing periods and rangeland or crop productivity.
- Extreme rainfall events are likely to become more intense over much of northern East Africa.
- An increase in climate variability in Kenya, leading to more than one drought every five years, is likely to cause significant and irreversible decreases in livestock numbers in the country’s arid and semi-arid lands, with severe impacts on pastoralists whose food security and livelihood depend solely on livestock.
- Climate change will likely lead to increased food imports by Kenya, which will dampen demand for food, as the affordability of nearly all agricultural commodities—including basic staples and livestock products—declines, leading to increases in malnutrition, especially of young children in the country’s highly vulnerable arid and semi-arid lands.
- As a result of climate change, Kenya could see significant areas where cropping is no longer possible and the role of livestock as a livelihood option increases.
Read the whole note: Climate Variability and Climate Change: Impacts on Kenyan Agriculture, Note on a Kenya Smallholder Climate Adaptation Project, by Mario Herrero, Claudia Ringler, Jeannette van de Steeg, Philip Thornton, Tingju Zhu, Elizabeth Bryan, Abisalom Omolo, Jawoo Koo and An Notenbaert, October 2010.