Friday, February 25, 2011

Farmers forced to adapt to climate change

As Bill McKibben points out in his book "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet" our planet has been forever changed. Now we will have to learn how to live on the transformed Earth and hope that we avert the worst-case climate change scenario wherein even adaptation is not an option. (GW)

Research helps farmers adapt to climate change

By Peter Mutai
February 25, 2011

Nairobi (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s smallholder farmers are taking steps to adapt to climate change, and key investments could help the country to reduce the threat to food security and economic development posed by increasingly variable and severe weather, according to new research published on Thursday.

The study led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says more than eight in 10 farm households say they have been struck by drought at least once in the past five years.

Agriculture generates about 26 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product and employs almost three-fourths of its labor force.

Because only 2 percent of cultivated area is equipped for irrigation, almost all farmers must rely on rain to grow their crops.

Unfortunately, Kenya will experience country-wide losses in the production of staple crops as predicted gains from increased rain in some locations are offset by increased temperatures and rainfall variability, according to the findings of “Adaptation of Smallholder Agriculture to Climate Change in Kenya,” a research project that is the subject of a Feb. 24-25 gathering of researchers and policymakers hosted by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI).

“Climate change has and will increasingly affect agricultural livelihoods and food security in Kenya, making adaptation essential,” said Barrack Okoba, national research coordinator for soil and water management at KARI.

“This research can support the development of better programs and policies to assist farmers in adapting to global warming.”

Drought is the key climate-related shock. Researchers expect the frequency to increase even more, possibly causing irreversible decreases in livestock numbers in some regions.

Researchers surveyed 710 farm households in seven sites spanning temperate, humid, arid, and semi-arid agroecological zones.

IFPRI, KARI, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the University of Georgia conducted the research in 2009 and 2010 with funding from the World Bank.

Of farmers surveyed, 88 percent said rainfall had decreased over the past 20 years and 94 percent said average temperatures had risen.

Of those who reported seeing these effects of climate change, 81 percent said they had taken adaptive measures.

The most common ones included changing crop variety (33 percent of respondents), changing planting dates (20 percent), and changing the crops cultivated (18 percent).

Households in temperate and humid project sites were far more likely to adapt to climate change than those in the arid site, where climate conditions are already harsh and strategies available for adaptation are limited.

Households with access to extension services, credit, off-farm sources of income, climate information, land, and irrigation were more likely to adapt.

“Our research shows that, through careful planning and sound investments, Kenya can ease the burden of climate change on poor rural households and succeed in fighting hunger and achieving prosperity,” said Claudia Ringler, senior research fellow at IFPRI.

Almost half of all farm households listed irrigation as the most desired adaptive measure, followed by planting trees (39 percent).

They identified the lack of money, credit, and access to water as major obstacles to improved adaptation.

Researchers have outlined a strategy in which government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all have roles to play in supporting adaptation.

For example, in the case of irrigation, government would create the enabling conditions (through governance of water use, basic investments including roads leading to and from irrigation systems, and extension) while the private sector would be involved in the design and construction of irrigation infrastructure and the extension of credit.

NGOs, the public sector, and businesses would further support adaptation through investments in complementary rural services such as education and health services.

Investments in education and technical training, in particular, provide opportunities for farm households to diversify their livelihoods outside of agriculture.

Researchers found that communities are working together to sink boreholes, construct earthen dams, and protect springs.

They recommended more such collective action, including sharing information about the effectiveness of different adaptive strategies, sharing seeds and other technologies, and collective income generation. In addition to enhancing resilience to climate change, many adaptation strategies also increase farm productivity and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change in the first place.

However, it appears that Kenyan farmers do not always recognize this. They are well aware of the connection between planting trees and climate change, for example, but less so about the mitigation and productivity potential of using a combination of fertilizer, manure and mulch.

Researchers recommended that decision makers promote this and other less well-known practices.


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