The Effect of Climate Change on Agriculture in East Africa

 

In this white paper David Marcelis, Project Leader & Researcher at AgroCares, and Florent Mournetas, Project Manager & Trainer at AgroCares, highlight the impact of climate change on agriculture focusing on farmers in East Africa in particular. The white paper discussed how farmers can adapt to climate change and the importance of access to reliable weather forecasts in this process. This white paper also outlines the CROPMON project (Crop Monitoring Service) that aims to provide Kenyan farmers with information (including weather forecast) and help them make improved farm management decisions during the growing season.


What are the impacts of climate change in East Africa?

The consequences of climate change are numerous and can be observed all over the world. Main indicators of climate change include stronger variation of climate conditions, higher risk of biodiversity loss and acidification of oceans. Agriculture relies strongly on weather conditions and we see an increased variability of indicators such as rainfall and temperature in several parts of the world. It has been highlighted for East Africa by the paper written by Schreck & Semazz (see figure) and this phenomenon directly impacts farmers. For example, it is more and more difficult for farmers in East Africa to forecast the beginning of the rainy season. If grains are sowed too much ahead of the first rains, only a few will come up. In this case, impacts on yields are tremendous. Farmers facing soil degradation especially suffer from these consequences.

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The link between soil degradation and climate change

It is difficult to identify a direct causality between climate change and soil degradation. However, a farmer with degraded soils is more vulnerable to climate change. One of the common consequences of soil degradation is the decrease of the water holding capacity of the soil. The water holding capacity is the ability of a soil to store water and make it available for plants. It is crucial for farmers to have soils with sufficient water holding capacity to benefit from rainfall, especially in the context of growing rainfall variability. As previously explained, rainfall variability increases due to climate change. Therefore, soil degradation together with climate change increases the vulnerability of farmers. This is a concerning issue in East Africa.

Is climate change a stronger phenomenon in East Africa?

It is difficult to identify a direct causality between climate change and soil degradation. However, a farmer with degraded soils is more vulnerable to climate change. One of the common consequences of soil degradation is the decrease of the water holding capacity of the soil. The water holding capacity is the ability of a soil to store water and make it available for plants. It is crucial for farmers to have soils with sufficient water holding capacity to benefit from rainfall, especially in the context of growing rainfall variability. As previously explained, rainfall variability increases due to climate change. Therefore, soil degradation together with climate change increases the vulnerability of farmers. This is a concerning issue in East Africa.

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How to adapt to climate change?

There are two paths for East African farmers to cope with climate change. One solution is to become less dependent on the weather. Rainfed cropping systems are only successful with a sufficient and adapted water input from rain. Because natural rainfalls become less and less reliable, one solution to decrease risks is to transform rainfed cropping systems into irrigated or greenhouse cropping systems. However, in many cases water availability and access to capital are not sufficient to make such transformations. The other path is to have a better insight of the variations of the climate. It is more and more difficult for farmers in East Africa to forecast the beginning of the rainy season. It can have an enormous negative impact on yields. Farmers need access to reliable weather forecasts.

Access to weather information

The most important source of information Kenyan farmers use is their own experience. However, this experience is challenged by increasing weather variability. They need access to reliable weather information. AgroCares has been working on providing farmers with a weekly weather forecast within the CROPMON Project. Read the whole white paper to learn more about the CROPMON project and the effect of climate change on agriculture. 

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