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    Climate farmersThere are over 10 million people worldwide who have been displaced from their homes and sources of earnings by failed rains, rising seas and other climate related factors according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This group now christened climate refugees is emerging as the next biggest headache for policy makers as the effects of climate change intensifies exceeding earlier predictions.

    Nowhere is this effect more felt than in Africa where the bulk of the population rely on agriculture, the worst hit sector by climate change, for livelihoods. 80 percent of African farmers count on rainfed agriculture which has been particularly hit by the vagaries of weather.

    Scientists are already predicting catastrophic effects in years to come which will take their toll on Africa’s most primed agricultural crops. They observe that at the current rate of temperature increase, global average temperatures will have increased 1.5°C by 2050. The latest science estimates the average production losses by 2050 for African maize at 22 per cent, sorghum 17 per cent, millet 17 per cent,groundnut 18 per cent and cassava 8 per cent.

    Kenya, a country that the Food and Agricultural Organization FAO, has classed as so verdant and among the few capable of generating enough food for the entire continent turning it into an agricultural supply station is already bearing the brunt of changes in weather.

    Over one million Kenyans have moved from where they traditionally lived or obtained their sources of income, as rains fail, or floods take toll on livelihoods according to the Kenya National Climate Change Action Plan.

    ,Majority of them have been farmers who have counted on their farms for generations to feed them and generate income to educate their children, open other businesses and take care of their other needs like health.

    But what used to be verdant farms and lush produce has now turned to barren rocky lands. Phenomena unprecedented in Kenya are now a familiar sight thanks to climate change. Central and Rift Valley areas of Kenya, the prime producers of tea, have in the recent past experienced frost which has wiped entire plantations.

    In 2012 for example data according to Kenya Tea Board indicated that on average farmers lost 60 percent of their tea income to the frost and with tea being one of the country’s key foreign exchange earner, the country lost $15million in failed exports in that year alone. Farmers unable to fight back are now fleeing their farms for greener pastures which are not so green.

    They find haven in cities which are already choking with overpopulation. Kenya’s urban population stands at 24 percent of the total population but is projected to rise by upto 60 percent in 2030 according to the Kenya Demographics. The projected meteoric rise is attributed to rural urban migration which has recorded a steady rise in the last two years.

    According to the Nairobi County government annual survey out of all the total population coming to cities from the rural areas, 30 percent is fleeing as a result of failed agricultural practices caused by failed rains. The locus of poverty is gradually shifting from rural to urban areas and is manifested in growing food insecurity with majority of those coming to the cities finding themselves worse off economically than they were back in the rural homes. A fifth of Nairobi residents are “ultra-hungry”, researchers say. Jobs in the cities are not forthcoming.

    And in a bid to survive in harsh times in the cities, once food producers now turned food beggars are turning to other ways of earning income including social vices like robberies, muggings and prostitution. The Kenya Police crime index report indicates that in 2013 alone there was a spike in robberies, muggings and home break ins which the police attributed to growing list of jobless youth.

    Western Kenya an area that was traditionally Kenya’s food basket has turned to a basket case with the only evidence of any farming activities to have ever taken place being dried maize cobs sitting next to animal corpses. From cow pea projects by youth groups that used to feed an entire region to banana value addition enterprises by single mothers in the areas, the machines have come to a halt and the hands that worked their way in the farms have sought refuge in city slums.

    But even as Kenya struggles with its internal climate refugees, thousands more are trickling in from neighbouring Somalia and Ethiopia and are hosted in Dadaab camp in North Eastern Kenya, one of the largest in the world. While traditionally majority of the refugees in Daadab camp have fled wars, The International Red Cross estimates that there are more environmental refugees than political refugees fleeing from wars and other conflicts. According to the institution, wars in the region are usually rooted in competition for resources. Climate change has served to intensify that fighting.

    And as Kenya struggles to feed its burgeoning population while addressing the twin problems of climate change and the refugees it is creating, industry players warn that if nothing is done half of all rural population in Kenya, which forms the bulk of the Kenyan population, will be  climate  refugees by 2030.

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    Deforestation and climate change are driving African honey bee to extinction contrary to popular belief that synthetic chemicals are according to scientists. The possible extinction would deal a major blow to food security as bees pollinate almost all the crop species that feed the global population.

     According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food worldwide, bees pollinate 71. Some crops that depend on honeybees would see more than a 90 percent reduction in yield without honey bees. Although estimates vary, the global value of insect pollination services provided for the most part by honey bees was recently placed at $US 212 billion worldwide, equivalent to just under 10 percent of total food production for human consumption.

    The new revelation was made public by scientists from Pennsylvania State University Center for Pollinator Research, and International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology ICIPE through their study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. Previously, it has been widely publicized that the introduction of agro chemical usage in Africa was solely responsible for the now notorious honey bee colony collapse diseases and many campaigns had been initiated to enhance honey bee preservation through restriction of agro chemical usage.

    According to the joint study, African honey bees remain unaffected by a number of diseases that have been linked to significant colony losses in the United States and Europe, raising the prospect that African honey bees may possess ‘novel resistance mechanisms’ to disease that warrant further investigation. “Our studies suggest that honey bee populations in East Africa appear to be largely resistant or tolerant of the parasites and pathogens that threaten honey bee populations in other parts of the world, and are not yet significantly impacted by other stressors, such as exposure to environmental toxins,” the researchers state.

    In fact, the study notes, while more than 90 percent of honey bee colonies in the United States contain pesticide residues, only four chemical pesticides were detected in the colonies sampled for this study, and at trace levels that would be considered negligible. “Over 129 different pesticide-related chemicals have been found in US bee colonies, with an average of 6 chemicals per colony,” the study states.
    “The low level of pesticides in hives from across Kenya, particularly when compared to levels in developed countries, suggests pesticide residues play only a limited role in honey bee health in Kenya at this time.”

    This preliminary data suggest that bee population declines in East Africa could be tied instead to loss of habitat and deforestation, as cities expand and previously primary habitat is converted into agricultural or other uses, rather than the declines’ being related to bee pests and diseases. In addition, increasingly frequent drought conditions and climate change could be having an impact. If the availability of flowering plants is reduced by any of these factors, that means less food available to bees. Also, with shifts in land cover, bees might not be able to travel longer distances to food sources and back to the hive if, for example, vast fields of wild flowers disappear. The same would hold true if sources of water within the surrounding area were reduced.

    “Honey bees pollinate many food crops as well as those important for economic development, and their products, like honey and wax, are vital to the livelihood of many families. People say the greatest animal in Africa is the lion or the elephant, but honey bees are more essential, and their decline would have profound impacts across the continent,” said Harland Patch, research scientist in entomology at Penn State.

    According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food worldwide, bees pollinate 71. Some crops that depend on honeybees would see more than a 90 percent reduction in yield without honey bees. Although estimates vary, the global value of insect pollination services provided for the most part by honey bees was recently placed at $US 212 billion worldwide, equivalent to just under 10 percent of total food production for human consumption.

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    News by coffee researchers in the country that new zones had been identified as the next production frontiers is not only music to the ears of the farmers in those areas but also to the country and a major economic boost. This as coffee touted as Kenya’s black gold continue recording dismal production especially in traditionally active areas like Central Kenya which have now been swarmed by real estate growth.

    And with the vagaries of the weather which have been  particularly capricious in recent times with new pests and diseases, and allowing traditional ones to develop immunity against conventional pesticides, measures to arrest the situation before it spirals out of control should be a matter of when not if.

    The Kenyan coffee sector is projected to earn the country $217million in 2013 a dismal amount compared to tea and horticulture which each contribute over $900 million dollars annually. Yet it has been a painful venture for the world’s second most traded commodity which has been on a free fall in terms of production and earnings in the country over the years.

    From a crop that was associated with wealth and opulence in the 80’s and 90’s, to the crop associated with despair the numbers tell it all with coffee growing currently standing at 0.4 acres per year as farmers look for alternatives. The volatile prices in the international markets haven’t done any good either.  A severe drop in earnings last experienced in 2007 and attributed to increased global supplies has meant that farmers may not recover the production costs. 

    About 95 per cent of the locally made coffee is exported while the remaining five per cent is consumed in the country which complicates matters further. Such challenges mean that Kenya is an insignificant player in the world coffee markets in terms of volumes. The country averages about 800,000 bags per year while Ethiopia does six million bags, Colombia 12 million, and Brazil almost 30 million. However despite the fluctuations in world coffee prices in recent years, overall demand for coffee is increasing.

    But the biggest challenge is in the farm, where farmers are grappling with tending to the coffee varieties from flowering. The setbacks in the farm are a matter of grave concern which calls for immediate intervention because it is at this stage that the Kenyan coffee admired worldwide for its un paralleled quality and aroma is made.

    Unsure of whether they are going to get their money back, never mind make a profit, several farmers have been reticent to invest in the fertilisers, pesticides, and manpower required to make their coffee trees flourish. This creates a vicious cycle as production levels plummet and farmers do not earn the revenue required to reinvest in their crops. This difficult situation has made coffee growing unattractive to the younger generation.

    But agro input companies in the country have been actively involved in bringing to farmers’ doorsteps new and improved pesticides that are not only environmental friendly but tried and tested across the globe to ensure that farmers farming practices adhere with the internationally accepted standards.

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