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Climate change and variability: Experiences, coping and adaptation strategies among the smallholder

organic vegetable farmers in Central Kenya

Ndukhu, H. 1Onwonga, R. 1Genga, Q. 1Wahome, G. 2Henning, J.


University of Nairobi, Kenya
2
Technical University of Denmark
1

Mail: hndukhu@gmail.com
Mobile: +254727485052

Sub-theme: Agriculture, Climate Change and Food Security

Abstract

A survey was carried out to determine the causes of low vegetable production by looking at the
challenges faced by organic based smallholder farmers and the potential coping strategies employed
and their experiences, coping and adaptation strategies to climate change and variability (CCV). The
studys objective was to determine the major vegetables grown, marketable quality attributes,
challenges faced and coping strategies to enhance vegetable production and understanding of CCV.
More than 60 organic based farmers from Kajiado, Kiambu and Muranga counties of Kenya were
selected for the survey through questionnaires. The data collected was analyzed using SPSS. The
challenges faced in production of the key vegetables included; unpredictable rains 85%, lack of
irrigation equipment 43%, crop pests and diseases 28%, among others. Causes of CCV cited were;
emission of green house gases (30%), deforestation and poor agricultural practices (60%). Effects of
climate change were (80%) reduced crop yields. 90% of farmers responded to the effects of CCV
through; good agricultural practices such as; agro-forestry, mulching, organic inputs, drought tolerant
crops and rain water harvesting. The farmers contended that through trainings and exposure, they
would be empowered to cope with and reverse the negative impacts of CCV and consequently
guarantee food and nutritional security. In addition, research efforts ought to be directed towards soil
analysis, irrigation and greenhouse production and recommendations on site specific input rate
application made available to the farmers.
Key words: Vegetables, Marketable quality attributes, Climate change and variability

Introduction
2

Formal organic agriculture in Kenya dates back to the early 1980s when the first pioneer organic
training institutions were established (Bett & Freyer, 2007). Certified organic farming in Kenya is
mostly geared to products destined for export with the large majority being exported to the Europe,
which is Africas largest market for agricultural produce (Helga & Yussefi, 2006). The produce with
the greatest demand are horticultural crops and most specifically vegetables. Consumer demand for
organic vegetables has increased tremendously due to a number of reasons such as safety, effect to
environment, flavor, freshness, health benefits and nutritional value (Bourn & Prescott, 2002). Many
African farmers mix long-tested traditional practices with adaptations of conventional technologies
that suit their farming systems and these types of systems blend themselves well to conversion to
organic agriculture (Walaga and Hauser, 2005). However, new processes and production guidelines are
required in many cases (Woodward and Vogtmann 2004, Kpke 2005) to keep up to the standards of
the quantity and quality of produce reaching the markets through better understanding of impacts of
climate change.
The issue of climate change and variability (CCV) is a challenge to agricultural production in Kenya
as the countrys gross domestic product (GDP) normally mirrors rainfall pattern. Climate change is
therefore a major impediment to agricultural production particularly and thus a threat to achieving
millennium development goal number one (MDG 1) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
(UNDP, 2007). The anticipated impacts of climate change will manifest in the form of; floods,
storms, prolonged

droughts

and

increased

atmospheric temperature (IPCC

2007).

The

consequences will have far reaching adverse impacts on human health, food security, economic
activities,

physical infrastructure,

natural resources, and the environment (UNDP 2007).The

advancement of research on CCV and its impacts on agriculture has played a key role in
development of both tactical and strategic means to buffering the impacts associated to it.
However less emphasis has been laid on farmers perception, experience and adaptation strategies as
a basis for informing development of sustainable approaches to minimize the risks imposed by
climate change and variability (Suri 2009), especially so on organic farming.
The organic agriculture sector in Kenya has therefore mainly developed without any formal
government policy support. The sector has consequently encountered a wide range of challenges
during the last two decades. It is for this purpose that a survey was carried out to determine the
specific quality attributes, challenges and coping strategies that the farmers face and find possible
solutions which will create an influx in production and hence create food security to the organic
consumer. In addition, this study intended to assess farmers perceptions, experiences, and
adaptation strategies with a view of enhancing and prioritizing the farmers preparedness to
minimize the effects of climate change and variability.
Materials and Methods
3

Site description
The study was carried out in Kajiado, Kiambu and Muranga counties of central Kenya, between 1 st
and 4th of February 2012. These are areas where organic cultivation of vegetables is prevalent due to
awareness created there by Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN). These areas are located
around Nairobi. Kajiado is categorized under agro-ecological zone IV (Sombreak et al., 1982). The
climate is typically semi-arid with mean annual temperature varying from 20 C and 28C with a mean
of 25C and a total annual rainfall ranging between 450 and 1200mm (Braunn & Weg, 1977). Rainfall
is bimodal in distribution with the long rains starting from April to June and short rains from October
to November. Kajiado soils are red dystic andosols (Kenya soil survey, 2004). Kiambu and Muranga
counties are categorized under agro-ecological zone III (Sombreak et al., 1982). The climate is
typically sub humid with mean annual temperature varying from 23oC -12oC and a total annual rainfall
ranging between 1200 and 1800mm (Braunn & Weg, 1977). Rainfall is bimodal in distribution with
the long rains starting from March to June and short rains from October to December. The soils are
deep red eutric nitosols (Kenya Soil Survey, 2004). The main economic activities in Kajiado County
are; pastoralist livestock herding, tourism, agricultural crops-vegetables, cereals and pulses and urbanlife activities like cattle trading, whereas in Kiambu and Muranga, dairy cattle, coffee and tea farming
are predominant (FAO, 2007). The food crop patterns are dominated by production of; vegetables,
maize, beans, potatoes in a mixed intensive cultivation.
Study approach
A sample of 63 farmers was used in the study. A stratified random sampling procedure was applied to
select respondents with locations forming the stratum. A computer random number generator was
employed to select the number of households in each stratum. The questionnaire was designed to
gather information on challenges and coping strategies of vegetable production, the market product
qualities that are most desired, their farming practices and general livelihoods and farmers
experiences, coping and adaptation strategies to climate change and the main organic crops grown.
These farmers were then contacted through contact data provided for by Kenya Organic Agriculture
Network and meetings set up for interviews and farm visits.
Questionnaire administration
To ensure the questionnaires ability to accurately measure and capture the intended objectives, it was
subjected to review by experts, supervisors and peers. The questionnaires were pre-tested to check on
content and clarity of questions.
Data analysis

The collected data was entered into a spreadsheet and analyzed using SPSS for Windows version
14.02 (SPSS Inc., 1989-2005). Descriptive statistics and proportions were calculated for key
categories.
Results and Discussion
Crops grown by farmers.

Figure 1: Major high value crops grown by smallholder farmers.


Most (63%) of the farmers produced kales because of its demand in the local markets (Fig 1). Spinach
was the second most grown crop by 32% of the farmers surveyed. Another 21% of the total farmers
produced tomatoes, making these three the major crops grown by farmers. This study shows that kale
was the most popular vegetable produced which corroborates with a study in Kiambu count by
Salasya, (2005) which also termed kale as a popular green vegetable consumed by almost every
household in Kenya. This was attributed to it being a major source of cash and having highest returns
to variable inputs among other crops. Maize, a predominant food crop in the country is produced by
less than 20% of the interviewed farmers. This could be could be attributed to the fact that most the
respondents were small holder farmers owning less half an acre of land to economically produce the
crop (Duflo et al., 2008).
Marketable quality attributes sought by vegetable consumers
About 76% of the farmers reported that the consumers mostly looked at presence of signs and
symptoms of pests and diseases in the produce before buying (Fig 2). Consumers consider absence of
pest and disease attacks and physical damage as the best sign that the produce is of high quality. Over
50% of the farmers mentioned size as a major consideration in production of the kale leaves for market
consumption. More than 35% of the surveyed farmers report that consumers consider colour as a
marketable quality attribute. Poor soil fertility and adverse environmental conditions can reduce size
of produce. Thus farmers pay keen attention on the above factors so as to meet market requirements
compared to about 12% who mentioned texture.

Figure 2: Kale quality attributes that farmers produce for the market
The demand for bigger cleaner kale could be because consumers regard them as a direct reflection on
the farming practices and thus health and safety of the produce. Though size is mostly a characteristic
of the specific kale variety, soil and environmental factors may contribute to size of kale leaves. In
their production therefore, the farmers paid keen attention to produce disease and pest free produce.
This was achieved by practicing organic based techniques such as planting certified seeds, early
planting, use of bio-pesticides and also incorporation of pest repellent crops in the cropping systems.
Challenges and constraints of vegetable production

Figure 3: Challenges and constraints of vegetable production by smallholder farmers


The challenges faced in production of kale and other key vegetables included; unpredictable rains
85%, lack of irrigation equipment (43%) and (28%) crop pest and diseases (Fig 3). Additionally, lack
of access to proper soil testing and analysis facilities (37%) and inadequate knowledge on input
application rates (66%) were some of the factors cited. These results are similar to those of a study
conducted by Foeken and Owuor, 2002 which showed that farmers faced various constraints such as
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irregular rainfall, drought, flooding, water logging, poor soils, pests and disease, and the destruction of
crops by animals. However, a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis on the
smallholder farming sector was recently undertaken by Bett & Freyer (2007) and summarized the
main challenges and opportunities in the sector as policy based. This is because the government
though has put in place policies and legislation that protects farmers in general, no extension of such
policies existed for organic based farmers. This group of farmers is covered in the broad grouping of
the agricultural sector and thus the specific challenges they face which do not relate to other farming
practices cannot be ably addressed. It is observed that small scale organic based farmers in Kenya are
faced by difficulties in gaining access to formal credit, since they do not have the requisite collateral to
obtain credit and also due to the fact that the financial institutions do not recognize the differences
between organic based and conventional agriculture. The major challenge of unreliable rainfall could
be associated with climate change which has affected the rainfall patterns. Rainfall delays and
sometimes unexpected floods cause damage to crops and this is reflected in losses to the farmers and
food insecurity in the country at large as reported in this study.
Coping strategies adopted by farmers in response to the challenges of vegetable production
Table I: Coping strategies adopted by farmers in response to the challenges faced.
Challenges
Unreliable rainy season
Knowledge on soil input application
Access to soil fertility & nutrient analysis
Pest and disease management

Coping strategies
Irrigation
Late planting
Mass application
Indigenous techniques
Blanket recommendations
Outdated information
Biopesticides

%
64
32
55
45
74
28
11

Indigenous techniques
No management

76
13

Irrigation and late planting, mass application of inputs and use of indigenous techniques (Table 1) were
some of the coping strategies employed by farmers. To cope with the unreliable rainfall, only 64%
could afford to set up irrigation facilities on their farms while 32% practiced late planting (Table 1).
Use of mass application (55%) and indigenous techniques (45%) were the coping strategies for
inadequate information on application rates and blanket recommendations of organic inputs (74%) and
outdated information (28%) for inaccessibility to soil nutrient and fertility analysis. Only 11% could
afford bio-pesticides due to cost and limited information made available to them. About 76% of the
farmers made use of traditional knowledge passed on to them for generations while 13% did not make
any efforts to manage pests and disease. Farmers assumed that more is better than less in providing
7

nutrients to the plants and soil thus they resorted to mass application of farm inputs based on blanket
recommendations.
Farmers experiences of climate change and variability and perception of their impacts
About 93% of the interviewed farmers had heard of and experienced the impacts of climate change,
the common aspects being erratic and often inadequate rainfall and raising air temperatures by 83%
and 58% respectively (Fig 4). Likewise, over 50% of them experienced climate change and variability
through droughts. More than 70% of the farmers were familiar with the scientific techniques of
weather forecasting which they use to inform their farm management decisions whereas only 23% of
them report use of traditional methods of weather forecasting (Fig 5). The application of traditional
means of weather forecasting is reported to be on the decline. The decline in use of these techniques
may be attributed to the fact that it has become increasingly difficult for people to anticipate weather
patterns, a situation some linked to CCV. Consequently credibility of these methods is suspect as they
are subject to seasonal and/or yearly variation. The reason for more and more reliance on modern
weather forecasting techniques could be due to environmental degradation induced by the current
CCV which has made non-routine and complex, the specific behavioural aspects of the plants and
animals that were relied upon for weather forecasting. Most of these farmers recall the variations in the
amounts and distributions of rains and daily temperature ranges of yesteryears in comparison to the
current period. Most of them felt that this change started to be evident more than was two decades ago.
As a result of climate change, frequent droughts and increase in temperatures have been cited. These
findings are in agreement with those of Kaloki (2010) who reported that 67.6% of respondents
experienced droughts after every 1-3 years, 97.6% pointed out that air temperatures had increased and
the start of rains had become unpredictable leaving 68.8% of the farmers guessing on the right time to
plant in Mbeere, Mount Kenya region. This fact is also reinforced by Gardner and Stern (1996)
assertion that peoples perceptions of environmental risks suggest that people perceive little personal
control over global and regional environmental problems. According to IPCC (2007), However, unlike
the confirmation provided by trend analyses of historical weather data for temperature increases,
corresponding analyses for changes in rainfall totals and distribution patterns do not currently confirm
a wetting trend in East Africa and complimentary evidence from recent publications on the impact of
climate change on food security is often conflicting. Thornton et al., (2006) concluded that Eastern
Africa is to face the impacts of climate change with temperatures only rising by 1C by 2030 and in
general, rainfall increasing by 7 to 9% with a corresponding increase in the length of the growing
season in many parts. Williams and Funk (2010), in an analysis of East African rainfall data, suggest a
decline in the long rains which they attribute to increases in the Indian Ocean sea surface temperature,
thus threatening future food security.

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Figure 5: Rating of weather forecasting methods


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Farmers perceptions of climate change and variability


Reduced crop yields and/or crop failure were reported by 80% of the interviewed farmers as the most
profound impacts of climate change and variability on agricultural productivity (Fig 6). Additionally,
about 8% indicated change in planting time and 6% mentioned increased crop pest and disease attack.
These impacts lead to a decline in farm production affecting incomes and food security. This

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exacerbates hunger and poverty, contrary to the aspirations of the MDGs of halving extreme hunger

and poverty by 2015 (UNDP 2007; GoK, 2007). These observations imply that the more dependent a
person is on agriculture as a source of income the greater the sensitivity to climate related changes.
This observation is also in agreement with Grothmann and Patt (2005) who noted that the more

one is likely to be affected by a given factor, the higher the attention given to it. The high rating
of climate change by farmers who depended on farming solely as their source of income is

therefore attributable to the fact that any factor, in this case climate change, that lows crop
production poses a threat to their livelihood hence considered a serious risk.

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Figure 6: Impacts of climate change


Farmers adaptation and coping strategies to climate change and variability
Good agricultural practices comprising; agro-forestry, mulching, organic inputs, drought tolerant
crops and rain water harvesting as reported by about 90% of the farmers were the principal adaptation
strategies with over 15% reporting afforestation (Fig 7). About 60% of the farmers adduced that
through farm planning and 20% training on climate change and variability they will effectively cope
with the effects of climate change and variability (Fig 8). Coping Strategies are those that have
evolved over time through farmers long experience in dealing with the current known and understood
natural variation in weather that they expect both within and between seasons, whereas adaptation
Strategies are longer-term (beyond a single rainfall season) strategies that will be needed for farmers to
respond to a new set of evolving climatic conditions that they have not previously experienced. In
undertaking research to elucidate farmers possible adaptation strategies, such strategies are often
confused with farmers traditional coping strategies. In the context of addressing climate-induced risk
more generally, research on both is useful, but the confusion between coping and adaptation inevitably
devalues the research and could well lead to erroneous recommendations. These findings are in line
with Kaloki (2010) who deduced that almost all farmers interviewed (98.5%) had adopted a new
technology in the last 10 years. This was important because new interventions in the area meant
adoption rates were high so long as the technologies are appropriate. The most important adaptation
technique was early planting followed by planting drought tolerant crops and monocropping. By
planting a sole crop, inter-specific competition for water is limited hence crops could perform better.
Use of manure to provide high plant vigour in the initial stages of growth was also identified as an
important practice alongside planting early maturing crops.
Majority of these farmers are small scale and food insecure. It thus looks normal for farmers to seek
for technologies to improve their productivity ensuring food security before thinking of commercial
aspects of farming (Suri 2009). The aftermath of this process is that with time it is expected that even
those who employed strategies that are aimed at boosting incomes may not be favoured by the
changing climatic conditions. The situation may lead to a sustained condition of poverty and thus an
increasing farmers vulnerability. Over generations, and especially in the more arid environments
where rainfall variability impacts most strongly on livelihoods, farmers have developed coping
strategies to buffer against the uncertainties induced by year to year variation in water supply coupled
with the socioeconomic drivers which impact on their lives. However, such coping strategies are risk
spreading in nature and are designed to mitigate the negative impacts of poor seasons and usually fail
to exploit the positive opportunities of average and better than average seasons. In addition, farmers
often over-estimate the frequency of negative impacts of climate variability and under-estimate the
11

positive opportunities. As a result most farmers remain poor and vulnerable to future climate shocks.
Whilst these farmer strategies have been of greatest importance and have evolved over many
generations in the drier and more risk prone environments, they have perhaps only recently become of
importance in many of the wetter and more assured environments as a range of factors (population
pressure, declining soil fertility, weed invasion, decreasing farm size, disease, lack of markets or

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access to markets for high value produce, lack of off-farm employment, etc.) are resulting in

Percnt

agriculture becoming a less viable foundation for rural livelihoods (Jayne et al., 2003).

Figure 7: Adaptation methods to CCV

12

Percnt

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Figure 8: Copping strategies to effects of CCV

Conclusion
Farmers stated that some of the current techniques they use to cope with different challenges are not as
efficient as they would have wanted. They thus appealed for assistance from agricultural organic based
stakeholders, researchers and extension officers. Organic agricultural institutes in the given areas
should focus their attention on soil analysis, irrigation, green house production and recommendations
on site specific input application rates. Research need to be conducted to avail information on pest and
disease management strategies affordable to smallholder farmers.
Priority should be given in capacity development, viz; developing conceptual frameworks for the
impact pathways of climate change, risk and trend analyses of historical weather data and analyses of
impacts of climate variability and projected climate changes on agricultural production. To ensure that
researches are equipped with the best tools and develop strong research capabilities, there is an urgent
need to invest in: ways to improve access to information, ways to enhance the research capacity, and
ways to enhance the impact of the research undertaken.
Acknowledgement
We wish to sincerely thank The DANIDA funded Productivity and Growth in Organic Value Chains
(ProGrOV) project.
13

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