‘Climate crisis forced me and other women to make key life changes’

Ms Bukhe Wako at Badasa beekeeping farm.


What you need to know:

  • Marsabit County, being an arid and semi-arid area, has significant potential for honey production due to the abundance of bee-friendly flora.
  • However, to date, only 15 per cent of the region's honey resources have been tapped.

“My name is Bukhe Wako, 52, a mother of five and a member of the Badasa Farmers Marketing Cooperative Society in Saku sub-county, Marsabit County.

Since my childhood, I have been aware that women are considered inferior and oppressed in society, particularly within my pastoralist community. They are not given equal opportunities for leadership and are often seen as incapable of providing practical solutions to various problems.

Within our community, women have traditionally held a subordinate social position compared to men, which restricts their access to resources. Discriminatory laws and customs regarding property ownership such as land and cattle further contribute to their marginalisation. Although women are permitted to participate in milking and grazing the family cattle, ownership is typically attributed to their husbands.

These patriarchal shackles have continued to impede women socially, economically and even politically, thus creating a huge gender imbalance in leadership among pastoralist communities.

However, with the heightened climate crisis, our communities are slowly turning the corner.

Three years ago, my husband and I owned 100 cattle and 50 camels, which were nearly decimated in the wake of adverse climate change events such as drought and flash floods.

When Marsabit experienced four consecutive seasons of failed rains, 80 per cent of the population, who are pastoralists, was hard hit as they watched helplessly as their livestock died due to depleted pasture and water.

At least 300,000 residents were affected and left food-insecure as livestock, which is our key mainstay, died.

I am yet to come to terms with the great loss that I incurred in my household after my 50 cattle died and 20 others were driven away by bandits who, in the event of such harsh climatic conditions, stole to replenish the stocks lost.

I also lost 20 camels to cattle rustling and 10 others to drought. My husband had to move with the surviving livestock to neighbouring counties such as Isiolo and Samburu.

As a result, our community members saw that there was a huge need to turn the corner on the climate crisis.

It has dawned on even our pastoralist men, who are patriarchal, that gender consideration must be infused into all socioeconomic aspects for us to survive the climate emergency.

I am witnessing a growing focus on gender justice and resource allocation in various sectors within Marsabit County, which has long been known as a male-dominated region. The impacts of climate change have intensified, prompting even women who were once prohibited by our patriarchal society from engaging in beekeeping to now consider it as a crucial source of income.

The notion that beekeeping is exclusively for men is gradually fading away, and it brings us great joy to see more women joining our ranks in this endeavour.

The Badasa Farmers Marketing Cooperative Society, which was established in 2016 with only 20 male members, has now grown to 40 members comprising 24 men and 16 women. It is intriguing to note that many women continue to express their interest in becoming members of our cooperative society. We currently have around 36 members, and the number of women expressing their desire to join us is steadily increasing.

It's ironic that some of our pastoralist communities hold beliefs that associate ownership, construction, destruction or even hoisting of beehives with negative consequences.

Women were not even allowed to count the number of beehives in the apiary, as it was believed that doing so would cause the bees to abandon those hives. Such beliefs strongly influenced the roles assigned to women in beekeeping practices. However, we are now experiencing fewer gender-based obstacles in our bee farming activities compared to previous years although men still carry out the majority of the work while women are limited to roles aligned with traditional gender expectations.

Marsabit County, being an arid and semi-arid area, has significant potential for honey production due to the abundance of bee-friendly flora. However, to date, only 15 per cent of the region's honey resources have been tapped.

Currently, we sell one liter of pure honey for Sh500 although we still face challenges with supply. We have over 40 beehives at the moment, but only 24 have been colonised due to the prolonged drought that has affected our region. On average, a beehive can produce between 30 and 50kgs of honey per year and even more under normal circumstances. With the money, we now have other sources of income apart from our livestock.”