Kenya launches biodiversity and climate change strategy

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Kenya has launched a five-year strategy to integrate the conservation of genetic resources into national climate change adaptation planning and strategies.
The national strategy on genetic resources within the context of climate change for 2016-2021 was launched last month (27 January).

“Biodiversity is a valuable asset, which if appropriately leveraged, will provide most solutions to impacts of climate change and other social hardships.”Eliud Kireger, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation

Eliud Kireger, director-general of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), one of the institutions involved in implementing the strategy, told participants at the launch: “The project interrogates causes and impacts of climate change and loss of biodiversity in the country and proposes necessary coping mechanisms and action plans for effective conservation and sustainable utilisation of genetic resources.”

The project is being coordinated by Genetic Resources Research Institute (GeRRI) — an organisation created by KALRO and the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestockand Fisheries — in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme.

Kireger explained that climate change has resulted in increased variability and intensity of drought and floods, higher temperatures, loss of biodiversity and increased incidents of pests and diseases.

According to Kireger, climate change is already affecting the production of and access to food for different social groups, rendering domestic agriculture less effective in meeting nutrition and food security needs.

“Biodiversity is a valuable asset, which if appropriately leveraged, will provide most solutions to impacts of climate change and other social hardships,” said Kireger, adding that the project’s partners are still looking for funding and proposing the idea to investigators.

Willy Bett, the cabinet secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, said that resources such as  diversity in plants, animals, insects and aquatic plants constitute a rich national heritage that need to be conserved and harnessed to sustain human livelihoods in terms of food, shelter, medicines and environmental health.

Bett added that seeds of crops such as finger millet, Bambara nut and wild lettuce could be preserved, thus increasing their cultural and genetic diversity to counter economic monopoly.

“The basis and source for the development of quality seed or planting materials are the genetic resources or germplasm, which are maintained for the purpose of breeding, preservation and other research uses,” he explained.

Bett explained that genetic resources may take the form of seed collections stored in seed banks, trees growing in nurseries or animal breeding lines maintained in gene banks.

Desterio Nyamongo, the director of GeRRI, called for the development of partnerships among institutions to raise awareness of genetic resources conservation and use, as well as investment in the strategy.

“Lack of a comprehensive biodiversity conservation facility for animal, microbial and aquatic genetic resources compromises germplasm security,” Nyamongo said.

Ruth Vaughan, technical manager at Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services (CROPNUTS), East Africa’s leading accredited agricultural laboratory and agronomy services company, applauds the strategy and tells SciDev.Net that biodiversity, plant cover and mixed farming systems should be studied and enhanced.

Vaughan says susceptible plant species should be stored and protected. “Suitability for different plants in different climatic zones will obviously change with climate change.

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“Kenya is in a sensitive zone, where some areas will receive enhanced rainfall and much more importantly bigger storms. Anything that will help drainage, water storage or reduce erosion is highly important to stop flooding and water source contamination,” says Vaughan.

Noting that soil health is important in the recycling of nutrients and building up of soil carbon to reduce climate change effects, Vaughan adds: “Micorrhiza is one such soil organism that I believe would go a long way to reducing the impact of climate change.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk

Kenyan farmer wins award for platform that tackles climate change

Boniface Akuku, 46, is firmly walking the agro-tech path.

He is a farmer, an information technology PhD student at the University of Cape Town, a climate change activist and an entrepreneur.

He is also this year’s winner of the Climate Information Award, funded by UKAid and that carries with it a Sh1.5 million cash award.

Mr Akuku was recognised for his innovative virtual platform, Pawa-Farm, that provides weather advisory services for small-scale farmers. Its mission is to help farmers handle climate risks, such as prolonged droughts or floods.

“Climate bodies like the Kenya Meteorological Department gather and provide weather and climate . The problem is that farmers do not know how to handle this data,” Akuku said.

“Pawa-Farm takes this information, processes it and advises farmers on, for example, when there will be drought or too much rain. The platform also advises them on what to plant in order to minimise losses.”

To benefit from Pawa-Farm, a farmer must have access to an Internet-enabled device or a mobile phone to get SMS alerts.

The platform is a social enterprise, so it does not make profits. Farmers are currently accessing the service for free.

Pawa-Farm is already being used by 5,000 farmers in Makueni. Akuku intends to scale it up to other counties soon.

Environmental conditions

“The whole concept has proven very simple and useful. Farmers register the environmental conditions they live in and the farming activities they undertake. However, those with smartphones don’t need to register this information since their locations are easily accessed through GPS,” Akuku said.

“They then get alerts about impending weather conditions and recommendations on what they should plant.”

Akuku came up with the idea after growing tired of not getting the full benefits of farming, since the rains did not fall when expected, and he lacked sufficient information on drought projections.

After suffering numerous losses, he embarked on an academic journey to gain knowledge on climate change. He said a system like Pawa-Farm back then would have helped him make informed decisions about what to plant, saving him the losses he suffered.

“People have been depending on chance and luck to farm for long, and this has led to below optimal productivity,” he said.

“Climate change is such a dangerous thing since, according to the World Meteorological Organisation’s 2011 report, by 2050, global warming will have increased by 0.4 per cent. Compare this with the fact that since the world began until now, global warming has increased by a meagre 0.2 per cent.”

This means that in the next 35 years, global warming will occur at the same rate it has since the beginning of the world, Akuku added.

Kenya is already witnessing the effects of extreme weather conditions. Last year, crop production dipped due to drought and unfavourable weather patterns.

A bill on climate change has been tabled in Parliament that calls for the creation of a National Climate Change Council. The council will, among other things, co-ordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies. It will also make these available to the public.

Akuku is one of the lobbyists for the law.

“ICT is an enabler and driver of innovation, which drives the economy. Virtual platforms like Pawa-Farm will also change the way climate change information is handled and help combat its threats.”

lmukunga@standardmedia.co.ke