Hard lessons for Tana herders as rains bring relief

 Ismael Godana and his cousin walk home to Haroresa viallge in Tana River County.

Photo credit: Stephen Odour I Nation Media Group

Tana River herders have started returning from the Lamu wilderness, where they lived with their animals for eight months due to the harsh effects of drought back at home.

They say consistent rainfall patterns in the past two weeks in Tana River County have raised their hopes of finding pasture for their livestock with grass and fodder sprouting in different parts.

To the young herders, the rains are prayers answered, but they return home with hard lessons from this year’s drought. They are counting losses after the deaths of hundreds of animals that could not survive the hot weather and lack of water.

Most of them are returning home with half the number of animals they left with eight months ago.

"The journey was not easy, and neither was survival in the wilderness. The cold nights and the hot days were not easy and I am glad I'm going home," said Ismael Godana.

Godana, the firstborn in a family of three children, left Haroresa along with his cousin with his father's livestock and has not seen them in a long time.

The last time he left, his mother was expecting another child and he said he could not wait to see his newborn sibling.

"I am happy. If I find a sister, it will be better because we are three boys. A girl will balance the equation. I can’t wait to meet her," he said.

Isah Hanti is headed to Titila village. His father and uncles will be waiting for him to count their losses and mourn over them.

He left the village with 200 cattle belonging to his father, but now he was taking back 108 after losing 92 to the drought.

A herd of sheep and goats graze at Hello village in Bura, Tana River County. Consistent rainfall patterns in the past two weeks have raised hopes of finding pasture for livestock with grass and fodder sprouting in different parts.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor I Nation Media Group

"I woke up one morning to count 20 cattle that had died due to lack of water and pasture, I cried every day," he recounted.

Every field he walked across was filled with carcasses, indicating that he was not the only one suffering livestock losses.

The 19-year-old noted that some of the herders saw all their herd die and walked back home empty-handed.

"I saw old men cry and curse every day. It was a painful experience in the wilderness. We would sit and pray for rain in the evening," he said.

For Ibrahim Kanchoru, he is headed home with only 15 cattle. He left his village with 60 cattle and 20 sheep to look for pasture.

His experience is different, as he walks home pondering how he is going to deliver the news of the demise of his uncle, who suffered a heart attack and died after losing 50 animals while in the wilderness.

"It is sweet to go home, but what bothers me is how I'm going to deliver the news to his wife and explain to his family the loss," he says.

Mr Kanchoru, however, is going home with a change of mind.

The losses he suffered have inspired him to venture into mixed farming.

He said he will sell his cows and venture into another breed of cows for commercial purposes.

"I am going to sell all of them and settle for a few productive cattle, probably the hybrid type, and also venture into crop production," he says.

In his view, this will help him save enough money for his family and mitigate future losses.
Mr Dakan Barisa, 48, on the other hand, intends to venture into fodder production.

Having lost 60 cattle and 30 sheep to the drought, Mr Barisa believes that fodder and the production of hay is the next big frontier in Tana River County.

"I am going to sell most of my cows to buy land, secure it very well, plant fodder and grass. I will meet the herders for their money in the next season of drought," he said amid laughter.

Although traditions consider those with large herds as more respectable and influential, as they are seen to be rich, he said, it is a burden because of unpredictable weather patterns.

"Tana River County is growing quickly, and so is Lamu County. In the next 10 years, all grazing land will be under various development. We must change our habits," he said.

More than 300,000 animals flocked to Lamu and Tana River counties over the dry season, putting the vegetation under great stress.

Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia has said the pressure is dropping and the situation is getting back to normal.


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