The national strategy on genetic resources within the context of climate change for 2016-2021 was launched last month (27 January).
“Biodiversity is a valuable asset, which if appropriately leveraged, will provide most solutions to impacts of climate change and other social hardships.”
Eliud Kireger, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation
Eliud Kireger, director-general of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), one of the institutions involved in implementing the strategy, told participants at the launch: “The project interrogates causes and impacts of climate change and loss of biodiversity in the country and proposes necessary coping mechanisms and action plans for effective conservation and sustainable utilisation of genetic resources.”
The project is being coordinated by Genetic Resources Research Institute (GeRRI) — an organisation created by KALRO and the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestockand Fisheries — in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme.
Kireger explained that climate change has resulted in increased variability and intensity of drought and floods, higher temperatures, loss of biodiversity and increased incidents of pests and diseases.
According to Kireger, climate change is already affecting the production of and access to food for different social groups, rendering domestic agriculture less effective in meeting nutrition and food security needs.
“Biodiversity is a valuable asset, which if appropriately leveraged, will provide most solutions to impacts of climate change and other social hardships,” said Kireger, adding that the project’s partners are still looking for funding and proposing the idea to investigators.
Willy Bett, the cabinet secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, said that resources such as diversity in plants, animals, insects and aquatic plants constitute a rich national heritage that need to be conserved and harnessed to sustain human livelihoods in terms of food, shelter, medicines and environmental health.
Bett added that seeds of crops such as finger millet, Bambara nut and wild lettuce could be preserved, thus increasing their cultural and genetic diversity to counter economic monopoly.
“The basis and source for the development of quality seed or planting materials are the genetic resources or germplasm, which are maintained for the purpose of breeding, preservation and other research uses,” he explained.
Bett explained that genetic resources may take the form of seed collections stored in seed banks, trees growing in nurseries or animal breeding lines maintained in gene banks.
Desterio Nyamongo, the director of GeRRI, called for the development of partnerships among institutions to raise awareness of genetic resources conservation and use, as well as investment in the strategy.
“Lack of a comprehensive biodiversity conservation facility for animal, microbial and aquatic genetic resources compromises germplasm security,” Nyamongo said.
Ruth Vaughan, technical manager at Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services (CROPNUTS), East Africa's leading accredited agricultural laboratory and agronomy services company, applauds the strategy and tells SciDev.Net that biodiversity, plant cover and mixed farming systems should be studied and enhanced.
Vaughan says susceptible plant species should be stored and protected. “Suitability for different plants in different climatic zones will obviously change with climate change. One never knows the usefulness of existing plants, microbes, insects and animals in the future and the study of interactions between these is important. Saving the gene pool is incredibly important.
“Kenya is in a sensitive zone, where some areas will receive enhanced rainfall and much more importantly bigger storms. Anything that will help drainage, water storage or reduce erosion is highly important to stop flooding and water source contamination,” says Vaughan.
Noting that soil health is important in the recycling of nutrients and building up of soil carbon to reduce climate change effects, Vaughan adds: “Micorrhiza is one such soil organism that I believe would go a long way to reducing the impact of climate change.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.