Dry spell renders residents poorer as only sources of livelihood perish

Kadzo Kenga points at carcasess strewn over Bungale village in Magarini, Kilifi County, 2022. [File, Standard]

For Kadzo Kenga from Bungale village in Magarini, Kilifi County, 2022 is a year she would wish to forget. It is the year the 67-year-old lost all she had. Her 31 head of cattle were her main source of livelihood, and she lost all of them to drought.

Behind her makuti thatched hut, her cattle shed is now littered with skeletons of the livestock she once cherished.

“It was a very tough year. I had nothing to celebrate. But I thank God for the gift of life. At least I am alive. I will rebuild,” Ms Kadzo said.

Kadzo, who has been a Bungale resident for most of her life, remembers with nostalgia when everything was lush and green. 

“Before the drought started, there was no dust. The grass was green, and the animals had something to eat. The situation is the complete opposite now,” she said.

Kadzo is now relying on neighbours for her survival.

“Life has become tough, even getting one meal is a problem. Kilifi has been experiencing prolonged dry seasons over the years and this has complicated life and destroyed livelihoods,” she said.

For the last five years, residents have struggled with hunger and the loss of livestock.

The story is the same in most homes in Ganze, Kaloleni and Magarini constituencies.

Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro said that most residents will depend on food aid until May when the region expects long rains.

“We expect the affected to depend on food relief until the next harvest season, in May or June, and that is if it rains,” he said.

Many Kilifi residents are small-scale farmers with few head of cattle. They were hit hard when their crops failed and livestock died due to drought.

The Kenya Red Cross Society estimates that over 6,000 animals died in the county due to starvation last year. The society also estimates that 658,681 people in the coastal region are food insecure with 168,174 in Kilifi.

In September 2021, the government declared the drought a national disaster.

Early this year, Kilifi received short rains and some water was harvested but it did not last long.

Prices of livestock continued to decline. A cow that used to fetch Sh50,000 now goes for as low as Sh5,000.

The World Food Programme, through the national government, distributed relief food in September. 

The drying up of water pans created human and wildlife conflict in areas bordering the vast Tsavo National Park.

In Ganze, elephants from Tsavo East invaded homes in search of water and pasture. This saw several families in  Ndarakwo and Kavunzoni villages lose their loved ones to wild animals.

Mitangani chief Stephen Thethe said about 1,000 children in Ganze quit school due to hunger.

Health officials have also raised an alarm over the rising cases of malnutrition among children.

A survey conducted early this year revealed that one in two children aged two years and below suffers from malnutrition.

The report showed that over 15,000 children under the age of two suffer from acute malnutrition.

By December last year, the county government had distributed 5,000 bags of rice and 4,000 bags of maize and cooking oil to over 10,000 families in dire need.

The government also reintroduced school feeding programmes to help children stay in school.

Adam Kheri, the Kilifi chair of the National Drought Management Authority, said the authority through the Safaricom Foundation, Kenya Red Cross, KCB Bank and various well-wishers, continues to distribute food and also transfers cash to the affected families.

GiveDirectly, a local non-governmental organisation, the World Food Programme, Plan International and World Vision have initiated cash transfer programmes, giving up to Sh3,000 to households per month.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also donated 80,000 bags of livestock feed in Kaloleni, Ganze, and Magarini.

Through the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP), farmers have been prepared on how to survive drought by saving water and planting drought-resistant crops such as cassava and cowpeas.

The county government plans to construct dams in Ganze and Magarini for irrigation as part of its intervention to end the cycle of hunger and dependency on rain-fed agriculture.

Governor Mung’aro said the county plans to build several dams to help during the seasons.

“To address this challenge, we are working on innovative investment mechanisms through public-private partnerships to construct dams across the county,” Mung’aro said at last year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations in Rabai, adding that the dams will be used to collect and conserve water for use in homes and for irrigation.

Mung’aro also underscored the need to conserve the environment to mitigate the effects of climate change which he said could worsen food insecurity.

The county assembly passed a Supplementary Budget that will help in managing drought and Sh100 million was allocated to the disaster and emergency department for the fight against hunger.