Changing rainfall patterns could make desolate areas fertile, but could also decimate country’s maize-friendly regions
Higher rainfall due to climate change could decimate Kenya’s maize-friendly regions, while simultaneously making previously desolate areas more receptive to agriculture, reveals a new report.
Released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), the report advises farmers, which make up 75% of the country’s work force, and officials to put resources in place to take full advantage of this shift.
“As long as we offer farmers the right services and policies now, and more options in what they grow and where they grow it, Kenya can make a major transformation in its ability to cope with the changing climate,” said Timothy Thomas, a research fellow at IFPRI and co-author of the analysis.
“Climate predictions for Kenya’s most important crop, for example, tell us where maize farmers may need to shift to other crops, where they might need to introduce drought-resistant varieties, and even new areas where maize can grow.”
Predictions produced in the analysis of how climate change will affect farming in Kenya used data from four different climate models to assess the impact on crop yields at over 6,000 locations.
One revealed rising temperatures could make maize production impractical in parts of the Rift Valley Province and cause yields in Coast Province to fall as much as 25%.
Another offered a very different scenario: it showed growing conditions actually improving throughout the country, boosting maize yields everywhere
All showed rainfall increasing in certain arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, such as Kitui, Samburu and Isiolo counties, which would allow maize to be grown in places that previously have been too dry to support the crop.
Models showed that some areas in higher elevations, which may have been too cold for maize to thrive in the past, would be warm enough for maize to grow in the future.
“Despite the uncertainties, the science clearly shows us that big changes are likely to occur and we need to have a number of options available so farmers can adapt to the new conditions they will encounter,” said Michael Waithaka, a co-author of the report, who leads the policy analysis and advocacy programme at ASARECA.
“The best way to do that is to strengthen the agricultural research institutes, so they can develop new varieties and other innovations, and also support the extension services that are crucial to delivering new ideas and practices to farmers.”