In a normal year when food stores are filled with harvests, Mr Tratisio Kamunturiu, from Lachathuriu in Tigania West, Meru County, would be up in arms on seeing herds of camels around his homestead.
For years, Meru farmers and camel herders from Isiolo have been in conflict, the former accusing the latter of trespassing.
But today, Mr Kamunturiu and his wife Nyoroka see camel herders as a godsend – they have not harvested anything substantial from their one-acre farm in the last three years.
When the Nation.Africa visited their home last week, the midday sun was blazing and camels lined up along their farm’s euphorbia fence feeding animatedly.
Two Borana herders and a local interpreter watched as the camels munched away pleasantly.
The farmers lease their euphorbia fence to the herders for not less than Sh2,000, depending on the number of trees.
The biting drought has forced the two perennial rival groups to forge an unheard-of relationship for survival.
“We have been struggling to put food on the table for a long time. The camel owners who are looking for pasture are a godsend. We have no option but to lease the euphorbia fence so that we can earn money to buy food. They are good people and we enjoy the relationship,” Mr Kamunturiu says.
He said in a good season, he could get about 12 bags of maize from his land but the last time he harvested that much was four years ago.
“This year, we got nothing from the farm. I don’t know how I will buy seeds this season. I am now relying on odd jobs to get food, and they are hard to come by. We need food and seed aid from the government before the rains start,” he says.
Ms Susan Makena says the shortage of food has persisted in the past six years, with the situation worsening after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Learning has also been disrupted as children miss out on school due to hunger, said Mr Samuel Muriira, a resident of Athwania.
Blow to farming
“We are surviving on support from our relatives who work in towns. The government should help us get seeds for this season,” he said.
In areas where residents rely on irrigation, drying rivers have left many without a livelihood.
Mr Eric Mwenda, from Maraa in South Imenti, says the drying up of river Kithinu has dealt a blow to farming.
“We usually rely on the river to irrigate our bananas and fresh produce. For the past one month, the river bed has been dry. Urgent interventions are needed to save our rivers,” Mr Mwenda said.
Meru County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo said more than 120,000 residents need urgent food aid due to the ravaging drought.
The worst-hit areas are the semi-arid parts of Igembe and Tigania where the rains have failed for two years.
Mr Ngumo said 15 schools in Tigania East had received support from Kenya Red Cross for a feeding programme to keep learners in class.
“We are also in talks with Kenya Defence Forces to help supply water for livestock in the grazing areas. The Ministry of Devolution is also … supporting the affected residents,” he said.
Crop production in Meru in the previous season was poor, with some areas experiencing total crop failure, says the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA).
NDMA’s report for August indicates that high numbers of school dropouts were reported in Kamweline, Ithata, Ngitana, Murara, Kachiuru and Nginyo primary schools in Igembe North due to lack of food at home.
Igembe North MP Maore Maoka said several children were seeking menial jobs in Laare town as the biting drought pushed them out of their homes.
Last month, the Meru County Government distributed maize and vegetable seeds worth Sh13 million to residents of areas hit by drought.