Kenya is located in east Africa, at latitudes of 6°S to 6°N. Located on the Indian Ocean, its climate is tropical, but moderated by diverse topography in the west. Kenya’s topography rises from the coastal plains to the eastern edge of the East African Plateau, and the Great Rift Valley. The central highland regions are substantially cooler than the coast, with the coolest (highest altitude) regions at 15°C compared with 29°C at the coast. Temperatures vary little throughout the year, but drop by around 2 degree in the coolest season. Seasonal rainfall in Kenya is driven mainly by the migration of the Inter‐Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), relatively narrow belt of very low pressure and heavy precipitation that forms near the earth’s equator. The exact position of the ITCZ changes over the course of the year, migrating southwards through Kenya in October to December, and returning northwards in March, April and May. This causes Kenya to experience two distinct wet periods – the ‘short’ rains in October to December and the ‘long’ rains in March to May. The amount of rainfall received in these seasons is generally 50‐200mm per month but varies greatly, exceeding 300mm per month in some localities. Kenya’s geographic location makes it inherently prone to cyclical droughts and floods. However, according to the First National Communication (INC), such types of cyclical climate-driven events will increase in intensity and frequency due to global climate change. Livelihoods and economic activities in Kenya’s are highly vulnerable to climatic fluctuations in space and time. The country’s inland areas are largely arid with two thirds of the country receiving less than 500 mm of rainfall per year, limiting the potential for agriculture. In general inter-annual climate variability is high. The arid and semi-arid regions cover about 83 per cent of the country; only around 17 per cent of Kenya’s land is arable (MENR, 2010). Land degradation is a key issue in Kenya, driven partly by overgrazing and deforestation; biomass accounts for 78 per cent of the energy consumed in the country (MENR, 2010). Indeed, high population growth, deforestation, shifting climate patterns and overgrazing have significantly degraded the country’s environment (USDS, 2010). Rainy seasons can be extremely wet and associated with floods and landslides, but can also arrive late or fail, introducing considerable uncertainty in agricultural practices. The rural poor are the most vulnerable to the impacts of Kenya’s current climate variability.
Kenya has the largest economy in East Africa, and serves as a finance and transport hub for the region (USDS, 2010). Rain-fed agriculture, tourism and the services industry are major drivers of its economy (MENR, 2010). Additional key industries include livestock/pastoralism, horticulture, fisheries and forest products (MENR, 2010). Approximately 75 per cent of Kenyans derive their livelihoods from the agricultural sector (CIA, 2010). With many Kenyans living abroad, remittances also contribute greatly to Kenya’s economy; they constitute the single largest source of foreign exchange and act as a social safety net (USDS, 2010). Despite the relative regional strength of Kenya’s economy, a large number of Kenyans live in extreme poverty; mean annual income per capita is approximately US$700 (USDS, 2010).