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Desperate farmers turn to thorny acacia bark to feed dying animals

COUNTIES
By Vincent Mabatuk | January 25th 2017
An emaciated cow peel acacia tree barks at Leketetwee village in Mogotio, the only animal feed in the area. PHOTO:KIPSANG JOSEPH

Frantic herders have resorted to feeding their animals acacia tree bark as a biting drought continues to ravage the country.

For four months now, villagers who cannot afford hay have been pruning branches from the drought-resistant thorny tree.

The branches are hit against stones to remove the rusty-coloured bark, locally known as leng'nee, to feed dying livestock.

The drought has turned the rolling green grazing fields into simmering, cracked dry lands.

For the love of his emaciated cows, Vincent Kipkurui, a resident of Chepchusei in Kiptoim, has for the last three weeks clambered up the thorny trees, some standing at 20 metres, armed with a machete in search of the bark.

Resting before his next climb, Mr Kipkurui says navigating through the acacia's thorns is not easy. It is a skill he learnt from his forefathers.

"I will prune the branches, chop them into small pieces and then crush them to ease removal of the bark. The bark is then cut into small pieces before being given to the animals," he said.

Residents say it has not rained since last September, forcing them to learn how to survive in the harsh weather.

And it is not only the herders who must learn to persevere through the raging drought. Their animals are also fighting instinctively to survive. According to Kipkurui, the animals have mastered the art of peeling bark off the trees and chewing the thorny branches.

The residents are partly paying for the national government's failure to invest in water for decades. In Leketetwe village, desperate villagers scramble for a single water point - a borehole drilled by a white settler in 1942.

The watering point serves a population of more than 5,000 head of cattle, together with their owners. To access it, villagers must trek more than 10km in the sweltering heat.

Some of the weak and thirsty animals do not complete the journey. And when they do, a number do not make it back.

"Remember their stomachs are empty. They end up drinking too much water, which weighs them down. Others collapse in the stampede for water," said Beatrice Rotich, a local farmer.

The few remaining water points have since been reduced to muddy patches in which emaciated animals sometimes get stuck and die.

In Lolbugo, a group of women struggled to get emaciated cattle back on their feet, if only to prevent them from dying and decomposing in the mud. Similar scenes were witnessed in Bartulgel, Olbart, Kisanana, Mugurin and Ngubereti.

The residents are forced to dispose of much of their precious stocks at throwaway prices to trading cartels that have descended on the region. A cow that could have fetched more than Sh70,000 in the rainy season now sells for between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000. A kilo of beef is going for as little as Sh120, down from Sh400.

The Government has said there is enough food in the country to feed hungry Kenyans. Now residents also want an assurance that there is enough hay to feed their starving animals - their only source of livelihood.

Describing the situation as unprecedented, community elder Jackson Labat wants the Government to consider distributing hay in the area to save their livestock.

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