Climate risks profiling vital in managing risks in agriculture

Even with climate science, it is difficult to see into the future. However, it doesn’t take much to see that climate change is not an abstract problem of the future but is part and parcel of us today. Even worse, we might be right at the eye of the storm.

While the effects of climate change have been stealth and almost imperceptible, it is the locust plague of biblical proportions and the worrying rise of water levels in Rift valley lakes that makes it clear that we are dancing on the horns of dilemma. Curiously, it is the above than normal rainfall connected to climate change that is responsible for both phenomena.

From the droughts that are now longer and more pervasive, to rains that are shorter, erratic and insufficient, to the floods that have caused untold destruction and loss of lives, it could not be any clearer that climate risks are getting more obvious and inevitable. In fact, the country is already paying a heavy price.

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Currently, an estimated 1.4 million people in the country are reportedly facing hunger and starvation as a result of the below normal performance of the short rains at the tail end of last year. Besides, it is estimated that the difficult to control locusts that ravaged menacingly through crop fields affected the food supply and livelihoods of 2.5 million people. All in all, every year, climate change effects in the country are directly responsible for a socio-economic loss of approximately 3-5 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Climate sensitive sector

As extreme weather and climate risks become increasingly common, it is imperative and potentially life-saving to have the tools and information necessary for responsive, proactive and robust policymaking, and planning. Just like preventive medicine is for health, is scientific evidence that aids in short-term planning and long-term forecasting for a climate sensitive sector such as agriculture.

Unfortunately, the agriculture sector has been in reactive rather than proactive mode. Policies and investments have failed to maintain the pace of climate impacts already being experienced in this salient sector. To exemplify this, the ND-GAIN index ranks Kenya as the 31st most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change and in contrast, the 37th least ready country to combat these effects.It is therefore of utmost importance for the country to have the information and evidence necessary to connect the dots between the risks posed by climate change as well as the best bets of policy and funding interventions to deal with these risks. It is for this reason that climate risk profiling in Kenya’s agriculture sector can be game changer and a novel knowledge and information product such as a climate risk profile in the hands of a policymaker or a parliamentarian can be such a transformative tool.

Let’s look at few reasons why.

In a departure from the past, agriculture is now a devolved function meaning that county governments are the bedrock of planning, funding and implementation of agriculture flagships. However, the county decision makers may at times have some specific capacity gaps in understanding the multiple and interacting risks that can compound the agriculture sector in their respective counties. Yet, given the extent of uncertainties in understanding how different systems and crops are likely to be affected by climate change, there is need for county policymakers to draft localised adaptation plans. As such, climate science could be pivotal in filling the evidence and information gaps needed by the devolved governments.

Taking a cue from the County Climate Risk Profiles developed by the CGIAR program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), climate risk profiling can be vital in illuminating the key risks and impacts posed by climate change and the battery of specific interventions that could cushion farmers against the current and projected future climate impacts. Moreover, climate risk profiling has also shown potential to guide the judicious implementation of climate smart agriculture and in casting light on investment opportunities for improving agriculture resilience in counties.

The imperative to build climate resilience – the capacity of communities and economies to cope and adapt to ongoing and likely future changes—is greater than ever before. It is important to not only understand the issues involved, but to also have the up-to-date information on the constantly evolving view of the situation. Hopefully, climate risk profiling can play an important role in finding solutions for two of Kenya’s and the globe’s biggest problems — food insecurity and climate change.

The CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives have developed County Climate Risk Profiles for all Kenyan counties excluding Nairobi and Mombasa.

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