PCF5: Climate Change - A Tech-MODE approach for strengthening community responses in Kenya

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Kenya faces considerable negative impact to its economy and the livelihoods of the large majority of Kenyans due to the more variable and more severe climatic and weather patterns occurring due to climate change. These are already causing a range of effects on agriculture in Kenya. Some areas may demonstrate improved conditions for arable crops and pastures, however there will be overall increases in land mass under arid conditions, thereby decreasing productivity and water availability in large regions of the country. Rural farmers and communities are already undertaking some measures to adapt to these changes, but are hindered by lack of information on appropriate adaptation approaches and relevant climatic conditions. Tech-MODE tools which can reach rural communities would provide a means to address this barrier to local adaptation. Radio broadcasts reach the highest percentage of population of Kenyans, and are most suited to rural communities which may be limited in their access to computers, internet, mobile telephone signal, television and also lower literacy rates. The project being developed by the African Centre for Technology Studies and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology will develop radio broadcast programmes and accompanying training packages which can be used by local facilitators to improve adaptation among rural agricultural communities in Kenya. The feedback and knowledge from these communities can be communicated to policy-makers and other stakeholder groups to influence policy that can support rural communities in adapting to climate change.


Local knowledge indicates that climate change impacts are leading to significant negative effects on livelihoods in Africa, particularly among subsistence and small-scale agricultural communities. (Simms 2005; Magrath 2006) Technological tools conventionally used to facilitate open and distance learning are being applied to improve livelihoods in developing countries and have the potential to be used to improve rural communities’ ability to adapt to climate change impacts.

This paper provides an overview of a project being developed in Kenya, which will utilise radio broadcasting, accompanying training packages and local facilitators to assist rural farmers in their ability to adapt to the changing weather and climatic patterns. Background on the impact of climate change on the agricultural regions of Kenya is discussed, followed by the response of farmers and policy-makers to deal with the impacts and the challenges being faced. The emerging role for Technology-Mediated Open and Distance Education approaches to be used beyond the formal education system to address livelihood issues in communities is then presented, highlighting an example from India. Finally the potential project is outlined, which involves two Kenyan institutions developing radio broadcasts, accompanying training packages and training local facilitators for rural farming communities in Kenya to share appropriate adaptation approaches and access relevant climatic and weather forecasts and information.


According to the UNFCCC report on climate change in Kenya, impacts will be varied in different regions of the country. (GoK 2005) The high to medium productive areas of Kenya, which comprise 17% of Kenya’s land mass and are largely in highland areas, will face higher temperatures and more rainfall. It is anticipated that there will be a decrease in rainfall in the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya, which cover 83% of the total land mass.

The Government of Kenya, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (2005, p117) has indicated that the following secondary impacts are likely:

• A decrease in rainfall in the arid and semi-arid areas would increase the total area of the country under arid conditions. This has the potential disrupt agro-pastoral production systems and cause severe food insecurity in the event of droughts that would create water stress for both crops and livestock. Desertification would be intensified as vegetation cover deteriorates and soil erosion accelerates.

• A rise in temperature associated with increase in rainfall amounts in pastoral lands would have positive effect on pastures, hence livestock conditions, and arable crops in the same localities.

• In the high potential areas a rise of temperatures without corresponding increase in rainfall may predispose agriculture to increased levels of pests, such as aphids. Crop fecundity could decline requiring the development of new crop varieties.

• A corresponding increase in rainfall in the high potential areas would, however, have mixed results; landslides on steep slopes, floods, increased maturation period for crops, increased incidence of fungal diseases in potatoes, maize and beans.

• In the coastal areas, it is predicted that climate change would cause loss of biodiversity, siltation and salinization of agricultural land and change time of harvest.

Kenya’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture. Eighty percent of the population is directly or indirectly supported through farming, agro-based industries and firms (Orindi, 2004), and 90% of the population is actively involved in some level of farming. (Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa 2006)

Agriculture in Kenya is largely rainfed, and productivity depends largely on agro-ecological factors and in particular on rainfall. Other factors such as temperature, soil characteristics and the use of production input factors such as fertilizers and chemicals are also important for determining agricultural output. (GoK 2005)

Water shortages and reduced rainfall are common in many arid and semi-arid regions already. Increasingly frequent and longer droughts have been reported by local pastoral communities in northwest Kenya. Conflict has occurred between neighbouring communities in northern areas over scarce water resources. (Magrath 2006)

Response by farmers

A cross-Kenya study by the Centre for Environment and Economic Policy in Africa (2006) demonstrated that households already practice a range of adaptation measures, the most popular being crop diversification or mixed cropping and tree planting. However, 18% of households are hindered in adapting to climate change by a lack of information and knowledge on short-term climate variation and appropriate adaptation approaches (2006, p.3).

According to Simms (2005, p.8) farming technologies and sustainable agricultural techniques for dealing with the impacts of climate change are being successfully tested by farmer groups in East Kenya. However, the key to wider adoption of these techniques is through broader promotion, through official agricultural support, i.e. extension services, or other means.

At the national level, climate change is being mainstreamed into policies in Kenya. Particularly with CoP12 hosted in Nairobi in 2006, climate change has risen high within the political agenda. However, Orindi (2004, p.4) notes that explicit policies that target adaptation at the household or local community level are lacking. Policies tend to focus on introducing new technologies which may not only take time before implementing but are also capital and technology intensive hence unlikely to be implemented in the short term. There is a need to focus on policy that can support and enable rural communities to develop local responses in relation to the impacts they face on a seasonal basis.

The challenge that is faced in supporting rural farmers in adapting to climate change is being able to share knowledge, relevant climate information and adaptation practices among a nation-wide population. There is also a gap between national policies which focus on dealing with climate change issues and support for small-scale adaptation at the local level.


Open and distance learning (ODL) approaches are established within the formal education environments in Kenya. Many post-secondary institutions (i.e. universities, technical colleges, adult education training centres) offer dual-mode courses. Although distance learning courses tend to be print-media based, institutions and the Kenyan government are beginning to explore the range of information and communication technologies that can be used to facilitate learning. (Kironchi & Mwang’ombe, 2007) Institutions that have internet access, appropriate computer hardware, available teaching staff and established distance and continuing education programmes have high potential for using Technology-Mediated Open and Distance Education approaches (Tech-MODE).

There is a need to also address training and knowledge-sharing needs of rural communities. As previously indicated, lack of means to share and transfer knowledge is a hindrance to many Kenyan farmers being able to adapt farming practices to climate change impacts. Formal education routes for many rural agricultural households, though, would not be suitable due to constraints on time, finance and literacy skills.

Opportunities for using Tech-MODE approaches to enhance livelihoods are being tested in various spheres. Where Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be adapted to the needs and technological capacity of local communities, it can be a tool to facilitate knowledge transfer and improve the ability of communities to enhance their livelihoods. In India, the Commonwealth of Learning is facilitating a project using ICT kiosks established in rural areas by national government or private sector interests. The focus is on community-driven learning, linking rural farmer groups through the internet, intranet sites and video-conferencing with a consortium of agricultural and science-based institutions that work with them in addressing their farming issues in an exploratory manner. (Commonwealth of Learning 2008)


As 90% of Kenyans can be reached through radio broadcasting, with only 4.4% internet penetration, 2% accessing computers, 16% mobile use and 60% viewing television, the broadest and most immediate method for reaching rural Kenyans is through radio. (Kironchi & Mwang’ombe 2007)

The African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), based in Nairobi, has run a number of projects in climate change programming with rural farmers in Kenya, with the aim to increase household food security, reduce poverty through improved livelihoods & facilitate integration of adaptation to climate change. The focus of one of their current projects is to assess the use of forecasting and climate modelling to assist farmers in their agricultural practice, as well as conducting local farmer training.

The Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) is based in a rural region of western Kenya, in Kakamega. MMUST is establishing a community radio station within a telecentre that has been established in a village near Kakamega. The centre already has the transmission tower for 50 km radius broadcast, and it currently has internet access, a community library, a TV screening room and a newspaper reading room. MMUST also has a on-campus radio station, Radio MMUST-FM 103.9, which is currently on air locally, and is actively seeking with the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation to be able to broadcast nationally.

A joint three-year initiative is being developed, led by these two institutions, to develop radio programming and training packages which can assist rural Kenyan farmers to adapt farming practices to climate change impacts. The expected outcome of this project would be farmers and citizens in rural communities adapting to changing climate circumstances driven by climate change and climate variability and being able to make decision that increase their livelihood options.

Development and delivery of radio broadcasting and training packages for farmers and rural communities will be the primary activity within the project. Radio programs will be broadcast at fixed times, with a facilitator who would attend local community meetings and use the training packages to facilitate learning, discussion and receive feedback on the programs. Radio programs could also be recorded on cassette and circulated to villages where radio reach is limited, and occasional videos could be produced and shared among farming communities. The project will be piloted in several communities which ACTS is working with already on their climate change projects and at the aforementioned community telecentre. In future, ACTS and MMUST will explore with other organisations that work with arid and semi-arid area farming and pastoral communities in other parts of Kenya the potential to replicate the project in these areas.

The radio programs and accompanying training will be strongly derived from community input and will be tailored towards community needs and perceptions. Additional input will be drawn from ideas from communities and Kenyan organisations, and will incorporate the indigenous knowledge being documented. This could be conducted through phone-in shows, pre-prepared questions from communities and program themes suggested by farmer groups. Among the inputs would be climate information and seasonal forecasts from the national meteorological agencies. Links have also already been made with organisations outside of Kenya who have developed relevant source materials which could be adapted.

The key project stakeholders will undertake advocacy to show documented evidence on the strategic need for revised government policies and programs based on interactions with farmers – to show where policies must change to address those factors that challenge and undermine exiting coping strategies and to support autonomous coping strategies. As part of this advocacy the project will aim to share information widely to secondary audiences, through workshops, surveys and other communications such as publications and video. These audiences may include policy-makers, extension officers, teachers, churches, NGO forums and health workers, among others.

At the time of this paper, the project was in the early stages of development, conducting initial discussions with potential partners and developing project proposals. Once the project is underway, potential for further applications of the radio programming will be explored in more detail. MMUST has associations with regional development bodies with radio broadcasting capacity, reaching Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and other regions of Kenya. There is potential for the radio scripts and cassettes as well as the approach and methodology to be shared among these regional partners and with other communities beyond the region.


With the anticipated impacts of climate change across the regions in Kenya, there is significant likelihood in an overall negative effect on Kenya’s agricultural economy. Enabling rural farmers and communities to share appropriate agricultural adaptation practices and access relevant climatic and weather conditions and forecasts will help improve their ability to adapt to these changes. Radio broadcast programs, accompanying training packages and local facilitators, as being developed in this project by ACTS and MMUST along with various partner organisations, can be a useful tool to facilitate adaptation among rural agricultural communities across Kenya.


Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa (2006) Climate Change and African Agriculture, Policy Note No.12. University of Pretoria. Pretoria South Africa

Commonwealth of Learning (2008) Lifelong Learning for Farmers India – L3 programme www.col.org/colweb/site/pid/4787

Government of Kenya, National Environmental Management Authority, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (2005) Report on Kenya’s Climate Change Technology Needs and Needs Assessment Report under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Government of Kenya. Nairobi Kenya

Kironchi G. & Mwang’ombe A.W. (2007) Technology-Mediated Open and Distance Education in Agricultural Education and Training in Kenya: Opportunities and Challenges, Country Case Study. University of Nairobi. Nairobi Kenya.

Magrath J. (2006) Africa – up in smoke 2 The second report on Africa from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development. New Economics Foundation. London United Kingdom

Orindi V.A. (2004) Seed Fairs as a Drought Management Strategy in Kenya. African Centre for Technology Studies. Nairobi Kenya

Simms A. (2005) Africa – up in smoke? The second report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development. New Economics Foundation. London United Kingdom

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