How interventions may spare residents from effects of drought this time

A pupil digging a well on already dried up River Akwitchatis in search of water on March 17, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

When we toured the area last year (2021), there was desolation. Government interventions were few and far between. Dry winds and high temperatures ruled in Akwichatis, a remote village in Tiaty, Baringo County.

Here and there you’d be hit by pungent smells from animal carcasses. As far as the eye could see thirsty earth stretched all the way to the horizons where the dry sky leaked the land.

Families gathered along the river banks perhaps to put together their last energies to dig in the sand in search of water. A dugout could go up to 10-feet but was not guaranteed that one would get water. In some instances the water was muddy.

Vegetation had withered and there was none left for the herders.

From the people, there was more lamentation and little hope.

“Our animals have died, cows, goats, and even donkeys collapse and die due to lack of water and pasture,” said Moses Domogong.

Women, children, and the elderly were the most affected by the drought and hunger. They had been left with no choice but to boil wild fruits for their children.

Quick interventions since last year have alleviated the desolation and the suffering. Counties and National Government played roles in an effort to mitigate drought in ASAL counties. In July, the Government signed an anticipatory Action and Response Plan for Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Communities in ASAL counties between the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the Ministry of Devolution.

FAO then noted that Kenya's drought response plan required a total of Sh9.4 billion for the period July to November this year (2022).

In April the government promised to continue disbursing cash transfer funds to vulnerable households in areas affected by drought.

Today each household is receiving Sh5, 400 a month. The emergency Relief Cash Transfer Programme started in December 2021. The same month approximately 1, 127, 715 people were reached.

In February this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged emergency relief food for distribution in 23 ASAL counties, which has alleviated the suffering.

The government is also rehabilitating boreholes and providing water to people in areas affected by drought.

The Livestock Off-take Programme was also launched to cushion farmers against the severe drought.

Kenya Red Cross last month (April) supplied relief food to 500 families in Samburu East.

Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis said a programme seeking to capacity -build farmers in order to make food security sustainable was launched in the county last year (2021).

The programme he said targeted farmers from the pastoral communities.

He said the county has also been distributing improved breeds of livestock to farmers to help in improving the indigenous ones.

The county has also focused on drilling and rehabilitating water boreholes to ensure locals have access to water.

Such measures will definitely mitigate against what is expected from recent National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) reports. In their May 2022 bulletin the Authority indicated that the drought situation continues to bite in 17 of the 23 arid and semi-arid counties.

“This is attributed to the poor performance of the 2021 short rains coupled with previous two failed consecutive seasons and late-onset of the 2022 long rains season,” read the report.

The number of people in need of assistance has as per the report increased from 3.1 million in February to 3.5 million currently.

Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Samburu, Isiolo, Baringo, Turkana and Laikipia counties, the report revealed are in alarm drought phase while nine counties including Garissa, Kilifi, Kitui, Kwale, Tana River, Lamu, Meru (North), Nyeri (Kieni) and West Pokot are in alert drought phase.

The remaining five counties-Kajiado, Narok, Makueni, Taita Taveta, and Embu are in a normal drought phase.

The report said that though April marked the beginning of long rains, depressed rainfall was received in several parts of the ASAL counties. The current condition of vegetation is also getting worse.

Over the past years, the counties bore the brunt of drought and famine, a situation worsened by intensifying impacts of climate change.  With constant predictions of a food crisis and dry spell looming in these regions, ambitious projects to support climate-smart agriculture through the adoption of short-term and drought-resistant crops have been initiated.

Experts note that drought effects could be tamed if only proper plans are developed. Both the community and the government, they said, have a role to play in addressing food security.

 Julius Akeno a Pokot professional and an author of patrons of Wild Suguta Valley said the drought situation cycle in Baringo is known and can easily be handled.

Akeno said during the harvesting period, food can be bought and stored awaiting the time of need.

He said locals cling to livestock keeping and fail to realise the need to diversify. The illiteracy level in the area, he noted, has seen the people cling on livestock keeping.

Akeno said the area is productive and only a change of mindset is required to make people realize the gold mine they are sitting on.

Besides using the land for other use other than rearing animals, Akeno said the tradition of keeping a large herd and the pride in owning such a herd is killing the locals.

The Pokot community is so attached to their animals that they prefer seeing them die than disposing to feed their families.

“Everybody wants to be rich and they would want to see the animal multiply, by selling them it means there will no quick multiplication. A large herd means a high status in the community,” he said.

Over the years, Akeno has managed to rear his livestock. He revealed that he used to live in Loruk where he reared over 100 goats and 50 cows. He said he used to plant pasture on a ten-acre land which he used to feed his livestock. He moved to 2012 Churo where he continued with the same practice.

Locals, he said, need to shed the old tradition and be able to sell the livestock in order to take care of their families.

Akeno said to address the issue of food security, insecurity needs to be addressed first and have the area developed.

Within the Tana Delta that covers parts of Tana River and Lamu counties, an ambitious project in the process of developing a green industrial park to support green investments is expected to open up ventures for farmers and pastoralists while boosting food security.

Dubbed the Delta Green Heart Initiative, the project that targets 1,570 farmers across the Delta, will allow farmers and pastoralists to access a common market for their produce. Farmers have since been trained in the Farmer Field Schools on how and what they can farm in unpredictable seasons. The model is bringing together the government, private sector and communities.

Already, farmers have been trained on adopting climate-smart initiatives and the introduction of high-value crops that require little water is taking root. They include sunflower, sesame, chili and green gram.

“Being an area that is prone to droughts and floods yet it is the most productive part in these regions, there is a need for farmers to adapt to more resilient crops to boost food security. The initiative seeks to spur growth within the delta with industrial estates where private companies, including local entrepreneurs, will set up their processing, collection, and even packaging bases,” George Odera, Tana Delta project manager says.

The initiative is facilitated under European Union’s Community Resilience Building in Livelihood and Disaster Risk Management Project, and the Global Environment Facility’s Restoration Initiative project and is under implementation by Nature Kenya.

Jennifer Adero, a project officer working with farmers in the Delta says that while farmers in the delta are facing impacts of climate change, the lack of a common market worsens the plight.

 “The challenge within the delta has always been lack of a common market. This new model is now building synergies for farmers to channel their produce into a common market while they can also access support funding and support,” she says.

 In the Green Heart initiative, farmers register into different cooperatives from the village level depending on what they commonly produce- from bee farmers, dairy farmers, chilli, sunflower and green grams among other produce.

“This will create a scenario where the investors will not run out of the products and that is why there is a need for cooperatives to boost the production of fish, livestock meat, milk, vegetables, rice, fruits, and honey among others. We did a survey to get to know the potential of produce in the delta, what can be farmed and what can be introduced as climate-smart agriculture,” Paul Matiku said.

Joseph Jabu, an agricultural economist, said there should be long and short-term interventions to address the issues of drought and hunger.

He said the government should focus on offering food relief and roll out cash transfers in the affected areas.

The part-time lecturer at Egerton University said the drought has been there and could be there. Local he said need to learn to live with the situation.

He said locals should plant crop tolerant crops such as cassava and green grams and any other crop maturing crops.

Long-term plans, he said, should include water harvesting in ASAL areas. The government he said should put in plan dams to hold floodwaters which later will be used to irrigate crops.

“We need a sort of mindset change, we know climate change is here, people need to be educated and told they need to adapt to change the way of living,” he said.

Written by Julius Chepkwony and Caroline Chebet

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