Agricultural in East Africa faces serious challenges

Posted on October 15, 2013 08:31 am

In February this year, climate experts predicted that East African region would continue to experience unusual weather patterns for the foreseeable future. According to them, during the wet season that usually runs from March to July and short rains that starts early October to end of December would receive more than average rainfall levels. Unlike the more developed regions, African countries lack the capacity in terms of technology, skills and resources in tackling climate changes effects. Due to the changes in climate patterns, agriculture experts in Tanzania and Kenya have come up with revised advised farmers and new seedlings for various plants and also the best planting periods, seed variety, fertilizers and pesticides. Hunger prone Kenya has been at the forefront of launching new plant varieties that can withstand prolonged drought while Tanzania and Uganda that experiences flooding in their agriculturally active highland have not been left behind. One cannot fail to see high salinity areas in East African countries due to seawater intrusion with Kenya and Tanzania the most affected. An expert handling research of new locally developed plants in Uganda recently, however, says although those innovations are welcome and offers a source of hope to millions of hungry East Africans on a long term it may prove insufficient to deal with the impacts of climate change that are expected to hit the region harder than any other parts of Africa for reasons well know to scientists. The problem with East African countries is that they lack funding and technology that can predict the exact beginning of each dry spell or even the wet season or even when there is severity of floods like the one that affected Kasese region in Western Uganda earlier this year or the drought that hit Kenya in 2010.

Research has shown that when investors come to East African countries they make things worse by setting up factories and commercial estates on fertile farmland instead of using non arable land. Farm in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania yield twice the amount produced by farms outside those four countries and this means that the East African government have to create more thousands of farming to cover the loss of these converted lands. According to statistics, around 80 % of East Africa’s 135 million people live in rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income and more than 40% of the rural population is said to be extremely poor. Tens of millions of small farmers, farm workers and fishermen especially in Lake Victoria are materially and financially unable to tap into the opportunities offered by years of economic growth that has seen Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda hit economic growth of about or around 7%. When many East Africans join income-generating projects in their rural or urban areas what they all hope for is to earn an income and if possible supplement family’s income especially when the region experiences erratic weather patterns that could lead to poor harvesting. Dairy and beef farming remains the most profitable ventures in the agriculture sector in the region and they have become the main sources of income for millions of families and has also helped to offset the expenses like school fees and daily needs as well as costs related to such farming activities.

The recent discoveries of water enough to sustain Kenya population for the next 70 years means that water scarcity that has for over the past few years forced arid farmers in northern Kenya to draw water from faraway water sources where they have been spending more on pumping water and on labor would come to a juddering halt. Discovery has brought hope that north East Ugandan region of Karamoja could also strike such huge water discoveries. The shortage has for ages created limited planting opportunities to one per year in arid and semi arid areas and between two to three each year in rich agricultural countries like Burundi, Rwanda Uganda and Tanzania. This means there is need to tackle the impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector in East Africa before its too late. There is need for respective countries to initiate programs that will teach farmers in the region how to start and manage a business in order to make a profit and also learn about bookkeeping. East Africa’s agricultural sector provides raw materials for small and medium-scale industries that collectively contributes more than 40% of the region’s gross domestic product and employs 70% of the total labor force. Due to its geographical situation, East Africa is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including increased droughts and floods, changes in planting patterns, and increased pests, all of which threaten the region’s food security. Agricultural development in East Africa faces increasingly serious challenges due to climate change as well as conversion of fertile agricultural land for industrial estates and settlements. Prolonged drought and an extended rainy season have struck the region more frequently in the last decade, leaving farmers in a quandary over when to start planting crops and causing worries about the region’s food security.

Contador Harrison