In November 2022, it emerged that residents of Kenya’s Kajiado County, the majority of them pastoralists, were selling their livestock at throw-away prices to avoid further losses occasioned by a drought that was leading to the deaths of their livestock.
The World Meteorological Organization termed it as the ‘longest drought to hit the Greater Horn of Africa in 40 years, and according to a report by Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Kajiado County lost 38.8 percent of its livestock between September and November 2022.
Spread climate-smart solutions and social innovations
Arising from the need for a long-term solution to the problem, the Alliance for Science launched a campaign, Relief To Resilience, at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2022. The campaign was meant to rally organizations and stakeholders within the science community in the Global South to spread climate-smart solutions and social innovations to help deal with the challenges of climate change, food security, and global health.
At the inaugural African Conference of Agricultural Technology (ACAT) held from October 30 to November 3, 2023, in Nairobi, Kenya, several science allies, including the Alliance for Science, convened to discuss further steps from relief to resilience in the context of innovation — the centrality of science, technology, and innovation (STI) in fostering resilience.
“As Alliance for Science, we thought of how to stop the cycle, how to make Relief to Resilience the driving narrative not just in Kajiado County but across the Global South,” Dr Sheila Ochugboju, the Executive Director of Alliance for Science said during a panel discussion.
“So, we designed a flagship program that would allow us to look at what it would take to move the needle from relief to resilience, which was based around long-term documentation within communities such that by the end of the year, we would have a demonstration on how these communities were shifting and adapting to climate change.”
Under-utilized crops and fruits
The panel had Dr Lusike Wasilwa, Director of Crop Systems Research at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro), Dr Vitumbiko Chinoko, project manager of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Kayode Abiola, a geneticist and plant breeder, Tito Arunga from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Jackline Koin, the Alliance for Science Resilience Ambassador.
“What does it mean to move from relief to resilience in the context within which science is applied in your areas of expertise?” Dr Sheila posed.
Dr Wasilwa said Kalro is spearheading research around some of the under-utilized crops and fruits, such as guavas, which are resilient and climate-smart. “Some of such fruits are under threat of extinction because, in certain Kenyan communities, they are cut down for charcoal. Our campaign is to conserve these fruits through responsible utilization. Moving these fruits from the wild into our plates, repopulating our landscapes improves our agroecology.”
Integrating biotechnology into agriculture
There are about 400 species of fruits in Kenya, but only 90 have been commercialized. In 2022, Kenya exported about 277 million dollars worth of edible fruit and nuts, with mangoes contributing almost 15 percent of the total value. In September 2022 alone, Kenya exported approximately 6.5 thousand metric tons of fruits.
Dr Vitumbiko Chinoko said biotechnology has a role in ensuring resilience and that governments in African countries have been flip-flopping on policies of integrating biotechnology into agriculture.
“We need to be strategic in how we deploy our resources and chart the way forward on the shared vision of biotechnology,” he said. “This is where OFAB comes in. We bring together stakeholders from different countries to discuss biotechnology and to come up with how they want to look at biotechnology as a tool for resilience, adaptation, and economic growth. Since science is progressive, we need to evaluate this quickly before we are left behind.”
Resilience has to be sustainable
The European Union Commission recently tabled a proposal to regulate certain new genomic techniques (NGTs). The proposal has been criticized mainly for being restrictive, including a report by Breakthrough Institute and the Alliance for Science called “The €3 Trillion Cost of Saying No: How the EU Risks Falling Behind in the Bio-economy Revolution,” which estimated the economic costs of the EU’s restrictive regulations at 3.2 trillion dollars.
Dr Abiola said relief is not meant to be permanent. ”It is intended to be a quick way out of a situation. However, resilience has to be sustainable,” he said, adding that Africa is only about 60 percent sufficient in rice and imports about 16 million metric tons of the grain annually.
Consider the nutritional value and not just the quantity
“At Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), we see this as an opportunity to develop and embrace technologies that can steer us towards food security. We released the first set of hybrid rice technology in 2018, and since then, about 15 different hybrids have been in use. The strategy is to increase productivity in Africa to self-sufficiency level. This cannot be done without science and technology and innovations.”
Food security encompasses assessing the availability of food that is safe and nutritious in sufficient amounts. Thus, it is important to consider not only the quantity but the nutritional value.
“There are certain important nutrition values in crops that can only be achieved through biofortification. For instance, rice comes fortified with Vitamin A. Biotechnology can help introduce iron and zinc for farmers who cannot access proteins, for example,” Dr Abiola said
However, beyond production, science and technology also play a significant role in agribusiness.
Address cultural impediments
“Science and innovation are also critical for commercialization and root to market,” Arunga said. ”There are opportunities in agriculture. Repetitive drought in Kenya has seen an economic loss of about 350 million dollars in livestock loss alone. While we look at immediate responses to that at FAO, we are now looking at long-term sustainability, and science has been critical for that. We are looking to connect science to business so that communities can sustain themselves within agricultural possibilities but in a quality manner, such as through food safety and quality systems.”
Koin said that resilience within communities such as those around Kajiado County means not only sustainability but also accessibility in terms of cost. “These responses need to go beyond immediate food and financial aid to other factors such as in education where school-feeding programs can be helpful because children drop out of schools during droughts.”
To address these crises, stakeholders need to work towards addressing cultural impediments such as customs that contribute to food insecurity or climate change.
“Where I come from,” Koin said, “we depend on livestock for food and commerce, so when drought comes and we lose them, we are massively affected. I had slowly tried to encourage cultural shifts from livestock dependency to cultivate such things as vegetable, which was once regarded as bitter herbs, and fish farming, which was never there because fish were considered snakes. Farmers who have adopted these, and they are quite a number, are less affected by the erratic climate.”
Gloriah Amondi is a Kenya-based multilingual human rights lawyer, Mandarin teacher, and writer contributing to The Nation’s weekend editions. Her works have been published in journals such as Kalahari Review, Ibua Literary Journal, Lolwe Literary Magazine, and Dooney’s Café.