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Climate change wrecks havoc to pastoralist communities in Kenya

Written by Duncan Mboyah

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change is a serious global threat and it demands an urgent global response.

It currently affects and will affect basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food and livestock production, health and the environment. Hundreds of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms. 

The most valuable – the poorest countries and populations that includes pastoralists – suffer earliest and most, even though they have contributed least to the causes of climate change.

Climate change has caused massive looses to pastoralists in Kenya as they are exposed to extreme drought that has led to soil erosion and drying of water pans.

“In the past we used to experience drought every after 10 years, then it went down to five years but has since started taking place every after one year due to the climatic change,” says Benson Ole Pasua, a Maasai livestock farmer from Enkiroka in Kajiado district.

He says that as the drought hits, many farmers loses their herds as some people move their livestock to far distances for greener pastures hence denying their families milk, their main food as well as source of income. 

Worst affected are the children who are often removed from school to graze the livestock in areas where water and grass could be found despite the fact that their peers from other communities goes to school uninterrupted. 

“Sometimes family bread winners are forced to migrate with the boys leaving other members of the family without food,” Says Ole Pasua who now owns 3 cows and 10 goats after losing 30 cows and 20 goats in the 2004 – 2006 droughts. 

In the past drought most Maasai farmers from Kajiado district migrated to Kyulu Hills, Tsavo National Park, the city of Nairobi and other neighbouring districts. But this too has landed them in trouble from the neighbouring communities who are agriculturalists. 

Drought is also blamed for threatening the brotherhood amongst the Maasai that has been in existence from time immemorial. In the year 2000 the Purko Maasai were forced to buy grass from their brothers in Loodokilani who demanded money in exchange. 

“The eagerly awaited April long rains have since failed and farmers have started migrating in panic as they look for greener pasture towards the central part of the district and its environs,” Mr. Peter Ndirangu, Central Divisional Livestock Production Officer in Kajiado district says. 

He however reveal that in the past migrations farmers lost many animals due to the contracting of unfamiliar diseases such as Contagious Bovine Pluero Pneumonia, rinderpest, East coast fever, lumpy skin disease, goat and pork pox and anthrax. 

He says that as a result of the loss some farmers resort to destruction of environment by resorting to charcoal burning and sand harvesting that ends up degrading the environment further. 

“In the last 15 years many livestock farmers who have lost their animals to climate induced circumstances are have since started adopting crop farming as away of earning a living even though their knowledge is still limited,” Mr. Eric Kisiangani, Practical Action’s Livestock Officer reveals. 

He reveals that the concept of harvesting fodder that was unthinkable amongst the Maasai before is now regaining ground with women getting involved in transporting fodder on donkey banks from far distance. 

The large scale farmers have started replacing the number of their cows with camel, goats and sheep. 

However the pastoralists livelihoods in Kenya is currently being challenged by the environmental factors and population increase that has led to the fencing of private land and also encouraging the mushrooming of trading centers. 

This has now restricted the movement of pastoralists forcing some of them to revert to crop farming, depend on relief food, start retail shops and depend on working relatives for upkeep. Others earn a living through selling curio to tourists who visit Tsavo national park. 

The government in collaboration with the World Bank is currently undertaking a 10 year drought management project that is aimed at enhancing food security and reducing livelihood vulnerability in drought prone and marginalized Maasai in Kajiado district. 

According to Mr. George Otieno, the Kajiado district Drought management officer, the project is to help create more effective drought cycle management system to help minimize the need for emergency operations through appropriate interventions. 

“We have also introduced camel keeping, bee keeping, constructed water pans and dams, and promoted crops that could grow in the area. 

Mr. Otieno notes that despite an earlier objection of camel in the, so far 2,000 camels have been introduced in the region due to its drought perseverance. 

The Maasai as a community had away of mitigating the weather pattern. They occasionally use to reserve the hill tops for use during dry spell. 

They however use to monitor the pattern through the stars, army warms, trees that flower early and expansive white cloud. 

“Initially our elders will predict the rainy season but this is no more given an abrupt change of climate. The traditional weather experts do not get it right, they sometimes make grievous mistake,” the 47 years livestock farmer says. 

Ole Pasua adds that as a result some livestock farmers have now resorted to agriculture besides keeping animals. 

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