Voices From Drought: Inside The Harsh Reality Of Northern Kenya

life is harsh in the northern part of Kenya. Nature here is unapologetically cruel. The punishing heat from the scorching sun, now well into its third year.

It has been 5 seasons without a drop of rain here. Pastoralists here live under these extreme conditions. We encountered communities fighting to survive one day at a time.

Northern Kenya

Counties that lie under this belt of severe climate include Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit and Garissa.

Our first stop is Gambela, a few kilometres from Isiolo town. Here we were greeted by carcases of livestock scattered across this plain, bare land. Thousands of livestock died here due to the severe drought. There hasn’t been any rainfall in this area for two years.

As we head back to Isiolo, we find groups of herders moving with their animals. Most of them are goats and sheep. The animals are weak having been walking for several days now all the way from Marsabit in search of pasture.
“I moved from Moyale hoping to save all my animals, but they all died. I had 300 cows and now I have 50. The cows died one after the other,” Galicho, a resident, tells Citizen TV.

The few animals he has grazed on dry vegetation. Even then, he had to lease this one-acre piece of land.
“I have had to lease this piece for 70,000 shillings and it is not even adequate or helping me. I don’t have hope that it will ever rain,” he adds.

Inside a makeshift holding area, some animals are too weak to stand up, the cows are suffering a lot, the grass is so dry and it has no nutrients. We have to borrow water from neighbours.

Galicho’s makeshift home is his neighbour who is also struggling to keep his animals alive. This cow was unable to get up on its own and has not been fed the entire day.

In Lalpanya area along the Isiolo – Moyale road, we meet more herders moving with their animals.

We travelled to Korr village which is approximately 73 kilometres from Laisamis town in the county of Marsabit. For the villagers, life has become unbearable for them and their animals. Water points are scarce and far in between. The Korr livestock market too is collapsing.

James Galgesa says life has become so difficult here.

“We are so hungry and have lost everything. I have lost almost 300 animals, now I have only nine goats The animals are not attractive because they have lost weight and will only fetch between 1,500 to 2,000 shillings,” he says.

Transporters with big trucks used to buy animals here and take them to the big cities but that business is no longer viable. This ramp has not been used to load animals onto trucks for several years. It is only a matter of time before the market shuts down.

Merille river at the border of Isiolo and Marsabit is completely dry. It has been for almost 3 complete years. Herders have been forced to dig UP the river bed to get some water to give their camels.

The government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations have teamed up to try and MITIGATE the effects of drought by introducing initiatives such as the concept of insurance for livestock keepers.

Musa Kalkina is an insurance agent on a mission, to register many villagers who are livestock keepers to take up an insurance policy for their livestock known as Index Based Livestock Insurance.

Ndarakan Iswuramat is renewing her membership in order to take up the policy. The policy requires one to register a certain number of animals for as little as 300 hundred shillings.

But unlike other insurance policies, the underwriter agrees to pay the livestock owner a certain amount of money which will help the pastoralists to buy food for his family, fodder for the animals and other essentials at a time when their animals are less productive.

The payouts are made when the drought is severe.

In this village, only 9 people have taken up the policy but little uptake is a result of the diminishing number of animals.

The insurance payout of cash amounts is made through a rigorous process that involves another institution, the International Livestock Research Institute which ascertains the severity of the drought

On the ground, scientists like Dr Kevin Shikuku inspect the grass and fodder situation.

“We use ground surveillance to check the condition of fodder. Sometimes we advise herders that a certain area is likely to cause devastation to animals because there is no grass,” Dr Shikuku says.

In Mureti, Samburu County, we are greeted by the song and dance of Rendile women. All their male spouses have left the manyatta in search of pasture. They have not been away for several weeks.

The women are left to tend to the little livestock left mostly sheep and goats. This is one of the areas where ILRI in conjunction with student scientists from the University of Cornell in the USA had called a trigger after observing drought and pasture conditions getting severe.

“Our policy is index-based and we provide it when herders cannot get cash so we pay them to buy alternative pasture,” Shikuku says.

At the ILRI headquarters in the outskirts of Nairobi City, scientists are busy revising, collecting and un-coding data from satellite imagery and other apparatus.

The Index-Based Livestock Insurance project, which is led by a team of researchers within the International Livestock Research Institute ILRI has been working to improve the resilience of pastoralists to drought-related losses.

Today, almost 45% of the pastoralists who have taken up the Index Based Livestock Insurance are women, the reason?

“Women are the ones who are left behind when the men go out in search of pasture. It is easy to access the women in the village and they are more accountable especially because they have to raise their children,” Shikuku says.

In Rapsu Village of Isiolo County, the vegetation cover here is very different. Pastoralists here were encouraged by donors to start planting grass and several acres of land that used to be bare and barren now have plenty of grass and crops growing.

The blueprint given to them by experts was simple, trap the water from the neighbouring Bisandi game reserve, and get a different variety of seeds.

This venture was started two years ago, and today the pastoralists have been able to feed the animals with green healthy grass.

“Fodder production is the business that should be done in the ASAL areas. This will stop a lot of animals from dying. It only requires getting land and training the pastoralists and providing them with seeds,” he adds.

Project coordinators include the county government, local and foreign non-governmental organisations and a group of pastoralists who were tired of losing animals.

Once the grass matures, it is cut and tied up into bales. It is then transported to a warehouse where it is stored and only used when the community needs it.

In Garissa, harsh weather conditions are also being experienced. Most pastoralists hold on to their dying animals because traditionally, keeping livestock is their livelihood.

“You’ll find like this place, people will come with hundreds of livestock and graze at the same time. The competition between the small animals and the big ones is stiff and herders have not been enlightened about where to graze and where not too. With climate change, some places might never have vegetation ever again.”

Hundreds of animals have been gathered here for watering. The owner of the water trough charges the herders an amount of money depending on the animals. He buys water which is delivered here at least twice a week.

At Lemiricho-Ore, a prominent manyatta in Isiolo County, the locals do not subscribe to the Christian or Islamic faith. Every year between the months of February and March, the elders conduct a ceremony.

The locals here perform rituals that include slaughtering a goat or a sheep, and reciting prayers before proceeding to prepare a meal from the slaughtered animal.

It all starts with selecting an animal which is brought to the doorstep of the manyatta. The selection of the animal is only a preserve of the firstborn child of every home. An elderly man performs the ritual assisted by fellow elders and morans. Even the young ones are not left behind.

They say even if the rains fail to come as they have in the past, this sacrifice will continue even if it means killing all their remaining animals.

In the desperate North, it is desperate measures for a desperate situation. No effort is spared to fight the drought.

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