Building resilience to climate change and enhancing food security in north eastern Kenya

Learning what to plant and when using climate forecasts for early decision making and contingency planning.

Noor Jelle is a 30 year old man from the Somali community living in Fafi District, Garissa County. Garissa is located in the north eastern part of Kenya where communities have traditionally survived as pastoralists. Noor is married and lives with his extended family, including his aging father.

Noor Jelle

For centuries, Noor’s community has used indigenous methods to predict seasonal weather patterns. This information is based on changes observed in the behaviour of birds and insects, the condition of plants, temperature changes and wind patterns among other things. However, with the changing climate patterns, it is becoming more and more difficult for the community to accurately predict and plan for the coming seasons. Prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns experienced over recent decades have resulted in Noor’s family losing their once large herds of camels and cattle.

The family has since been forced into an agro-pastoralist way of life, keeping a few goats and farming rain-fed crop, growing mainly maize. In 2011, the Horn of Africa experienced a food crisis that was described as one of the worst in the last 60 years. Noor’s family was hard hit by the crisis, which followed two consecutive poor rainy seasons and rising food prices. Aid agencies working in the area, including CARE, responded by providing short term humanitarian assistance to help the community survive the drought. Although the community expressed much appreciation for this support, what they really need are longer term initiatives that will strengthen their ability to cope with the increasingly frequent and prolonged droughts as well as the changing climate pattern in the area.

For many years in Kenya, CARE has been championing the empowerment of vulnerable communities, supporting them to take their destiny into their own hands and maintain their dignity. In 2011, the Adaptation Learning Programme (ALP) in CARE discovered that climate information was not being used effectively in planning for agro-pastoral activities and that this was contributing to higher drought and climate-related losses. Community members expressed a real need for simple and relevant climate information for their use.

ALP in Kenya is using Participatory Scenario Planning (PSP) workshops as an innovative and inclusive way of communicating climate information to communities and government departments. One and a half day workshops are carried out twice a year just after the national seasonal forecast has been released by the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD). Workshop participants include the meteorological department, community members, local government departments and local NGOs who share their knowledge about past and future climate forecasts. The workshops integrate scientific forecasts and local community knowledge to produce simple and locally relevant climate information that is then shared throughout the community through local communication channels such as mosques and chief’s meetings.

“We have been struggling with the concept of climate change but when ALP interacted with us and talked to us about it, we gained some interest in better understanding and using climate information from the Kenya Meteorological Department” reports Noor. “From the workshops we received information on rainfall and temperature, additional advice on what to plant when, where to get inputs, technical support and information on storage and even marketing in case the harvest was really good.”

According to Noor, at the end of the Oct-Dec 2011 rainy season, the community received a bumper harvest and minimal losses because they had received relevant information on storage and preservation of their harvest. They also received information that has enabled them to plant more drought resistant and early maturing seed varieties of maize, sorghum and cow peas as well as fodder which they can later sell to the pastoralist groups. Noor has continued to use climate information, and instead of selling as he had planned, he is now storing the remaining maize to provide food security during the coming season of predicted low rainfall.

ALP in Kenya is facilitating better use of climate information to strengthen the ability of individuals like Noor Jelle and other members of the Guyo community to make more informed livelihood decisions and cope with drought and climate related disasters. Through the program, the community has discussed and agreed on its development goals, analyzed its vulnerability and capacity to cope with climate related disasters and developed plans for adaptation. In north eastern Kenya, CARE is supporting this community and others to take advantage of emerging opportunities and to strengthen their resilience to recurrent droughts and other climate related threats to food security.