The International Livestock Research Institute has had several interventions to ensure that the effects of climate change are well tolerated by herders as well as livestock farmers.
Since the onset of the climate change debate, scientists have emphasized the need to get real data that present the true picture. This has mainly been conducted through satellite imaging and simulations, which often have a certain degree of variance.
While satellite data is more effective in giving data from a wider geographical area, the use of ground covariance towers provides a better understanding of what is happening on the land surface and use the data to validate what is available on the satellite data.
In the plains of Kapiti, 70Km south of Nairobi, scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have set up the covariance ground towers that have become a reference site for the validation of satellite-derived land surface temperature (LST) in partnership with King’s College London (KCL).
This is the first of such facilities in Eastern Africa, providing scientists with real data on applications such as climate change monitoring, pest and disease prediction, and agricultural yield prediction. The ground tower are connected to the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the globe and it is analyzed through the partner institutions.
With funding provided by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) International Partner Project (IPP) “Pest Risk Information Service” (PRISE) and the UK National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), the Kapiti Research Centre has four measurement towers containing various types of radiometers, including both commercially available instruments as well as instruments provided by US’s NASA-JPL.
In addition, the towers are equipped with digital cameras for cloud and vegetation monitoring. This allows us to measure the variety of land-cover types within the satellite’s view – an area of few square kilometres – and therefore understand how different vegetation types influence the temperature ‘seen’ by the satellite.
This corrected product will be used to more accurately model crop pests and disease occurrence, with the results distributed to farmers across Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi, and Ghana.
The Kapiti validation site is the only one of its type available in East Africa that has adopted the NASA’s recently launched sensor (ECOSTRESS) that is attached to the International Space Station. ECOSTRESS aims to examine vegetation stress due to water loss and requires ground-based validation data of the type provided by the instruments installed at Kapiti. Therefore, the Kapiti data will also be involved in the NASA-ECOSTRESS data validation processing chain.
The ground research is also developing measurements that will detect and report on greenhouse gas emissions in the region and relate that to livestock production. For long, climate change crusaders have pushed the notion that rearing of livestock was responsible for a huge portion of greenhouse gases especially methane.
However, a new research paper published by scientists of the Mazingira Centre of ILRI reported evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from dung patches in developing countries are ‘likely highly overestimated’ in global livestock emissions estimates.
Lutz Merbold, a senior scientist Mazingira Centre notes that the data collected is already providing an insight of open pastureland and their contribution to climate change.
As well as LST, continuous observations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) are crucial to understanding how individual ecosystems contribute to carbon release or compensate for carbon uptake in climate change. Deriving this essential data for whole ecosystems is a standard in developed countries but rarely achieved in the developing world.
Up to now, only a few so-called ‘flux towers’ have been maintained running on the African continent. The flux towers that do exist are located in different ecosystems and in Southern, Northern or Western Africa. The state-of-the-art flux tower observation station on ILRI’s Kapiti research station observes common rangeland where both livestock and wildlife are present. This therefore jointly representing the only site of its kind in the global effort of a green-house gas flux measurement.
Atmospheric methane concentrations are increasing, with particular rises being observed in the tropics, but the sources for this increase are unclear. Such ground-sampling campaigns as done by the team from ILRI and the UK can assist in identifying distinct sources and better explain rising methane concentrations in the atmosphere.
One of the experiments being conducted includes the collection of samples from livestock including cattle, sheep, goats and camels as well as from their faeces to identify the isotopic signature of the methane – more accurately the carbon and the hydrogen atoms in the methane – originating from belching of the animals and from manure.
According to Sonja Leitner, a Postdoctoral researcher and soil ecologist, there is evidence of methane production from animals in the region, but not as bad as is in commercial production system found in the west. Equally, she said livestock systems in Africa once done in a good way are helpful in reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere hence providing an equilibrium. This is what, she says her research is trying to achieve.
This is under part of the African Ruminant Methane: Measurements and Analysis (ARMMA) Project funded under the Cambridge-Africa Alborada Research Fund.
Kapiti is an ILRI research station located on 32,000 acres of semi-arid rangeland in southeastern Kenya. The 80 ILRI staff working at Kapiti maintain for research purposes about 2,500 head of Kenya’s native and popular Boran beef cattle, 1,200 native Kenyan red Maasai and exotic Dorper sheep, and 250 Galla goats, which are native to northern Kenya. The different breeds and types of livestock are kept at Kapiti to conduct research on animal health and productivity for the benefit of millions of farmers, herders and pastoralists in Kenya and across Africa and Asia.
Kapiti is home to various wildlife, including giraffes, gazelles, antelopes and zebras, as well as predators such as hyenas, lions, cheetahs, and leopards. Owing to various infrastructural developments in the neighborhood (highways, Konza Technology City), Kapiti has become a safe haven for wildlife.
This is not the first time the research institute has developed a life-changing invention in the area of livestock research and climate modeling. ILRI and the World Bank implemented a pilot livestock insurance program for vulnerable pastoralists called Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI).
The IBLI is based on satellite data, measuring the quality of pastureland every 10-16 days. These data predict livestock mortality. When evolving range conditions predict livestock mortality in excess of a critical threshold over a predetermined area, the insurance pays contract-holding pastoralists for their losses, allowing them to manage their individual risk.
This project has been expanded by a government-run Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP), which covers the vast arid and semi-arid counties of northern Kenya. ILRI is providing KLIP with technical assistance.
These ‘index-based’ insurance schemes reduce the impacts of livestock losses due to severe dry spells by compensating livestock keepers when the forage in an area becomes depleted by drought. This helps the herders who take out the insurance to recover from drought faster and better from drought.
Source: The Exchange