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Back to drought: dry rains ahead for Kenya

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Weather researchers are warning Kenya faces one of the driest short rains of the last century, in 2024, with rainfall 50 to 60 percent lower than last year, pushing farmers straight back into drought farming.

According to climate researchers at the International Center for Humanitarian Affairs (ICHA)-KRCS, there is now a 70 percent chance of La Niña ‘dry’ short rains this year.

In the 50 years to 2011, the country only experienced four seasons of rain below the 120 millimeters forecast for this year’s October-to-December rainy season.

“La Nina generally follows strong El Nino events, as is in line with recent predictions. Studying and developing seasonal forecasts for El Nino and La Nina and their anticipated impacts on agriculture are an important tool to inform early warnings and early action,” said Makarios Zakayo, a Climate Research Officer at the International Center for Humanitarian Affairs (ICHA)-KRCS.

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With half as much rain expected, farmers are advised to grow drought-resistant and early-maturing crops.

“The rains will be limited and are predicted to last 45-60 days ending the third week of December,” he said.

Farmers, especially those in arid, semi-arid, and medium potential zones that include Marsabit, Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Baringo, lower Makueni, vast parts of North Eastern and Laikipia, parts of Naivasha, Machakos and vast parts of central and southern Coast Province are advised to avoid maize and grow drought-resistant crops like sorghum, millet, sweet potatoes, cassava, pigeon peas, cowpeas, and drought tolerant beans varieties.

Those in areas at 900-2700 metres above sea level and receiving an annual rainfall of 950 to 1500 mm which includes Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga and Nyeri Kericho and Nyahururu, Kitale, Webuye and most of Nyanza, Western and Central provinces, Central Rift-Valley (Nandi, Nakuru, Bomet, Eldoret, Kitale), and a small strip at the Coast province are advised to grow short cycle crops like tomatoes, onions, canola, watermelons, okra, butternuts, and traditional vegetables. Drought-tolerant and early-maturing maize varieties recommended for planting in these regions are Haraka WH101, SC Sungura 301, SC Duma 419, and Pannar 4M-19. 

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From 2020 to 2023, East Africa faced its worst drought in 40 years. It is estimated that such periods have a five per cent chance of developing each year in the region. “The percentage of the likelihood of a drought will only rise as the planet continues to warm. We are likely to see increasingly exceptional droughts in this part of the world,” said Joyce Kimutai the principal meteorologist at the Kenya Met to the NY Times.

As 90 per cent of Kenya’s agriculture is rainfed, extreme wet-season failures lead to sharp falls in food production and food security, except where farmers prepare for them by growing drought-resistant crops.

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