Kenya: Herders and farmers face dry future as drought starts to bite (Trust)

| November 30, 2015

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It’s a hot, windy afternoon in Kiboya village. Dusty leaves swirl around William Ekidor, his wife Martha, and their two sons as they sit under an acacia tree by the Kajunge dam. They are waiting their turn to water their animals.

Mr. Ekidor and his family drove their 140 cattle, sheep, and goats more than 10 kilometres to the dam. It is the only remaining communal source of water in this lowland basin in Laikipia County, about 250 kilometres north of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi.

The pastoralist says, “About three years ago, there was plenty of pasture and water. Now, seasons have become very unpredictable, disrupting our planning.”

Pastoralists normally migrate with their livestock during the dry season in search of pasture and water. But longer dry seasons and uncertain rains are putting them under pressure. At the same time, growth in farming is increasing water demand by settled farmers for crops and livestock.

In response, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is working with the Laikipia County government to help farmers switch to conservation agriculture and use methods that require less water and help preserve the limited supply.

Margaret Mwangi has been practising conservation agriculture for two years in the village of Kasigoye. She says the techniques have made it possible for her to grow maize, beans, potatoes, and onions year-round.

Ms. Mwangi says, “This year we had a long drought, but the crops were not affected. We didn’t even pump water from the dam.”

Samuel Kamau farms in Olmoran village. He bought one and a half hectares of land in 1990 to grow onions, maize, and tomatoes. Mr. Kamau recalls, “There were few people around. It was grazing land occupied by pastoralists [before I bought it]. The area was so fertile, with a clear raining pattern. Farming was so profitable.”

But poor rains and damage from herds of cattle have made farming an unreliable source of income. Mr. Kamau explains, “Last year I lost [half a hectare] of maize worth 100,000 shillings [US$980], destroyed by cattle.”He says some pastoralists are armed with guns, and he is afraid to confront them. Mr. Kamau adds, “It’s a risky affair each time you complain.”

Simon Mwangi chairs the Water Resource Users Association. He says the association has been trying to resolve conflicts through meetings which allow pastoralists and farmers to air their grievances.

Most land in Laikipia County was owned communally by pastoralists and administered by county councils. But the government recently sold half the county land to ranchers, and the rest is occupied by small-scale farmers.

This change helped create a fight over water between farmers and pastoralists, though pastoralists retain the right to graze in the area, subject to negotiation with landowners.

Mr. Ekidor’s 26-year-old wife, Martha, says livestock once roamed and grazed freely in open fields. She says it’s not possible for one person to keep the animals out of farm fields. Mrs. Ekidor explains, “Nowadays I can’t do anything else … I always go out with my husband looking after the livestock.” This is putting extra strain on households and family life.

Mr. Ekidor agrees that keeping thirsty cows away from farmers’ fields is a challenge. He says: “There are plenty of pastures and water in these farms. When hungry, the cows leave [our homesteads] in the middle of the night. We find them in other people’s farms in the morning.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, As water falls short, conflict between herders and farmers sharpens, go to:

Photo: A herder grazes his cattle in a dry maize field in Laikipia County, Kenya. Credit: TRF/Wesley Langat