Thriving in Dry Times

How Kenyan communities are working toward drought-resilient livelihoods through the national adaptation plan process

Kenya has been enduring severe drought since 2016.

In recent years, rain in Kenya has often come in the form of intense rainfalls that give rise to additional problems—flash flooding and desert locust outbreaks—rather than providing relief. The drought years have led to an estimated 4.2 million Kenyans in need of humanitarian assistance between 2019 and 2022.

As the climate crisis escalates, Kenyans are taking action to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In 2015, the Kenyan government launched the country’s first national adaptation plan (NAP), which set out a vision for building a climate-resilient future. The NAP is delivered through 5-year National Climate Change Action Plans (NCCAPs), with recent plans including priority adaptation actions that aim to reduce risks from drought, increase food security, and ensure access to water. Kenyan communities have an established track record on implementing measures to adapt to climate risk, including drought. Under the NAP process, the country is taking a coordinated approach to scaling up adaptation efforts and initiatives to address vulnerability and build resilience to climate change.

This article shares stories of how Kenyans are implementing adaptation, sharing the progress, challenges, and aspirations of communities as they adapt to the impacts of climate change under the NAP process.

Man bicycling over the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Man bicycling over the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A woman herding cattle on the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A woman herding cattle on the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local boys enjoy a daytime swim, jumping from the top of one canal gate that is used to control water flowing in farms to avoid flooding during heavy rainfall. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local boys enjoy a daytime swim, jumping from the top of one canal gate that is used to control water flowing in farms to avoid flooding during heavy rainfall. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A cracked canal wall as a result of high water pressure flowing during heavy rain. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A cracked canal wall as a result of high water pressure flowing during heavy rain. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Item 1 of 4

Man bicycling over the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Man bicycling over the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A woman herding cattle on the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A woman herding cattle on the Njoro Kubwa Canal. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local boys enjoy a daytime swim, jumping from the top of one canal gate that is used to control water flowing in farms to avoid flooding during heavy rainfall. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local boys enjoy a daytime swim, jumping from the top of one canal gate that is used to control water flowing in farms to avoid flooding during heavy rainfall. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A cracked canal wall as a result of high water pressure flowing during heavy rain. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

A cracked canal wall as a result of high water pressure flowing during heavy rain. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Restoring the Njoro Kubwa Canal in Taita–Taveta

Njoro Kubwa Canal is a 12-kilometre irrigation canal in Taveta, Taita–Taveta County. Originally built in 2007, the canal transformed the lives of residents in the area, turning a semi-arid area into one of the most fertile regions in the country. Between 40,000 and 50,000 households rely on the canal for farming, boosting the local economy and making Taveta a rich food-producing region.

However, in recent years, the canal fell into disrepair. Cracks in some of the constructed canal walls were leading to water loss, reduced water flow, and blockages within the canal.

To address these and other challenges, the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) 2017–2023 was implemented by the Kenyan government through a World Bank concessional loan. It is a flagship national project for improving food security and agriculture.

Under the KCSAP, the government invested KES 11 million (USD 75,000) in 2019 to restore the Njoro Kubwa Canal. The rehabilitation works improved the resilience of the canal to extreme rainfall events while ensuring the community continued to have access to water for irrigation and household use.

The canal restoration is an important example of the progress made under the NAP process toward the NCCAP’s priority action on food security to “increase crop productivity through improved irrigation.”

Ruth Benedict's farm grows tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Ruth Benedict's farm grows tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local farmer Ruth Benedict welcomed the Njoro Kubwa Canal restoration. She has farmed in the region for 25 years, growing tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local farmer Ruth Benedict welcomed the Njoro Kubwa Canal restoration. She has farmed in the region for 25 years, growing tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Christopher Kioko is a young farmer whose 2-acre farm benefits from the canal. Prior to farming, his family cut wood to produce charcoal. Kioko’s farm now grows bananas, beans, eggplant, cucumber and maize. When canal water levels are low, the water is unable to reach their crops. Photo: Charity Kishoyian, Irene Saitoti

Christopher Kioko is a young farmer whose 2-acre farm benefits from the canal. Prior to farming, his family cut wood to produce charcoal. Kioko’s farm now grows bananas, beans, eggplant, cucumber and maize. When canal water levels are low, the water is unable to reach their crops. Photo: Charity Kishoyian, Irene Saitoti

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Item 1 of 8

Ruth Benedict's farm grows tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Ruth Benedict's farm grows tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local farmer Ruth Benedict welcomed the Njoro Kubwa Canal restoration. She has farmed in the region for 25 years, growing tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Local farmer Ruth Benedict welcomed the Njoro Kubwa Canal restoration. She has farmed in the region for 25 years, growing tomatoes, beans, maize and bananas, which she sells to Mombasa and to the residents of Taveta. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Salim Rashid grows rice, yams, sugarcane and bananas on his farm in Kitobo B. He says that the canal has helped with irrigation, making his crops less depending on rainfall. However, during periods of high rainfall, Rashid and neighbors have experienced their crops being flooded. Photo: Charity Kishoyian

Christopher Kioko is a young farmer whose 2-acre farm benefits from the canal. Prior to farming, his family cut wood to produce charcoal. Kioko’s farm now grows bananas, beans, eggplant, cucumber and maize. When canal water levels are low, the water is unable to reach their crops. Photo: Charity Kishoyian, Irene Saitoti

Christopher Kioko is a young farmer whose 2-acre farm benefits from the canal. Prior to farming, his family cut wood to produce charcoal. Kioko’s farm now grows bananas, beans, eggplant, cucumber and maize. When canal water levels are low, the water is unable to reach their crops. Photo: Charity Kishoyian, Irene Saitoti

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Faith Isaac is another community member who has benefited from the Njoro Kubwa Canal. She has been a farmer for about seven years and owns half an acre of land where she plants bananas and ‘gogo’ (also known as garden eggs). Photo: Irene Saitoti.

Cattle, Dairy, and Aquaculture in Nyeri

John Karanja Wahome, Chairman of Aberdare Welfare Group, prepares feed for his cows. Photo: Catherine Lengipa Lengip

John Karanja Wahome, Chairman of Aberdare Welfare Group, prepares feed for his cows. Photo: Catherine Lengipa Lengip

In Nyeri County, the KCSAP provided critical support toward the NAP’s and NCCAP’s objectives to support small-scale subsistence farmers, including livestock farmers, to improve food security.

The Aberdare Welfare group accessed support under KCSAP for training on approaches—like adopting a “Zero Grazing” method where grass is cut fresh and fed to cattle.  The new approaches enable farmers to keep livestock when drought destroys pastures, while increasing their cattle’s production of milk—the group saw production grow from 6 litres per day to 20 litres per day. The training also provided methods for keeping their cattle healthier, for using manure to boost crop yields, and for using manure to produce biogas as an alternative source of energy in a community that had relied on firewood, often illegally cut from local forests.  The NCCAP 2018–2022 aimed to encourage 80,000 households to adopt biogas technology as a climate-smart agricultural approach that helps combat deforestation (a further priority under the NAP process). The Nyeri projects are helping to achieve this goal.

Members of the Nyeri-based Kiagi Self Help Group also accessed KCSAP funding to create a biogas unit. Biogas is now providing community members with an alternative to using illegally cut firewood for fuel. The use of biogas has also reduced indoor pollution that presents a health risks to the families. While modest, this achievement will add to other similar initiatives across Kenya in the achievement of the adaptation targets under the NAP and NCCAP. They have also accessed training on farming practices like crop rotation and dam building to harvest water to deal with inconsistent rainfall.

Miriam Wothaya from the Kiagi Self Help Group checking her bio-gas chamber and cooking using bio-gas, an alternative to firewood. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Miriam Wothaya from the Kiagi Self Help Group checking her bio-gas chamber and cooking using bio-gas, an alternative to firewood. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Item 1 of 4

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo

Rose Migure has built a water pan for her cattle and farm needs. Photo: Esther Tinayo