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Experts tap knowledge on climate change trends to boost farming

Pupils plant tree seedlings in Pombo-Sabor forest in Keiyo South district. By 2030 East Africa farmers could face a one degree increase in temperature. File
Pupils plant tree seedlings in Pombo-Sabor forest in Keiyo South district. By 2030 East Africa farmers could face a one degree increase in temperature. File 

Scientists have issued an analysis of East Africa’s future climate as the first step in a new programme that will help farmers grow crops that will best thrive in the changed weather conditions 20 years from now, a new study has shown.

“Climate change will significantly alter growing conditions, but in most places the new farming environment will not be novel in the global context,” said Julian Ramirez, a scientist based at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia and a lead author of the study.

The report is compiled by the Consultative Group on International on International Agricultural Research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Titled, Climate Analogues: Finding Tomorrow’s Agriculture Today, the report forms the platform of a global programme to exchange knowledge between communities on current agriculture practices that can help maintain productivity in the future, despite potentially dramatic shifts in growing conditions.

“The situation in the future will closely resemble conditions that already exist in other parts of the world. Making these links might offer clues about practical, proven approaches that could enable poor people dependent on agriculture to adapt their farming to changes in temperature and precipitation,” he said during the release of the report. “We will take farmers to a site that is similar to their future and help them understand what they need to do to ensure that their production stays the same,” he said.

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According to the analysis, by 2030, maize producers in East Africa could face a one degree increase in temperature during the maize growing season, which would cut yields by about 20 per cent in the absence of adaptive measures. However, farmers in Argentina and Uruguay are already growing their maize successfully at average temperatures that are three degrees higher than the norm in Kenya. Similarly, soybean farmers in Argentina, as well as in the central and southern United States, are already managing conditions similar to the ones that soybean growers around Shanghai, China, will experience within about 20 years.

Crop varieties

“So what this means is farmers in East Africa who insist in growing these crops when temperatures climb will need to look at the kinds of farming practices and crop varieties that farmers in Argentina and Uruguay use,” said Dr Raphael Oloo from KARI.

CCAFS researchers note that the climate tool currently compares locations based on similarities in precipitation and temperature. It is also designed to identify areas based on other features, such as soil type and even social and economic conditions. The tool can also be used in the reverse - looking at one particular location to identify where similar climates might be in 2030. To illustrate the concept, an analysis of present-day Los Angeles, California shows that the southern parts of the US eastern seaboard and France, northern Germany, and the Netherlands might experience Hollywood’s traditionally mild winter months, December to February, by 2030. In 2012, the research team will pilot a series of farmer exchanges between sites in East and West Africa and South Asia to help farmers see effects of climate change.

- African Laughter

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