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Droughts in Kenya detrimental to agriculture and economy


Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea in the world, with over 349,000 tonnes of tea exported annually, accounting for 22 per cent of world exports. However with impending draughts in the region, Kenya’s economy is on a downturn. Kenya is one of the oldest African producers and has history in tea growing dating back to 1903. Currently, Kenya’s tea industry has expanded to 69,000 hectares of land under cultivation by smallholders, the protection of the Kenya Tea Development Authority and tea producing companies.

Because of its climate, tea grows all year. Coffee is also a large export for Kenya, being the third leading foreign exchange earner, below tea and tourism. Like tea, coffee will be affected because of drought.

With droughts anticipated, production of tea in Kenya could come to a standstill with as much as a 12 per cent production decrease in 2011, according to the Kenya Tea Board. Lower production of tea would have a deafening effect on Kenya’s economy, as the nation relies on agriculture for one-quarter of its GDP. Half of Kenya’s exports are also agriculturally based.

Lower crop production in agriculture, for all Kenyan goods, not just tea or coffee, would have a chain effect on the economy and a negative influence on the employment sector.

Future forecasts

As more than one-third of Kenya’s electricity is generated from rainfall fed damns, the drought could lead to power outages, affecting firms and manufacturers. Millions in Kenya already face famine, and energy sector executives have already vowed to ensure electricity supply is not interrupted due to drought.
Kenya is currently forecasted to be much drier than usual from October to December 2011. With droughts comes an increased risk of famine. In 2008, with major droughts throughout Kenya, 10 million Kenyans were susceptible to starvation.

In 2010, when there were early predictions of drought, the help of groups like Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the Kenyan government tried to distribute drought resistant crops and gain additional grain reserves. However, despite these precautions, there may not be enough to prevent famine. Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock Development warned that more than 6 million cattle, 150,000 camels, and 16 million goats in Kenya were at risk because of the draughts in the country.

The government has plans to alleviate some of these risks, planning to buy cattle and livestock in endangered areas and, if needed, will transport food throughout the country to those facing famine and drought in the region. The Red Cross Society of Kenya also has plans of launching an appeal for assistance and wants the government to declare a national disaster.

With no rain forecasted over the next three months, Kenya’s government is saying that its food reserves are dissipating quickly. Weather change is somewhat unpredictable, making it difficult to truly maintain crop growth.

Scientists at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Katumani are studying these weather patterns, hoping to predict such patterns. Now, drought is eminent and rain is falling on unpredictable days, setting back farmers. In assistance, the Kari Katumani Centre has documented climactic patterns in order to guide farmers.

Somalia is also experiencing these dry weather patterns, and a devastating drought has hampered its agricultural industry. Mauritius is considering digging boreholes to aid its water shortages. The price for African tea could increase to $3.50 per kilogram by the middle of 2011.

Potato planting

Unpredictable rainfall is increasing potato planting in Kenya as opposed to maize which has widely been the staple crop. This is due to potatoes being less susceptible to unpredictable weather. Faced with this worsening drought in Kenya, farmers are being encouraged to grow potatoes because it is a fast-maturing vegetable and can help when there are shortages in grain staples.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya, potato farming has grown since 2003. Drought related losses between 2000 and 2009 have amounted to 240 billion Kenyan shillings.

Kenya’s agricultural future is an uncertain one. The country will need foreign aid in the coming year if droughts continue as predicted. With initiatives through the government as well as prediction methods, Kenya may some day be able to prevent the economic and social consequences of drought. However, with weather being unpredictable, this may prove to be an ongoing problem, with countries like Kenya suffering the consequences.

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