Agriculture, Food and Beverage

How Kenyan farming communities are adapting to climate change

Sophie Mbugua
Journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Agriculture, Food and Beverage

Gusts of wind blow the dust coming from thousands of animals as they make their way to Urura borehole in Kenya’s arid northern Merti ward.

The well is set in a grazing area reserved for use only during severe drought periods. This dry month, about 3,000 cows, 12,000 goats and 1,800 donkeys access the strategic water reserve every day.

Abdi Matoiye from Biligi village and his 100 cows have walked for about 20 kilometres (12 miles) to get here – and it’s not just the water that is the attraction.

Matoiye recently lost a cow after it was bitten by wild dogs infected with rabies. Now he is worried that the calf is showing signs of the disease too. Fortunately, a veterinarian is available to answer this distress call.

“A cow gets infected by sniffing bites from the bitten cow,” Matoiye believes. “We are worried that more cows might die since we are sharing the grazing area and the borehole.”

Northern Kenya, an arid region inhabited by nomadic pastoralists, is increasingly prone to droughts, a problem that has depleted livestock, water and pasture. Migration during drought periods exposes animals to diseases as they converge on remaining grazing land and watering points.

And pasture and water scarcity continue to be a key driving force for conflict between communities as livestock and people move around the counties of Marsabit, Moyale, Garissa, Isiolo and Wajir, locals say.

But a two-year effort to bring together a range of adaptations to the worsening drought – including new wells and other water sources, carefully managed grazing reserves and better veterinary care – is helping pastoralists such as Matoiye manage drought better and protect their animals, incomes and families.

Often such combinations of adaptation efforts – rather than simply one change alone – are the key to building real resilience to worsening climate extremes, experts say. Letting community members decide what needs to change also is important, they say.

The Isiolo adaptation pilot project, backed with $1 million from the U.K. Department for International Development through the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), encouraged community members to identify investments that would build their resilience to climate change and then financed these projects.

Now, “we have white (wet-season), dry (after the rains) and drought grazing areas in Isiolo”, explained Ndiba Ngolicha, the chairman of the local range land user association. “It has only rained for two days within the year but we have not lost a single cow to drought or lack of pasture. Our biggest challenge remains livestock diseases,” he said.

Women and water

Matioye is just one of many people benefiting from the changes.

Nangisan Lesiyampe, a widow from Nantundu village, used to have to walk for 30 kilometres (18 miles) each day, trying to avoid wild animals, to fetch water at Ewaso Ng’iro, the closest flowing river. Today a smiling Lesiyamp walks only a kilometre and a half to a Nantundu water pan, which has cleaner water.

“Every woman carried a 20-liter jerry can on her back and 5 liters in both hands every day,” Lesiyamp remembered about her former trek, while old people and bigger girls were left to watch the children and gather fodder for the animals.

With just 30 liters of water available a day for both people and animals, hard choices had to be made, she said.

“Goats were the priority, otherwise you had no milk production that day. You had to make a choice every day between food and cleanliness” Lesiyampe said.

One major aim of the drought adaptation effort is to cut the spread of animal diseases as pastoralists move long distances with their herds in search of grazing and water, through both prevention and fast identification of disease outbreaks.

According to the Joseph Nduati, the Isiolo county director of veterinary services, when large numbers of animals gather at a few wells and pasture areas, the spread of highly contagious and often deadly viral diseases such as rinderpest, or goat plague, and CCP (contagious caprine pleuropneumonia) can lead to large-scale deaths.

In July, his team spent two weeks vaccinating and deworming animals at Urura borehold – an exercise repeated across all the new grazing areas.

Also, a nearby laboratory in Kinna ward is working to diagnose diseases quickly. “Previously the pastoralist had to wait over two weeks to get results as we had to rely on laboratories from Nairobi and Karatina” more than 200 kilometres (125 miles) away, Nduati said. That led to “high deaths,” he said.

Lordman Lekankuli, the Isiolo County drought coordinator and county adaptation committee chairman, said the adaptation project started with Isiolo community members being trained on management strategies, proposal writing and finance management, under the National Drought Management Authority.

Funds then went to help build a new veterinary laboratory at Kinna, drill a new water well and build or rehabilitate 11 water-trapping sand dams, six water pans and a rock catchment area. Another three small veterinary laboratories are scheduled to be built in the area by December.

The herders say life is now much better.

“Two days is the longest it takes now to know what is ailing your cow, we have pasture, the water is available despite the distance and the veterinary officer is near,” said Matoiye, who said that now he is “not worried about my family.”

Lesiyampe, similarly, says better access to water has made life much easier.

“With the water a kilometer and a half away, women have time to do other daily chores. Hygiene at home is a priority now. Animals produce more milk, their weight is better (which helps) fetching good money on the market. And food is not a problem anymore” she said.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Sophie Mbugua is a journalist based in Nairobi.

Image: A boy catches fish in a dried-up pond near the Ganges river. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash.

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