Agricultural productivity reduces by 34pc in Africa


Farmer Benjamin Kigen making hay, February 21, 2021. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Agricultural productivity in Africa has declined by 34 per cent since 1961, a United Nations report has revealed. The report released on February 28 and prepared by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), further stated that the decline was a result of adverse impacts of climate change.

It highlights agriculture as one of the highly vulnerable sectors, a situation that has continued to increase malnutrition in the continent.

“Climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, have reduced food and water security, hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals. Although overall agricultural productivity has increased, climate change has slowed this growth over the past 50 years globally,” the report notes.

Already, Kenya is experiencing a decline in productivity as a result of erratic rainfall and intensifying droughts.

According to the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG), the maize harvest in the marginal agricultural areas is 45-50 percent of the five-year national maize production average.

The situation is attributed to widespread below-average crop production in marginal agricultural areas, with crop failure in Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, and Tharaka Nithi.

By February, the number of food-insecure people in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas had risen from 2.1 million in August 2021 to 3.1 million.

This, according to KFSSG, was driven by impacts of poor crop and livestock production and resource-based conflict. “Widespread maize crop failure was reported in Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, and Tharaka Nithi, where county maize production was 1 per cent to 7 per cent of the five-year average,” it said.

“The below-average harvest was due to households planting on less land in anticipation of the below-average rainfall, lower seed stocks, and below-average rainfall throughout the short rains season,” Famine Early Systems Network noted.

Maize productivity over the years has been marred by fluctuations, linked to changing weather patterns.

Withering maize at a farm in Umande Ward, Laikipia County. Rain failed in most parts of the county in 2021. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

In 2011, for example, maize production in Kenya was estimated to be at 3.7 million tonnes but in 2016 it drastically reduced to an estimated 3.3 million tonnes, representing more than 11 per cent decline.

In 2017, it is approximated that Kenya imported 1.3 million tonnes of maize from 0.8 million tonnes in 2014, marking maize import increment of over 38 per cent.

And while the IPCC report suggests that increasing weather and climate extreme events have exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity, reduced water security, it notes that the largest impacts have been observed in communities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Small Islands and the Arctic. “Jointly, sudden losses of food production and access to food compounded by decreased diet diversity have increased malnutrition in many communities, especially for Indigenous Peoples, small-scale food producers and low-income households with children, elderly people and pregnant women particularly impacted,” it notes.

According to a forecast by the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum, the below-average rains recorded between October 2021 and December 2021 had a negative impact on the performance of the crops.

It is estimated that the aggregate cereal production in 2021 was tentatively forecast at about 4.3 million tonnes, a 12 per cent down from 2020 and about 3 per cent below the average of the previous five years.

According to FAO, the production volume of maize in Kenya declined to 42.1 million bags in 2020 down from 44 million bags in the previous year.

The drop by 4.3 per cent was mainly attributed to unfavourable weather conditions. Maize is one of the main crops produced in the country and it is also a staple food.

The IPCC report predicts that climate change will continue putting pressure on food production and access, especially in vulnerable regions, undermining food security and nutrition. The frequency is expected to intensify with the severity of droughts, floods and heat waves.

It also predicts that the continued sea-level rise will increase risks to food security in vulnerable regions from moderate to high between 1.5°C and 2°C global warming level.

“Global warming will progressively weaken soil health and ecosystem services such as pollination, increase pressure from pests and diseases, and reduce marine animal biomass, undermining food production in many regions on land and in the ocean,” IPCC report notes.