Climate Change And Its Effects On Food Prices In Kenya: A Holistic Approach To Alleviating The Crisis

It can be difficult to see how climate change can impact something like a price tag. When money is a concept designed for trade, the connection between it and tangible, global weather circumstances can be hard to see.

Rapidly, the economic climate in Kenya is making this link more visible than ever. Due to severe drought and lack of sufficient rainfall, thousands of small farms have diminished crop production. Only a few lucky-seeming lands are still able to produce, and due to limited supplies, are forced to hike prices to satisfy their own income needs.

As is often the case, those at the bottom of the economic chain are marginalized by this situation. Families with less growth and less income are feeling the reality of climate change’s impact on the cost of food. Changes in land use can also lead to conflict, as competition for resources increases.

One fifth of Kenya’s population is already considered “food insecure” by the UN, and a distinct number are marked “under-nourished,” which is further escalating alongside dilapidated rainfall. In some cases, however, excess rainfall can even cause damage to crops.

But there is a way out, one that doesn’t cost the earth and doesn’t involve dispute, fighting, or war. In one case study by Tim McDonnell for the National Geographic, Kenyan farmer Purity Gacaga has made her farm into the envy of the barren Nairobi road she resides on.

She started with a tip-off from some local agroforestry advisers and is now happily surrounded by fruitful avocado trees, a towering macadamia and plentiful shrubs of Calliandra Calothyrsus. The latter is a miracle for natural soil fertilization and crop growth. It takes around 5-6 months to grow from seed which is fantastic news for the urgency of the situation.

Trees, known as “the future of agriculture” by Derek Garrity for the World Agroforestry Centre, are ideal for providing shade for soil and crops, thus preventing the land from drying out. Whilst trees can take up to 30 years to grow to a sufficient height, in the meantime solutions lie in shrubs like Calliandra, and more input from outer sources.

In the western world, the U.S produces far higher yields of maize per square metre than most places in Africa. However, this isn’t just because of the climate. Western farmers for decades have had greater access to good quality fertilizers, successful seeds, and all-importantly: the internet. At the touch of a button information available in a handheld device.

The internet may not be the direct solution to the problem of food security in Kenya, but what Purity’s farm demonstrates is that with knowledge comes power and greater achievement. African farmers can no longer rely on generational advice passed down from years before; the climate is changing, and with it so must practices.

The crisis is urgent for sub-Saharan Africa, “One extreme event can drive people into poverty almost instantly,” said Calestous Juan, an African agriculture expert at Harvard University. With agriculture as Africa’s biggest industry, it is crucial that farmers are safeguarded against diverse weather conditions.

Studies and predictions suggest that yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by 50% by 2020, and for those who rely on the weather for watering crops, this is fatal. Despite this, there are many simple solutions to irrigation such as via systemic re-feeding of waste water into crop fields. During rainy seasons, the government can also play a part by encouraging intensive rainwater harvesting and liaising further with farmers to help them adapt to climate change options they may be unaware of.

Further to the government’s role in assisting the crisis, the Foresight Report concluded that international policy has an important part to play – today, despite plentiful supplies of food globally, almost 1/7 of the population are undernourished. Another paper researching climate change and food security in Kenya “recommends strengthening policies on mitigation against, and adaptation to, climate change.”

Although the population of sub-Saharan Africa is set to double by 2050, the aforementioned study also states the benefits of population density on food security: high population = high crop productivity. With only ⅓ of arid land in Kenya being utilized for crop growing, there’s plenty of room for a rise in successful production with the right tools and some strong advice.