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Oasis of hope in the desert: village beats drought, one borehole at a time

By Antony Gitonga | March 25th 2021
Farmers from Kinisa village in Moyale in Marsabit county work on a vegetable farm in the semi-arid area. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

For years, images of malnourished residents, dead livestock and dry pasture have characterised Marsabit County.

Calls for humanitarian aid, trucks ferrying alms and emaciated livestock on sale have depicted the dire situation. 

Currently, most counties under the Frontier Counties Development Council are experiencing harsh weather conditions amid a looming drought.

However, Kinisa village in the Moyale sub-county has turned over a new leaf and now supplies vegetables and fruits to homesteads and neighbouring towns.

Some pastoralists shifted from traditional livestock rearing to farming after a borehole was drilled in the county.

The borehole yields 36,000 cubic litres of water per hour that is supplied to more than 50,000 families in Moyale town and pastoralists from Ethiopia.

The Standard visited one of the fresh produce farms owned by Kinisa Farmers’ Cooperative Society where we found vegetables and fruits ready for harvest.

Struggling to survive

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The pastoralists successfully shifted to farming through the Strengthening the Resilience of the Livelihoods of Agro-Pastoralists in Eastern Africa (SRAPLEA) programme.

Following the successful implementation of the programme by Welthungerhilfe (WHH) which is funded by the German Federal Ministry For Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), cases of conflict, malnutrition and hunger are now a thing of the past among the communities.

WHH project coordinator Dr Antony Kibata, says the programme targets cross-border-communities in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

He explains that the three-year pilot project focuses on communities that are most vulnerable and marginalised.

“Much emphasis has been placed on women and young people, but also on families that have long lost all their livestock and are struggling to survive as “pastoralists dropouts,” he says.

He notes that the borehole which was drilled in 2019 had positively changed the residents’ lives, with tens of pastoralists turning to farm.

Kibata says their partner Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance (Pacida) implemented the water project.

He notes that women have been empowered by the earnings of the fresh produce sales which ensure families get three meals a day.

“After drilling the borehole, the community was provided with a solar-powered system, which is less costly compared to the generator previously used,” he says.

“The borehole annually required a whooping Sh1.8 million for operation and maintenance and since then the issue of hunger is now a thing of the past,” he adds.

One of the beneficiaries Dahabo Mamo recounts how they used to walk for kilometres in search of water before the borehole was drilled.

She says their families are assured of three meals a day, school fees and other basic needs thanks to the proceeds of farming.

“For many years, women were not recognised in this area, but farming has empowered us and we can feed and clothe our family,” she says.

Mamo notes that the fresh produce has a ready market due to the harsh weather conditions in the area.

“This water is being used by the locals and our neighbours from Ethiopia and it has turned our sufferings into celebration as our product is on-demand,” she says.

Amina Isako from Pacida says malnutrition cases have dropped sharply due to the availability of food.

She attributes the gains to the SRAPLEA programme that has empowered the pastoralists.

Amina notes that with water provision many of the residents are now seeking to expand the land under irrigation.

“Previously undernutrition levels were very high, but we have seen a major change thanks to the ongoing farming in Kinisa area,” she says.

She adds that the cases of conflict due to competition for water have reduced.

Troughs well managed

Kinisa water borehole chairman Isaac Hassan terms the project a blessing and best gift ever to residents who have clashed over water for years.

He notes that the water kiosks and troughs are well managed by residents.

“The only challenge we have is lack of water for nearby schools, but currently we have every reason to smile due to this water project,” he says.

Kinisa chief Mohammed Hassan terms the water project as God-sent as it has improved livelihoods and food security in the area.

He notes that residents no longer line up in shopping centres for government support.

“We have enough water for our livestock and vegetables for residents and cases of community clash due to lack of water is now a thing of the past,” he says.

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