15 October 2012

East Africa: Farmers Turn to Climate Coping Strategies

Nairobi — Smallholder farmers in East Africa are embracing farming techniques and technologies that will help them cope with climate change, say researchers.

Research conducted in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by the the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) found that farmers have taken up strategies aimed at improving crop production.

CGIAR researchers conducted a survey of 700 households in the four countries in 2010-2011 and found that 55 per cent of the households had taken up at least one crop that had a shorter growing cycle.

Fifty-six per cent grew at least one drought-tolerant variety that could survive periods of heat and water scarcity. Some households had also picked up agroforestry, intercropping and crop rotation practices.

In livestock management, the researchers found that 34 per cent of households had reduced their herd sizes and 48 per cent are specifically growing crops for animal feed, rather than feeding them on existing crops.

James Kinyangi, CCAFS' regional program leader for East Africa and a co-author of the study, told SciDev.Net that this was a baseline study and sites will be revisited to see how practices change over time

Kinyangi said that other indicators looked at included: the level of food security, household assets, diversity in agricultural production and sales, adaptation and innovation mechanisms, and farming practices that mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers highlighted food insecurity as a main factor in preventing farmers from making changes to their practices and said that the changes had been made were not lasting solutions to farming concerns.

"The changes made by households tend to be marginal, rather than transformational. For example, the lack of uptake of well-tested and widely-disseminated soil, water and land management practices is cause for concern," said Kinyangi.

But William Ndegwa, Kitui County director of the Kenya Metrological Department, told SciDev.Net that some farmers might not be embracing changes because of an unpredictable climate.

Ndegwa said rainfall is the most important climatic parameter and its high variability across seasons and years, and across regions and territories, is the main source of risk.

CCAFS hopes that the study will provide policymakers with evidence on the types of investments needed to help farming families deal with the changing climate.

The research was published in Food Security in May.

Link to full paper in Food Security

Food Security doi: 10.1007/s12571-012-0194-z (2012)

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