Agriculture / CCAFS / Climate Change / East Africa / Ethiopia / Food Security / Livelihoods / Report

East Africans are taking up new farming practices to cope with climate change—but change too risky for hungry households – Survey

Cross-bred dairy cow with farmers and milk producers union representative

Dairy farmers in Tanzania. Farmers in East Africa are embracing climate-resilient farming practices but food insecurity prevents many of them from doing more to cope with a changing climate (photo credit: ILRI/Nils Teufel).

Smallholder farmers across East Africa have started embracing climate-resilient farming approaches and technologies according to new research recently published by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). At the same time, high levels of food insecurity are preventing many of the farmers from making all the changes needed to cope with a changing climate.

The study—released one year after East Africa’s worst drought in 60 years hit its peak—is based on a survey of over 700 farming households in four East African countries carried out by CCAFS and is published in the May 2012 edition of the journal Food Security.

Researchers Wiebke Förch and Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are among the authors of the report.

According to the study, some of the climate-resilient approaches being used by smallholder farmers include changing the way they manage livestock by reducing the sizes of their herds. ‘Stall feeding and the practice of “cut and carry” animal feeding have also been taken up fairly widely in some places and changes in the types of animals being raised and in adopting new breeds are also happening,’ says the report.

Farmers have implemented several methods to improve productivity and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming: 34 per cent have reduced livestock herd sizes and 48 per cent are managing their resources better, for example by growing crops for animal feed. These changes can help farmers adjust to changing weather patterns; and better diets for ruminant livestock can also lower emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, per unit of meat and milk produced.

One-third of agropastoral households in Ethiopia and one-fifth in Tanzania are managing pasturelands better—through actions such as planting better forage varieties and fencing off grazing areas. According to researchers, these changes will be key to feeding livestock in a changing climate, as well as lowering greenhouse gas emissions, but few in Kenya and Uganda have adopted such practices.

According to the study, food insecurity is limiting farmer adaptation to climate change; farming households in all five study sites were confronting this issue as they faced food deficits on average for two months a year in Nyando, Kenya, and for more than half the year in Borana, Ethiopia.

‘Households struggling to feed their families throughout the year are not in a good position to invest in new practices that include higher costs and risks,’ said Patti Kristjanson of CCAFS, who co-led the study, ‘yet not adapting is certainly contributing to food insecurity. Food insecurity means lower adaptive capacity to deal with all kinds of change.’

This survey of African smallholder farmers is part of an effort by CCAFS to better understand levels of food security among smallholder households, what actions and adaptation strategies farmers have already been pursuing, what information they are getting and how they are using it, and what services they have been receiving.

‘CCAFS is interested in identifying and evaluating the trade-offs farmers face as they attempt to deal with risks from increasing climate variability. While warmer temperatures can in fact increase yields for some crops—particularly in the tropics—the overall implications of climate change for food security for families and the region as a whole are an immense concern,’ said James Kinyangi, the ILRI-based CCAFS’ regional program leader for East Africa.

Read the complete press release on the CCAFS website: Landmark survey finds adaptation to climate change on smallholder farms taking root, 7 Sep 2012.

Read the full report: Are food insecure smallholder households making changes in their farming practices? Evidence from East Africa, published in Food Security: Volume 4, Number 3 (2012), 381–397, DOI: 10.1007/s12571-012-0194-z

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