The Yatta Region is a small sub county, part of the larger Machakos County in Kenya, Africa. With a population of 147,579, 73% of the labor force depends on agriculture (Agesa et al., 2019). Smallholder agriculturalists and pastoralists are the main source of livelihood for most of Kenya's arid and semi-arid lands. The reliance on the land makes the communities in Kenya extremely at risk to climate changes. (Kalele et al., 2021). The agricultural industry in Africa, specifically small scale farmers, are extremely vulnerable to climate change and rainfall changes (Apraku et al. 2021).

(Google Earth, 2015)

(Bobby VJ, 2021)


Climate related events in Kenya are decreasing:

  • Agricultural yields (Eichsteller et al. 2022)
  • Income (Agesa et al., 2019) 
  • Nutrition (Cheruiyot et al. 2022) 
  • Productivity (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020).

(Marson, 2022)

(Wong, 2021)

(Agesa et al., 2019).

Climate Change Hazards

In more recent years the vulnerable Yatta region has begun to see more and more impacts of climate change. 

Yattan farmers reported that the main reasons for decreased agricultural performance were: 

  • Unreliable rainfall 
  • Drought
  • Low fertility of soil
  • Low moisture of soil 
  • Pest and disease (Agesa et al., 2019).


Rainfall changes over the past 10 years, specifically longer dry periods with sporadic distribution of rainfall have led to a decline in farm yields across all poverty trajectories (Eichsteller et al. 2022). The main concern to the stability of agriculture in Kenya is the predicted variability of rainfall, as the prolonged periods of drought and seasonal patterns of rainfall will continue to affect agricultural productivity. Further, climate induced events hold the majority of the responsibility for undesirable agricultural yields (Bryan et al., 2011).

Rainfall Reliance

Drought is an extremely pressing issue for most of Kenya. The majority, approximately 98%, of agriculture in Kenya is reliant on rainfall. Since the 1960’s the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya (including Yatta) have faced abnormal temperature and rainfall changes (Kalele et al., 2021). Currently, it is estimated that only 16% of Kenya's land collects enough rain consistently for suitable crop yield (Kalele et al., 2021). Climate models found that climate conditions in the Yatta region are expected to have a decline in rainfall, increase in temperature, and rising sea levels, which is further predicted to lead to drought and lower agricultural productivity (Apraku et al. 2021).Temperature rise is associated with precipitation decrease within the Yatta region (Agesa et al., 2019, F.3). On a global scale, heat stress is a major reason for crop failure and declines in agricultural productivity, the highest rates found in the tropics (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020).

Temperature Affect on Crops

Temperature not only prolongs drought but also affects the rate of crop evapotranspiration, which reduces the moisture in the soil, impacting crop growth and development; this in turn leads to poor crop yields overall (Mumo et al.2021). Climate change will continue to decrease the suitability of land which will decrease crop yields (Mumo et al.2021).


Economic Vulnerabilities

Kenya’s agriculture makes up about 52% of its gross domestic product (Kalele et al., 2021). Smallholder farmers make up the majority of the agricultural industry in Kenya, producing 63% of the country's food (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020) and it is them who are seeing the direct effect of climate change to their livelihoods (Kalele et al., 2021). These communities in Africa are particularly vulnerable for climate change as they have limited ability to adapt to these changes. The poverty rate in Kenya is around 52% of the population (Agesa et al., 2019; Bryan et al., 2011). Poor farmers depend on their agricultural yields for livelihood, land, crops, and livestock are seen as a “safety net” for many incomes (Eichsteller et al. 2022). 


Smallholder farmers in Kenya are the most likely to feel the adverse effect of climate change and have less agency to adapt. While the majority of the Kenyan population earns their living from agriculture, productivity has been on the decline annually (Agesa et al., 2019). These climate events and specifically rainfall patterns have 

  • Changed the timeline of farming
  •  Have delayed farming practices
  • Or have led to complete abandonment of the practice.

All of which lead to a direct decrease in income for those farmers and families that rely on agriculture (Cheruiyot et al., 2022).


(Kalele et al., 2021)


The most affected livelihood variables by climate events were:

  • Food Shortage
  • Increased food prices
  • Decreased availability to water

Health Vulnerabilities

(Beks, 2019)

Mental Health Effects

Physical Health Effects

Diverse crops are becoming scarce from drought, causing a gap in nutrition for many Kenyan residents. Further, as poverty rates rise due to the lack of income from agricultural losses, people have less ability to afford a variety of food (Cheruiyot et al. 2022).  From 2000 to 2010 rainfall patterns influence an increase in impoverishment by 11.6% probability (Eichsteller et al. 2022). Food intake is now based on eating more filling (or high caloric) foods for survival rather than eating more nutritional food to create a balanced diet. Further, poor crop yields enhance this scarcity which directly leads to undernutrition (Cheruiyot et al. 2022).

Rising temperatures have also created an unsafe work environment for many smallholder farmers in Africa. Smallholder agriculturalism in East Africa relies mainly on a high human labor input, therefore, the length and duration of heat waves physically harms smallholder farmers in East Africa (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020). Heat-related illness occurs if the body is unable to balance the heat generated by work and external heat with heat loss. Weather conditions for Agriculturalists in sub-Saharan Africa are therefore at risk of heat related illness due to their weather conditions (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020).

Heat stress leads to 

  • Economic losses (from lower labor productivity)
  • Increased violence 
  • Emotional problems
  • Lower life satisfaction (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020).


Since climate related events in Kenya are decreasing:

  • Agricultural yields (Eichsteller et al. 2022)
  • Income (Agesa et al., 2019) 
  • Nutrition (Cheruiyot et al. 2022) 
  • Productivity (Yengoh and Ardö, 2020)

the country adaptation needs are acute.

48.3% of Kenyan semi-arid farmers reported adaptation by changing planting dates, 35.9% said earlier planting, 42.7% reported diversifying their crops and 37.6% started planting drought tolerant variations (Kalele et al., 2021). Drought tolerant crops such as sorghum, pigeon pea, cowpea, green gram, lablab bean, and cassava to cope with drought and food insecurity. However not everyone is adjusted to eating these new crops and still rely on maize and beans (Kalele et al., 2021).

(Tamara Leigh/IFRC-Climate Centre, 2012)


While adaptation efforts are limited in the Yatta sub-county, farmers have coped with climate events through:

  • Addition of organic and inorganic fertilizers
  • Agroforestry
  • Rain water harvesting
  • Using appropriate crop variations
  • Soil and water conservation
  • Cropping systems
  • Using drought tolerant crops
  • Irrigation

(Agesa et al., 2019)

Adaptation Through Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Many Farmers in Kenya are turning towards Indigenous seeds, which farmers report are drought-resistant and more likely to guarantee a good harvest regardless of erratic rain patterns (Malesi, 2022). Further, these leafy vegetables have higher nutritious and medical value and are easier to breed in sporadic weather conditions (Malesi, 2022).

About the Author

Sally Eggers graduated St. Lawrence University in 2025 as an Environmental and Sociology major with an African Studies minor. She completed this website in spring 2023 in her course entitled Adapting to Climate Change. In spring 2024 she completed a study abroad program in Kenya; which drew her into learning more about climate impacts in Kenya. Further, her interest in agriculture and experience interning at St. Lawrence University’s Suitability Farm in the summer 2023 sparked her interest studying agriculture in Kenya.


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Beks. (2019). [Photo] Unsplash.


Google Earth. (2015). Kenya [Photo]


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VJ, B. (2021). Landscape Tea Plantation. [Photo] Unsplash.


Wong, S. (2021). [Photo] Unsplash.


Yegon, M. (2022). [Photo] Unsplash.