The driving factors for the demand for food are the changing diets and a growing global population. Production sectors are struggling to ensure this is met as we continue to witness the deterioration of ocean health, levelling off of crop yields while natural resources; including water, soils and biodiversity become immensely utilized.
This challenge is intensified by agriculture’s extreme vulnerability to climate change. In Kenya, the negative impacts of climate change are being felt. From increasing temperatures, shifting systems of agroecosystems, and weather variability to more frequent extreme weather events and invasive crops and pests. In many regions, water used for food production is becoming scarce due to the increased drought and its continuous use. Land competition intensifies as certain areas become climatically unsuitable for production. All these contribute towards food insecurity while staple food prices rise as climate change mitigation efforts increase energy prices. The increased food prices have forced number of Kenyans into poverty.
The problem is also working in reverse as the wider food production system and agriculture is major sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a result, many regions experience extreme heat waves. Heat stress in animals results in lower fertility and productivity. Moreover, it negatively impacts their immune system making them prone to diseases. In plants, periods of high temperature are harmful during the flowering stage. Pollination is critical in most crops, warmer temperatures affect when pollinators such as bees, and butterflies come out and the blooming process. If there is a mismatch between the emergence of pollinators and when the plant flower, pollination could decrease.
While some regions suffer drought, others experience the opposing issue of heavy precipitation causing floods that harm crops by eroding the soil and depleting soil nutrients. In highland areas, heavy rains have contributed to agricultural run-offs into lakes, streams, and oceans harming the water quality. In addition, climate change brings about warming water temperatures which lead to oxygen depletion levels in water bodies; hypoxia, killing different species of fish. In return, this affects the ability to find other habitats and food sources for societies that depend on these ecosystems. In coastal areas of Kenya, the rising sea levels pose threats such as loss of agricultural land, erosion, and salt intrusion contaminating water supplies in the nearby communities. For agricultural production to occur, manual labor is needed. Agricultural workers face many climate-related health risks, including, exposure to heat and other extreme weather, degraded air quality, and more expanded exposure to disease-carrying pests e.g. mosquitos and ticks.
Climate change has increased the threat of wildfires posing major risks to grasslands. Over time, it destroys the organic matter that makes the soil fertile causing a decrease in yields and increasing the need for costly fertilizers.
We can reduce the impact of climate change on agriculture in various ways, including:
Adopting nutrient management techniques by strategically applying fertilizers and manure in the proper amounts at the right time of the year, using the right methods. Ranchers and farmers can install fences along streams and rivers restricting access from animals to prevent excess nutrients from entering the water. Planting buffers in form of shrubs and grasses prevent nutrient loss from fields by absorbing them before they reach a water body.
Engaging in projects that aim to boost livestock farmers’ resilience by improving animal health and production efficiency while decreasing emissions intensity. Not only should the stakeholders conduct improvements in feeding strategies, breeding, manure, and waste management but also in low-emission technologies for preservation and transport activities. In terms of pests, develop a project that provides support for farm management approaches that enhance the resilience of landscapes and farms.
Distributing improved drought-tolerant seeds, instilling knowledge on efficient irrigation and conservation agriculture techniques to pastoralists and farmers in arid and semi-arid areas. Incorporate smart agricultural practices such as drip irrigation that promote efficient water use for hectares of land and integration of new technologies to improve soil conditions boosting the production of staple food. Moreover, investing in ways to strengthen climate-smart agricultural research in reducing pesticide use and improving pollination. Also, supporting agrometeorological, climate, market, and advisory services.
Adopting circular economy initiatives where the methane emitted from livestock manure and paddy rice fields in bacteria form is collected, composted, and used to produce biogas used as an energy source in the farmer’s homes. A win for both ends; reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adoption of renewable energy especially in rural areas.
Advocating banks and financial institutions to support sustainable agricultural production by financing projects and establishing an Agricultural Information and Decision Support System that encourages, and equips farmers with knowledge of how to make their farms climate-smart by improving the capacity of soil management and energy efficiency. Marketing efficiency and environmental sustainability of agri-food value chains while increasing economic inclusion among Kenyan youth will strengthen climate resilience in availability, access, utilization, and stability dimensions.