As a boy, Abdirahman Hillole Musa spent long hours roaming the scrubland of northeastern Kenya with his father’s cows and goats, often venturing into neighbouring Ethiopia and Somalia in search of fodder. Mr. Musa recalls, “In those days, we could lose a lot of livestock since some died on the way due to the long distance and lack of pasture.”
Mr. Musa is now 50 years old. He comes from Bula Haji, near the Daua River in Mandera County, where grazing land is usually in short supply, and even scarcer during droughts.
Dry seasons and droughts have become more frequent and harsher because of climate change. This has devastating consequences for pastoralists like Mr. Musa. To feed their animals during dry periods, Mr. Musa and other herders in his area have turned to planting grass.
Their efforts have been so successful that some farmers are now making a living by selling surplus hay. In fact, they have the unusual problem of insufficient space to store their hay when they have a bumper harvest.
More than 10 years ago, Mr. Musa attended a government-run training on crop irrigation and learned how to plant, harvest, dry, bale, and store hay.
Since learning about irrigation techniques, Mr. Musa has been growing Sudan and Columbus grass and has never run out of hay for his eight cows and 40 goats. He says, “I plant maize, beans, and vegetables which I sell, but I store the grass to feed my livestock. They fatten, and when I sell them, they fetch a better price.”
Hussein Mohamed is the drought coordinator at the National Drought Management Authority, or NDMA, in Mandera County. He says many farmers are now using irrigation to grow hay. He explains, “There has been huge adoption by farmers in the recent past, and right now there isn’t a single parcel that is not under cultivation along the river.”
NDMA provides training on different farming methods every three months, and provides extension advice on crop irrigation, which is a priority subject for farmers living along the river. Mr. Mohamed says: “This is an arid area and our people are generally pastoralists, so crop irrigation is new to them. They are taught to plant grass and make hay so that they can have enough feed for their livestock during drought.”
Mr. Mohamed says that the NDMA provides the trained farmers with five kilograms of seed free of charge in order to motivate them to grow the grass used for making hay.
Sixty-year-old Abdi Mohamed Haji is another farmer from Bula Haji who is benefiting from growing hay. Haymaking is so profitable that he is already buying extra seed. He explains, “I get five kilograms from the National Drought Management Authority and I buy five more so that I can plant on one acre.”
He says that he has 400 bales of Sudan grass from his March harvest, which he stores in a communal facility in Bula Haji.
Mr. Haji has seven camels and 50 goats, and, unlike Mr. Musa, he sells most of his hay. He explains, “I do not need a lot of hay because I have camels and goats. I am looking to sell at between 350 shillings ($3.50 US) and 500 shillings ($4.95 US) a bale.” With the money from hay, he will be able to pay for his children’s school fees.
To read the full story on which this article is based, Drought-hit Kenyan herders turn to new money-maker: hay, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160708062344-sr3mg/?source=hpOtherNews1 
Photo: Abdirahman Hilole Musa. Credit: TRF/Anthony Langat