Pastoralists brace for hard times as weather experts predict drought

Joseph Mungai | NATION
Mr Amos Tata and his mother Purity Leshunet lost about 800 cattle in Kenya’s last drought.

What you need to know:

  • La Nina conditions will prevail early this year, causing mild drought in arid and semi-arid regions, say experts

Amos Moipan Tata wades through the knee-high grass outside his Kajiado home. He stops and looks proudly at his herd of cattle grazing nearby. Their healthy hides shine in the afternoon sun as they feed on the plentiful pasture.

Consistent rainfall early last year saturated the land in many parts of the country. Last month, Kajiado was almost unrecognisable. The rain transformed it from desert land during the 2008-2009 drought into vast grassland. But the good grazing will not last long.

The Kenya Meteorological Department predicts “borderline” La Nina conditions will prevail early this year, causing mild drought in the arid and semi-arid regions of the country.

But Mr Tata said he will struggle to cope with even a minor drought as the good rains earlier last year have not been able to wash away the devastating effects of last year’s drought.

“(The land) was just dirt and dust,” Mr Tata recalls of last year’s drought.

Kajiado, along with Laikipia, were the hardest hit areas in the country.

He watched helplessly as his cattle’s skin pulled tight against protruding ribs; their razor-sharp hip bones poking through taut hides.

“There was a lot of hunger in the family,” the 35-year-old said.

Young children had to settle for water instead of milk and many of the older ones were pulled out of school because there were no cattle to pay their school fees.

Across the country, livestock died by the truckload.

And due to climate change, the prevalence of severe drought has been growing. In the last century, northern Kenya has recorded 28 major droughts, four of which have occurred in the last decade.

Last year, Mr Tata was forced to leave his Olkiriti sub-location home and take his herd to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara, literally in search of greener pastures.

He stayed for nine months. Most of his cattle never made it home. Some succumbed to disease. Others – thirsty, hungry and too weak to stand – simply collapsed.

Mr Tata’s 1,000 head of cattle quickly dwindled to 200.

The Meteorological Department is predicting another drought early this year. But it won’t be as severe as droughts in recent years, said Mr Peter Ambenje, deputy director in charge of forecasting.

 “We (had) depressed rainfall in most of the pastoral arid and semi-arid areas,” he said of the short rainy season that ended late last year.

“But this year might be slightly different from other years because from January (2010), we had very good rains in most parts of the country. So the impacts might not be as severe as what we had previously when we had consecutive seasons of dryness.”

An estimated 20 per cent of livestock will be affected this year, which means La Nina will directly impact on two million people, the Ministry of Livestock said.

La Nina is characterised by the cooling of the equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean, affecting global weather patterns. For the most part, dry areas will become drier and wet areas, wetter.

While the drought may not be as severe, pastoralists in chronically depressed areas may have a harder time dealing with the impact, as they still have not recovered from the compounded effects of previous droughts.

The Ministry of Livestock has advised pastoralists to de-stock a portion of their herds while the animals are still marketable.

But that is not realistic, said Mr Moses Ole Yiare, Kenya Livestock Marketing Council representative in Kajiado.

“They’re still trying to re-stock,” he said. “And people are still under famine relief.”

The Kenya Food Security Steering Group reported that about 46,000 people in Kajiado needed food relief between March and August last year.

Kajiado lost 70 to 80 per cent of its animals during last year’s drought, Mr Yiare added, and it will take up to five years for livestock owners to rebuild their herds.


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