Kenya: Home-grown solutions help pastoralists adapt to changing climate (IPS)

| December 19, 2011

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When donor-funded projects failed in Kalacha, a village on the edge of the Chalbi Desert in Kenya’s North Eastern Province, local pastoralists proposed their own plans. Two years later, it’s clear that their home-grown response has worked.

The North Eastern Province has always been dry. Recent erratic and unpredictable rainfall has only worsened an already challenging situation. The government estimates that more than 50 million domestic animals may die in the region, and that more than 1.4 million people need food relief.

Pastoralists were excited five years ago when a group of NGOs introduced horticulture to the region. “But before long,” says Abdi Tuya, a Kalacha resident,” we discovered that all was useless because monkeys and other animals fed on the crops.”

After the project failed, scientists at the Kenya Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Research Programme, or KASAL for short, heard that the community had a different idea.

Dr. David Miano is the head of KASAL. He says, “They insisted that they wanted to use the water and the land to grow grass to fatten [their] malnourished goats and camels …” The residents wanted to use water from a rare freshwater desert spring to irrigate indigenous grass. The grass would then be used for animal feed. In response, KASAL began to identify indigenous grasses that are drought-tolerant and appropriate for fattening animals. Two years later, thousands of animals that would have died in the drought are still alive.

Home-grown successes like this one have climatologists and African think tanks announcing that African solutions are the only way for the continent to adapt to climate change. Their call came before the recent 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference took place in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9 this year.

Opinions are mixed on how the Durban talks will affect farmers. Patrick Verkooijen is the World Bank’s coordinator for climate-smart agriculture. He says, “This outcome is historic, as this is the first time that UNFCCC adopts a decision on agriculture.”

But many agricultural organizations had pushed for a specific program of work on agriculture. Instead, a working group announced that a decision on agriculture would be made at COP18, to be held in November 2012 in Qatar.

The international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina announced that “no deal is better than a bad deal” in Durban. They want developed nations to commit to at least 50% emissions reduction targets under the Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol, which would cover 2013-2017.

Back in Kachala, home-grown solutions to climate change have worked. Before the pastoralists proposed their own solution, their only alternative would have been to slaughter their animals. But now, says Abdi Tuya, “Grass farming is the best thing that happened to me … In the past year, I have been able to save up to 80 goats that were succumbing to the drought.”