East Africa – Adaptations

Methodology to Examine Adaptations to Climate Change

Several approaches were followed to examine what farmers are already doing, and what agronomic practices might be useful to reduce the negative effects of climate change. Focus group and key informant interviews were conducted in multiple sites in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to to identify the impact of climate change and variability on the communities, how the impacts affect men and women, and households of different wealth categories differently, and lastly how people were adapting or coping with the changes. Crop modeling was also conducted to identify the potential benefits of nitrogen fertilizer and drought resistant maize variety to reduce the effects of climate change (only the fertilizer results illustrated here).

This section will first present results from the crop modeling, and then results from the community fieldwork.

Crop Modeling Results

The basic questions being examined are, “Is fertilizer an effective adaptive strategy for coping with climate change? Where and where not?”  To answer these questions, we conducted sensitivity experiments to see how maize productivity would be affected by management practices under current and projected climate conditions (Alagarswamy et al. 2013). Two of the adaptation practices we considered are 1) short-season or drought-resistant maize varieties, and 2) better management practices, especially fertilizer application, to reduce the plant’s susceptibility (the so-called no regrets option; this is what is illustrated here).

We modeled maize under three nitrogen fertilizer application rates (a low rate of 5 kg/ha which reflects many small-holders’ practices, a moderate level of 35 kg/ha, and a higher level of 85 kg/ha) for each of the climate scenarios.

Figure 8 compares maize yield using three fertilizer levels under rain-fed, current climate conditions. The yield increases are large with relatively modest additional fertilizer across the region except in semi-arid and arid regions (e.g., northern Kenya). This result would point towards fertilizer potentially being a strong “no regrets” option for climate change.

Figure 8. Simulated yield of Katumani composite maize with 3 nitrogen fertilizer applications (5 kg/ha, 35kg/ha and 85 kg/ha), current climate (WorldClim). Brown indicates low yield, and purple indicates a higher yield.

We then tested the potential effectiveness of fertilizer as an adaptation strategy by comparing the change in yields of the low (Figure 9) and moderate (Figure 10) fertilizer levels under projected climate change. The results are that projected climate change would lead to larger yield losses with moderate fertilizer than for low fertilizer levels (i.e., Figure 10 shows higher losses, more red, than Figure 9). This is the case across most of the region, especially in Uganda and Tanzania.

Figure 9.
Figure 10.

This counter-intuitive finding is explained by the fact that when nutrient levels are not restricting yields, water often becomes the critical limiting factor. The projected future climate of warmer temperatures and declining or no change in precipitation, so additional water stress, would thus have a larger negative effect on plants with fewer nutrient limitations. On the other hand, where precipitation is projected to increase such as in northern Kenya, yields would increase more under higher fertilizer levels. Similarly, the cool Highlands show additional yield increases with the higher fertilizer levels because the projected warmer temperatures and sufficient precipitation would permit the crop to thrive.

Our conclusion is that the adoption of short duration varieties and the application of fertilizer themselves are unlikely to be a sufficient coping strategy against climate change for most of East Africa. The climate of most of the region is getting warmer and drier, and water stress will increasingly limit production (Alagarswamy 2013).

Community Results

Crop farming is the main livelihood strategies in all communities in the study areas and main crops grown include  maize, beans, rice, sunflower, groundnuts, pigeon pea, sorghum, finger millet, sesame, sweet potato, bananas and cassava. Livestock keeping  is the second  economic activity, with cattle, goats, chicken, pigs, sheep, and donkeys. Unreliable rainfall is the major problem facing farming activities. A major impact is less available water, which is critical for all aspects of their livelihood. Another critical impact of climate change and the unpredictable nature of rainfall and dry spells is that they are not sure of their harvest, and harvest failures are more frequent.  Although farmers have noticed the changes occurring in their area, they say that they often have few alternatives or knowledge on how to adapt and cope.

Since the production of maize and other crops has decreased due to climate change, many farmers who used to grow local varieties are now seeking more adaptable varieties (for example, of maize, bananas, and beans) and some are switching crops to more drought tolerant sweet potatoes and yams. Coffee has been particularly affected by climate change, causing it to weaken and be affected by pests and diseases. Some coffee farmers are planting other crops, such as maize and cabbages, in their coffee fields, and others are abandoning coffee altogether.

Farmers are also trying to adapt to the unpredictable start of the rainy season by experimenting: planting early or late, placing the seeds in deeper holes, planting seeds in stages, or planting different varieties (short and long duration maize, for example) in the same field.  When possible, farmers are investing in irrigation, which is becoming more common and is leading to competition over water resources.  In short, farmers are attempting to reduce their risk but often at the expense of production or income.

Each community has different socio-economic adaptation approaches depending on their environment, farming system, culture and experiences with the impact of climate change. Table 1 from Uganda provides examples of the varied strategies that people are trying, from coping with smaller harvests and less food, to diversifying into non-farm income sources.

Adaptation Strategies in Different Farming Systems, Uganda

Adaptation Strategies in Farming Systems Nakaseke District Masaka District Lyantonde District

Crop Farming System

Women do not delegate their role of serving food in order to ensure equity in food allocation to family members, put food onto individual plates;One main meal taken in a day
Prioritization and deliberate cuts in expenditures
They resort to eating maize flour bought from the shops
Women engage in making handcrafts, and practice barter trade when they exchange crafts for food. In bad droughts, increased involvement of men in household provisioning, men seek casual labour.
Farmers start planting at the first onset of the first rains, so prepare land quickly; use more herbicides

Mixed Crop-Livestock Farming System

Men buy dry food rations food, such as maize flour
Redefine gender roles in tough drought seasons (housework is shared, men fetch water and firewood on their bicycles or motorcycles, men cook while women sell handcrafts in the weekly markets)
Selling off animals (cattle for men and small ruminants for women)

Livestock Farming System

Buy water from the river Kafu and fill the dams
Buy food and reduce the number of meals taken in a day
Sell off property (men sell cattle while women sell their small livestock such as goats, chickens and pigs)
Increased cohesion in family labour (women engage in grazing animals on top of their usual chores)
Diversification of livelihood resources by growing food crops such as maize, beans, cassava and bananas

Table 2 Source: Mukasa 2015.


Alagarswamy, Gopal, Jennifer Olson, Jeff Andresen, Nathan Moore, Philip Thornton, Pius Yanda, Joseph Maitima, Jenni Gronseth, David Campbell (2015). The Highly Variable Response of Maize Yield to Climate Change across East Africa. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4240.5921  Poster presented at the: 5th AgMIP Global Workshop, Gainesville FL, February 25, 2015. http://www.agmip.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Alagarswamy-Gopal.pdf

Ecodym Africa. 2012. Climate Change and Smallholders Farmers in Mbeere, Embu and Meru, Kenya: Understanding Farmers’ Perceptions and Adaptations to Climate Change and Variability. Report submitted by Ecodym Africa, LTD. to Michigan State University for Rockefeller Foundation Grant 2009CLI234.

Ecodym Africa. 2015. Report on Focus Group discussions in Meru, Machakos and Usin Gishu Counties, Kenya: Addressing the Impact of Climate Change on Agricultural Systems. Report submitted by Ecodym Africa, LTD. to Michigan State University for USAID Associate Award AIDOAA-LA-11-00010 under Food Security III, CDG-A-00-02-00021-00.

Majule, Amos. 2012. Addressing the Impact of Climate Change on Agricultural Systems in semi arid, Tanzania.  Report prepared by the Institue for Resource Assessment, University of Dar es Salaam for Rockefeller Foundation Grant 2009CLI234.

Mukasa, Beatrice. 2015. Final Report for Climate Land Interaction Project (CLIP)- AFRII Uganda Activities: Climate Change Impacts to Farming Communities and Coping Strategies. Report prepared by the African Innovations Institute (AfrII) for Rockefeller Foundation Grant 2009CLI234.