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Home / Health & Science

Shrink in arable land to affect yields, says new UN report

Health & ScienceBy GATONYE GATHURA | Tue,Apr 01 2014 00:00:00 UTC | 3 min read

Cattle that have been afftected by drought in North Eastern Kenya.

By GATONYE GATHURA

NAIROBI, KENYA: The country’s food production map will change dramatically in about one-and-a-half decades, with arable land shrinking to mountainous regions where there will be cooler climate.

A global report released Monday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows crops such as maize moving to higher area and no longer possible to grow them in lower areas such as Eastern Province.

Major crops to be affected negatively will be tea, coffee and maize, while cassava may benefit from a warmer climate.

While the global report does not give individual country details on specific crops, it is in agreement with earlier prediction by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

The centre had predicted that by 2020, just six years away, areas near Nandi will not be very suitable for tea growing while the Central region and parts of the Rift Valley will gain suitability for the crop. But by 2050 Nandi will be completely unsuitable for tea farming.

“Areas around Mount Kenya will still be very suitable for tea farming even by 2050,” says a report from the centre.

AREAS TO GAIN

The UN says not all will be lost because some areas will gain from the loss of others but if a crop losing community is not prepared today to take on an alternative then the future could be disastrous.

Tea, however, faces other complication associated with climate change. Since 1999, Britain, a significant importer of local tea, started experimenting growing its own beverage. This followed climate changes that made parts of the country warmer.

Britain’s first tea plantation in Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall, southwest England — the country’s warmest region — was established in 1999. The estate is currently growing 22 varieties of tea and last year was expecting a record harvest in excess of 10 tonnes.

Concerned by the possible impact of climate change on local tea production, the Kenya Tea Development Agency is running a three-year programme to prepare the sector on how to respond to changing climate.

Monday’s report says Kenya and other East African countries will meet serious challenges as coffee moves from traditional areas to cooler regions.

“The warmer climate will expose the crop to more attacks by the pest called coffee berry borer,” says the report.

Local researchers had earlier warned of this possibility, saying with ongoing climate change, the pest also known as Ferrari or Broca will be able to survive and inflict damage to coffee on higher grounds.

Livestock farmers are not spared either with middle altitude areas such as Ukambani and the drier parts of central giving up crop cultivation for livestock by 2050.

GRADE ANIMALS

The report also indicates that many regions will see the reduction of high quality grade animals as farmers move to the lower producing but heat-tolerant breeds.

“For example, higher temperatures in lowland areas could result in reduced stocking of dairy cows in favour of heat-tolerant breeds and a shift from cattle to sheep and goats.”

But the main problem for livestock farmers is an expected surge in tick borne diseases, especially the deadly East Coast Fever.

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