For the majority population in Kenya’s arid North Eastern region, virtually everything about commerce and food revolves around pastoralism. The raising and herding of livestock for a living is therefore a matter of life and death.
The heart valves of this lifestyle passed down generations from time immemorial are water and pasture whose scarcity is often the cause of communal conflict in these areas. Both the natural resources are terribly scarce in these times of unpredictable weather patterns with rains that come erratically after long intervals and prolonged nightmarish droughts that are increasingly becoming the norm.
The older generation to which 54 year old Mohamud Abdirahman Adan belongs remember easier times when rains were more predictable and pasture readily available. “That has changed with time, ushering in spells of drought that leave pastoral communities clinging to the hides and bones of dead livestock, hunger staring them in the face,” laments Adan.
A wry smile crosses his face as he adds: “Then an act of God happened. Devolution ushered in the County Government and with it came water where it was erstwhile unknown by way of dams and boreholes. More importantly, awareness dawned that the devastation caused by lack of pasture could be tamed by growing and preserving grass in the form of hay that lasts long if well kept. The County Government started by growing exotic, highly nutritious grass on demonstration farms that people were encouraged to visit to learn from and taught how to convert grass into hay for hard times,” narrates Adan.
He says the idea that has proved a boon to pastoralism in his Kalalio Division in particular did not wash easily with conservative folks who view anything new through suspicious lenses. Resistance reigned before reason took over.
Reminisces Adan: “Our people could not understand how grass that generally grows wild after the rains could be planted as a crop, harvested and stored for the animals. They could not fathom spending their meagre resources building granaries to hold grass. They laughed off the idea as crazy”.
“When our Chief, Mr Sala Mohamed Hassan of Bulahaji location became the first person to build a silo and store indigenous grass in it, everybody thought that he had run mad. That was until his hay came in handy in the wake of a prolonged drought. I was among the first people to emulate him,” says Adan who today has enough hay to feed his 16 cattle, 12 camel, 300 goats and seven donkeys any time that drought sets in.
The father of six says he would not have managed to educate his children, three of whom have completed university if he had not taken to hay farming to save his animals from dying.
“I have in my brood a nutritionist, a secondary school teacher and a clinical officer. Another of my children is poised to go to college while two are still in secondary schools,” says Adan, pride permeating his face.
Adan has 2,500 bales of hay in his store that has a capacity of 3,000 bales weighing between 20 and 18 kilograms each. A bale fetches up to sh600 during dry spells. He has dedicated four of his seven and a half acres of land on the banks of the River Dawa to the growing of hay by irrigation.
“Hay farming is gradually getting popular with our people such that even those without livestock are farming it as a cash crop,” says Adan.
“Most farmers prefer a local variety known as locally as silai due to its perennial nature unlike Sudan, Columbus, Napier, boma throat and other exotic grasses that have to be replaced yearly,” explains Adan.
He appeals to the County Government to avail mechanical grass cutting and packing machines for hire to farmers who currently have to rely on the cumbersome manual ways that are time consuming and waste prone.
“We look forward to a time when mechanical harvesting and packaging will be the norm with machines that can be easily accessed for hire, a time when availability of certified seed will cease to be a hurdle,” says Adan.
“Meanwhile, let us make maximum use of silai that grows wild accompanied by protein rich Lucerne,” he advises..