Pastoralists lose livestock as drought ravages Tana Delta

Abdi Abdulahi unties a rope from carcass at Bula-Tarasaa village in Tana River County. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Abdi Abdulahi clicks painfully as he unties a rope from a fresh carcass of a calf in Bula-Tarasaa village in Tana River County.

Barely a metre apart, another carcass of a calf lies. It had died the previous evening and the stench is already wafting through the air.

Just opposite the two carcasses, another partly eaten carcass of a goat lies, adding to the statistics the number of livestock dying as a result of the severe drought ravaging the area.

“Their mothers died some days ago. There is no grass to feed them. They just drop dead and die. Carcasses are all over, especially around the river. The hyenas seem to be already full and are no longer picking them,” Abullahi says.

He says tens of livestock have been dropping dead due to lack of pasture and water.

The challenge, he says, is that the drought seems to be intensifying as months go by.

“We have never had enough rains since last year. The situation is not good at all. We are counting losses every day,” he added.

Abdullahi also doubles up as the chairman of the Village Natural Resource and Land Use Committee, which oversees the utilization of resources within the 55 villages in the Tana Delta.

To him, the situation is dire and migrations have started deep into traditional grazing zones within the Tana delta.

Coupled with vast invasions of Prosopis juliflora, also known as Mathenge, the little grazing zones left by the plant are bare.

In places where the plant invades, it forms impenetrable thickets preventing grass from growing underneath. The leaves of the plant are not also fed on by livestock.

But within the traditional grazing zones in the delta, the resources are already overstretched.

Traditionally, livestock graze within the core delta during the dry season and go back during the rainy season, giving the delta time to heal and for the grass to grow again.

However, the extensive drought has seen the livestock within the core of the delta increasing in numbers.

Experts have already warned that the delta has surpassed the carrying capacity and has already had an effect on the ongoing restoration initiative.

Within the core of the delta, a place called Mbililo, a massive wetland that brings together congregations of hundreds of bird species, livestock influx is a sight to behold.  

Livestock carcass in Bulla Tarasaa village, Tana Delta. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Thousands of cattle, sheep, and goats seek refuge within the wetland which is currently overstretched.

“The core delta tells of the current health of the delta which is under siege at the moment. The resources are overstretched because it is a refuge place for pastoralists during drought," says Abdullahi.

However, farmers are also coming in to farm, making it a potential conflict zone,” Nature Kenya's Tana Delta project manager said.

Although he says there is no exact carrying capacity of the delta, the current number of livestock from across is said to be stretching the resources.

The delta covers 130,000 hectares and lies between Tana River and Lamu counties with almost 90 per cent of the landmass in Tana River.

The drought has intensified conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. And if that is not enough, human-wildlife conflict has complicated the lives of residents further.

“The challenge is that the livestock are all over looking for anything to survive and they graze mostly along the river banks."

"In turn, the hippopotamuses which graze during the night have nothing to feed on and they become even more aggressive on those using dhows and speed boats,” Jilo Baye, a boat operator said.

Lack of pasture has also seen pastoralists venturing into places that traditionally never supported farming.

In Ozi, located at the tail end of the delta bordering the Indian Ocean and Tana River, an influx of livestock has been recorded.

In the two villages, Ozi and Mpeketoni, the residents have had negotiations with pastoralists to allow 7,000 livestock to graze in the area.

“It has been tough for the pastoralists. Traditionally, Ozi was meant for farming. Ozi mostly is an island when Tana River floods but during this season, we had negotiations to help our neighbours bring their livestock here but under control,” Said Nyara, the chairperson Mpozi Community Forest Association said.

Nyara said with no off-take programme by the government at the moment, the pastoralists have borne the brunt of the drought.

“We have helped them cross over some livestock to some neighbouring islands to salvage some of them. The situation is dire, it is already getting out of control,” Nyara said.

A herder takes water from a trough in Moyale, Marsabit County. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Adhan Nuno, is one of those who travelled over 70 kilometres away from Garsen, taking a three-day trip to Ozi to negotiate for 200 out of his over 6,000 livestock to be granted a place to graze.

“I brought those that were badly affected. I took three days walking along with them. This is one of the severe droughts we are currently facing and the last such drought was experienced was almost seven years ago,” Nuno said.

Nuru Mwana, said travelling from Garsen was the last resort as he seeks to salvage part of his thousands of livestock.

“When you see us here, it is the last resort. I left home before I did not want to lose more livestock,” he said.

An August report by the National Drought and Management Authority sounded an alarm warning that the drought situation in the country was worsening and the pastoral communities were the most affected.

However, no deaths had been recorded by August as per the report.

It noted that in Tana River, livestock forage was becoming scarce affecting milk production and migrations towards the traditional grazing zones had started.

The Restoration Initiative being funded by Global Environment Facility’s Restoration Initiative project running alongside European Union’s Community Resilience Building in Livelihood and Disaster Risk Management project is currently taking shape.

The project, being implemented by Nature Kenya has seen the distribution of pasture seeds targeted at restoring grazing lands. Already, 1.4 tonnes of pasture seeds have been distributed in key grazing areas. 

Farmers are also being given early-maturing crops to plant.