Pastoralists alternative source of livelihood as drought persists

A camel herder takes his herd of camels for grazing in Kalama community conservancy in Samburu county. [David Gichuru, Standard]

“I was once a respected figure in my community. I had wealth, with nearly 100 sheep, goats and cows. Today I have nothing. It’s killing me inside.” These are the lamentations of one Mr Patrick Lolokoi, who we find frail at his Kalama village home in Samburu East Constituency.

His was a push to a fall from grace to grass, with nothing to hold on to, as the drought that killed his livestock affected the entire Samburu County, and now over 200,000 people face starvation. There is no one else to turn to. “I am broken, desperate,” he says.

Now Lolokoi is dependent on unreliable food aid from the government and humanitarian organisations, yet he needs to provide for his wife and three children. The problem has persisted since 2019.

Like many other pastoralist communities, livestock rearing was Lolokoi’s source of livelihood. The deaths of the animals snatched his financial muscle, self-esteem, and denies his previously well-to-do family basic needs.

Seeing no end to the drought situation, The Standard established that some Samburu residents have given up on pastoralism and moved to urban areas. However, several, including the very old, women and little ones, are stuck with the problem and hope that someday a miracle will happen.

Government and non-governmental organisations statistics indicate that about 70 per cent of Kenya’s livestock herds are kept by pastoral communities in arid and semi-arid areas. Up to 80 per cent of the households rely on livestock for livelihood.

But livestock keepers are not enjoying their mainstay due to diseases and limited connection to market and extension veterinary services. Trading livestock director at Northern Rangeland Trust Mr Waria Sore explains: “Climate change has increased the frequency of drought in these areas. Drought undermines the productivity of livestock due to decline in pasture,” he said.

Mr Sore says drought affects the growth of livestock, contributing to 50 per cent loss. This, he says, may worsen with increasing cases of drought. The livestock department at NRT now looks for alternatives to help pastoralist communities cope with the effects of climate change.

“We sensitise communities to sell the livestock before the drought hits,” said Mr Sore.

Samburu Women in beadwork making at Lderikesi village, Sera Conservancy in Samburu on May 10, 2022. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The locals are encouraged to insure their cattle, and also diversify by practising poultry. A beadwork programme for 1,300 women is also ongoing it Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu and Laikipia as an alternative source of income. The programme’s director Ms Beatrice Namnyak Lempaya says: “This started as a demand from the women. When conservancies were formed, it was all about men, so they demanded to be involved in conservation work through beadwork.”

Ms Namnyak says 5 per cent of the beading income is channelled towards supporting conservancies. Ms Salanto Lokoloi leads 10 women in decorating cups, belts and cultural attire using beads to add value to their products. She says many women have been trained and facilitated to travel to Masai Mara, Maran and Galatia by NRT. “This has enabled women to sell their beading products and earn income that is used to educate children and save for their future.”

NRT’s director of livelihood Mr Sammy Lesaita says the project was started five years ago to help women improve their lives. He said potential markets were identified in America, Australia and Europe. “Women that are involved in the bead-work project have become successful, they have built houses and taken their children to primary and secondary schools because of extra source of income other than just livestock,” says Mr Lesaita.

He says the bead-work project was initiated after climate change messed with communities after efforts to buy livestock from the locals and leave them with only what they could manage were futile. “We, later on, realised that buying livestock was not the best option. Training communities to understand better breeding, climate change and unpredictable seasons were better,” he says.