Interview with SP8 Subproject Coordinator: Dr. Silke Stöber


December 2014 


Dr. Stöber, what is the SP8 all about?

The subproject aims at providing an analysis on the impacts of climate change on horticultural production in Kenya and on the environmental sustainability of the production itself. So there are two main components within SP8: adaptation and mitigation, among which the former is probably a bit more relevant. Mitigation plays a less prominent role, because the emissions of greenhouse gases in horticultural production systems are marginal compared to other agricultural sectors such as livestock, deforestation or land use changes. However, in some cases the emissions per unit of land can be very high in horticulture, too. As consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues, I guess that climate friendly vegetables will be a product of high demand in the future, given the consumer preferences of eating healthier and sustainably produced food. Therefore, in the mitigation component, we want to assess how different ALV value chain systems in Kenya are performing in ecological terms. We will make use of a feasible and fair carbon footprint model to analyse carbon emissions from different horticultural value chains. There hasn´t been done much research in this area in Kenya up to now.


Silke in her office in Berlin. © Sonja Wyrsch / HORTINLEA

What about the other main component of your SP: adaptation?

A general warming across all Kenya has been observed since 1960. Maximum day temperature increases are highest in West and North as well as Northeastern region. In most of the regions rainfall does not show any distinct trend. While the “Long Rain” season between March and May show declining trends, the “Short Rain” season from October to December extends into February in some locations. This trend is connected to the increased average sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean. Projected climate change impacts on food and water systems in Kenya are related to crop yields, water stress and more frequent droughts, flooding and coastal area management. Farmers are already struggling with these changes. Farmers and scientists in Kenya are very aware of pressures deriving from climate change. We could see that also in the high number of PhD scholarship applications for SP8 – with the majority of proposals in the field of adaptation. Within our research in SP8, our aim is to answer the following questions: What is the exposure to climate risks and how sensitive are ALV production systems to them in different areas? Is water stress the most important factor across all agro-ecological zones? How do the farmers cope with these difficulties? And, very importantly: What is their capacity to adapt? We want to find out what measures would help them in the best way: A better irrigation system, an improved pest management? To assess this, we will do a socio-economic analysis on the costs and benefits of adaptation measures by conducting case studies and focus group discussions.


What are the possible outputs of SP8?

For the mitigation component, a possible output is the definition of the most climate friendly ALV value chain, which is for example an ALV farming system that has low carbon emissions, builds up biodiversity and builds up organic matter in the soil with the potential to store more carbon. We will also define suitable practices that aim at reducing the “product carbon footprint”, taking into account the entire value chain of ALVs. We will assess the energy use, for example, by looking at the transport: How far are vegetables being transported, in what cars are they being transported, and will there be any potential for increasing efficiency? We could look at the cooling systems, and find out the economic and ecological value of using renewable energy. We could also look at the application of mineral fertilizers and how they can be substituted with organic fertilizers, and so on. Regarding adaptation, the findings of the analysis will be used to promote awareness among the farmers on technically feasible and economically viable adaptation actions. As farmers often struggle with lacking rural advisory and input supply systems, we will make sure that our recommendations will match with or feed into future agricultural policy planning. For example: If rain variability is increasing, the need for good meteorological information, water saving irrigation systems, or crop diversification are potential options. How to fund and disseminate these options will be part of a broader policy dialogue on climate-smart solutions.


Who is in the SP8 team?

I am the Project Coordinator of SP8 at the Centre for Rural Development (SLE) in Berlin since August 2014. My counterpart in Kenya is Dr. Hillary Bett from Egerton University, who is also involved in SP9, SP11, and SP12. In mid December 2014, we will select two PhD scholars who will be working at Egerton University. One of them will be focusing on adaptation, the other one on mitigation.


You are going to travel to Kenya in December 2014. What is the goal of your trip?

First of all, I am happy to meet the project partners for the first time. We will sign the contract of SP8 and we will have the possibility to discuss the main pillars of our work. And, as said earlier, we will conduct interviews with the pre-selected PhD candidates.


What is your professional background?

I have a long connection to SLE as I did my post-graduate studies there in 1994. Further, I spent all in all 11 years in Laos, working on small scale farming and food security with WFP, GIZ and CARE International. I would like to incorporate my experience into HORTINLEA, for example by connecting to the CARE adaptation learning platform from Care Kenya, and I will be meeting them during my visit to Kenya.


What are the biggest challenges for your subproject?

SP8 started late because of unexpected personnel changes. Our priority now is to catch up with the other SPs and reaching the milestones in time. The other challenge is the climate change itself: CO2 emission  trends are at a higher level than it was formerly projected, and targets set in the past to keep global warming at low levels became unrealistic. The warming of 1.5°C even with far-reaching mitigation action is already confirmed according to the World Bank. To put it in a nutshell: Climate change is faster than we work.


What do you personally think is special about HORTINLEA?

There are several things! First, the debate on hidden hunger is so prominent at the moment and food security and nutrition-sensitive agriculture continue to be important issues. It is very important to have interdisciplinary food security research projects like HORTINLEA. I also like the fact that HORTINLEA focuses on ALVs, because it has a high potential to strengthen local and regional value chains. There is great potential to grow the economic base of smallholder production, which empowers smallholder producers. Moreover, African scientists can contribute a lot more than Europeans do, as most of the research is done by scientists from there. Finally, with the SPs on gender, climate and poverty (SP8, 9 and 10), there are social and ecological cross-cutting sustainability dimensions covered in HORTINLEA, which I appreciate a lot.



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