Kenya: Growing fruit and vegetables helps pastoralists survive drought

| September 21, 2015

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Ali Bawata is a happy man. The former pastoralist supports his family by selling the crops he grows near his makeshift house of sticks and mud.

In 2011, Mr. Bawata lost more than 25 goats when drought hit Abaqdera, a village in Garrisa County, northern Kenya. He says, “I was born a pastoralist … but the drought discouraged me from livestock rearing. There is no pasture for livestock due to drought, and most of us are shifting to crop farming.”

Mr. Bawata grew up about 100 kilometres from the Ethiopian border. His area is famous for goats and camels, but the severe drought killed many livestock. He says, “After … most of our livestock had died, I sold the rest and used the proceeds to start a new life.”

Mr. Bawata and 15 other pastoralists formed the Tawakal farmers group. In 2012, they relocated to land bordering the Tana River. Most of the land is fallow, and the soils are fertile and ideal for growing crops. The pastoralists cleared the bush and created plots to grow crops.

The Tana flows from Lake Omo in Ethiopia through northern Kenya to the Indian Ocean. It’s a good source of irrigation water for crops like kale, tomato, capsicum, peppers, paw paw, and banana.

The farmers group bought a small water pump for US$200 and use it to irrigate their land. Mr. Bawata says, “Every farmer owns an acre piece of land, but we plan to expand the acreage as we grow.”

Mr. Bawata sells a bunch of kale for US$0.20 and a crate of tomatoes for US$50. He earns about US$200 a month.

Abdikadir Soye is a government extension worker. He trained the farmers on basic crop management and provided planting materials. The trainings helped the farmers diversify their crops. Mr. Soye says, “We introduced a resilient banana variety that is doing quite well, and we demonstrated to them how the crop is planted.”

Yusuf Ali is another former pastoralist in the group. Mr. Ali started growing bananas. His family eats some of what they harvest, and Mr. Ali sells the surplus in Garissa town. He says, “I sell a kilogram of bananas for [US$ 0.13] … A bunch … can weigh up to 50 kilograms.”

According to Mr. Soye, most of the farmers in the group like growing bananas and paw paws because they are less labour-intensive than other crops and easier to grow. He says: “However, [the] government encourages farmers to grow vegetables between the rows of bananas. Bananas are [widely spaced] … leaving a large space that accommodates vegetables.”

Mr. Bawata is clearing the bushes to expand his acreage and produce more. He says, “Horticulture is now my main source of income. I use the proceeds to feed my two wives and ten children.”