Researchers at EfD-Kenya have found new evidence that nutritional poverty is linked with climate change and variability. ‘In Kenya and other African countries, a majority of farmers depend on rainfall that is increasingly unpredictable,’ said Dr Richard Mulwa, Senior Research Associate at EfD-Kenya and one of the lead investigators in the study. ‘Also, increasing temperature reduces food production. Therefore, it is critical for these farmers to change their farming practices in response to climate change’.
What is novel about this research is that it focuses on production of calories. ‘Each kilogram of farm-produced foods has a certain content of calories,’ said Dr Jane Mariara, Director of EfD-Kenya and the other lead researcher. ‘The calorie potentials of different crops produced on the farm vary greatly, with some, like beans, providing few calories per kilogram, while others, like sunflower, provide high levels of calories.’ If some or all members of a household consume less than the calorie uptake recommended to maintain body weight – for instance, 2,700 calories a day for a grown man – the household was counted as nutritionally poor in this study.
The supply of calories depends on how households access food, which may be either purchased or produced on the farm. The second option is more likely in subsistence agriculture households in most developing countries, the researchers explained. Compromised food production has affected household calorie production, which has in turn reduced nutritional availability in the household. In some households, this reduced availability in nutrition has reached critical levels, where the dietary calories intake per day fails to meet the needs of all or some members of a particular household.
The study used farm productivity for the main cereals, pulses and vegetables as a proxy for production of household nutrition. The researchers assessed the impact of climate variables on the likelihood of a household being among the lowest 25% of households in terms of kilocalorie production.
Both excess dryness and excess moisture have a strongly negative effect on the quantity of calories produced, the researchers found, although drought is a bigger problem than moisture. As for higher temperatures, they are harmful to all crops except for beans and bananas. Maize and wheat production are especially sensitive to climate variables, while only maize responds significantly to variations in precipitation. ‘Maize is the main staple crop in Kenya,’ noted Dr Mulwa, ‘so these findings call for alternatives in managing maize production to avoid significant decline in maize production.’
The study recommends adaptation to climate change and variability through adoption of technology along all the stages of production, including timely land preparation, timely planting, use of improved seed, use of water-conserving technologies, and good post-harvest practices to avoid losses due to pests, fungus, and so forth, while crops are being stored. ‘This technology adoption, however, should be specific to different agro-ecological zones,’ Dr Mariara emphasised. ‘In other words, different crops in different parts of the country need different approaches.’
These findings were presented and discussed in an annual policy day held in Nairobi, where stakeholders from government ministries and NGOs joined researchers to discuss the need to disseminate this information and to promote adaptation to climate change. The researchers emphasised that the focus on kilocalories in the study introduced a new dimension in climate change research which is important to ensure food and nutrition security.
By: Richard Mulwa