CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOOD SECURITY

KAMAU, NEKESA: Carbon in the soil good for health, food security

In Summary
  • It is imperative that excess carbon is removed from the atmosphere and put back in the soil where it is needed.
  • Kenyans will be responsible for cooling down their country by increasing forest cover to a minimum of 10 per cent.

COP26 in Glasgow has come and gone. Developed countries that had committed in Paris to give $100 billion for capacity building, financial and technical have once again fallen short of the target. Support for loss and damage is still a contentious issue.

Why it has taken 26 meetings to agree on how to mitigate and support vulnerable communities adapt to climate change remains a mystery.

In the meantime, Wanjiku a farmer from Kiambu county, is worried. Everything has become unpredictable and planning is difficult. Last season she planted cabbages then lost everything due to too much rain. She then planted kunde, which didn’t do well due to excessive cold. She therefore has no food.

According to the latest IPCC report, released in August, climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying mainly as a result of anthropogenic causes leading to excessive carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. It has resulted in extreme weather conditions like excessive heat and moisture as evidenced recently in European and North American countries.

Agriculture contributes a significant proportion to Kenya’s GDP yet has negligible GHG emissions. Agriculture and land-use change contribute 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (2010) globally, mainly from livestock and rice production, nitrogen fertiliser and agricultural production, including deforestation.

Although agriculture contributes less than two per cent of global GDP, it could take up about 70 per cent of potential emissions by 2050, making it almost impossible to achieve the below 2°C global target. The conundrum for developing countries like Kenya is that agriculture contributes a significant proportion to its GDP yet has negligible GHG emissions of less than 0.1 per cent (2018), a sharp contrast to China and the US, which emit 50-100 times more than Kenya.

Kenya must seriously have a moment of personal conscience on what it must do to help its citizens cope with the negative impacts of climate change.

Secondly, even with net zero emissions, carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for a long time. The extra heat will lead to temperature rises and in Kenya this is expected to be between 1-5 degrees Celsius. Kenyans will be responsible for cooling down their country by increasing forest cover to a minimum of 10 per cent.

In Vision 2030, Kenya aims at having a clean and healthy environment by increasing forest cover to 10 per cent and improving its capacity to adapt to climate change. Simultaneously, the soil organic carbon in most of Kenya's soils is quite low leading to reduced poor plant nutrition, low water holding capacity and erosion of top soil by water and wind.

It is imperative that excess carbon is removed from the atmosphere and put back in the soil where it is needed. These can be done through agroecological practices such as organic agriculture, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture, amongst others.

These practices will take care of the soil food web, which is nature’s operating system, reduce the need for synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, save farmers’ money and increase yields by up to 200 per cent. Carbon has a natural home in the soil, not the atmosphere.

Secondly, even with net zero emissions, carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for a long time. The extra heat will lead to temperature rises and in Kenya this is expected to be between 1-5 degrees Celsius. Kenyans will be responsible for cooling down their country by increasing forest cover to a minimum of 10 per cent.

This is because forests have lower temperatures, better air quality and create a microclimate that promotes regular rainfall within and in nearby farmlands. There is also evidence that people living in green spaces have better mental health and recover three times faster in the event of an illness.

Finally, although Kenya, like many African countries, has little historical or current responsibility for global climate change, as a nation it is important to remember that our actions have an impact on our future.

Importantly, interventions for sustainable food systems must recognise that our health, soil health and planetary health are one. As we pursue our share of $100 billion, the money must be disbursed "in a form that is democratic and responsive to the people at the heart of agriculture” according to AFSA’s secretary general Million Belay.

Simultaneously, Kenya must take the road less travelled of austerity by mainstreaming the regeneration of our soil in our policies, plans and programmes to ensure that Wanjiku and her children enjoy their right to food security and planetary health. We hope that the just-concluded Devolution Conference in Makueni was able to do just that. 

 

Wanjiru Kamau is an agriculture and environment expert, [email protected]

Karen Nekesa is the advocacy and communication co-ordinator ReSCOPE, [email protected]