Coping with drought, high food prices

Drought conditions in parts of Kenya have worsened an already poor food security situation, which has been exacerbated by high food and fuel prices. IRIN spoke to residents in parts of Coast region, who highlighted some of the challenges and their coping strategies.

In areas close to Tana River’s Hola region, residents live off pastoralism and riverine farming, but the drought has had an adverse impact.

Farher, a resident of Hara, a pastoral village on the outskirts of Hola, said: “In the mornings, we go out in search of water and return in the afternoon with a 20 litre jerry can of water for the children, the goats, the house needs. We are also relying on National Youth Service [NYS] personnel who are grading the Murram road to Hola for water from their trucks; they are a Godsend.

“In the afternoons we go to the Food for Work programme.”

Community members are given food in exchange for work on new infrastructure or rehabilitation of key assets or for time spent learning new skills to increase food security in the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Food for Assets, also known as Food for Work, projects.

“The biggest problems here are a lack of water and food. Let alone people, even the goats are hungry; the goats are just goats by name because when you take them to the market, no one wants to buy them as they are emaciated.

“If the situation remains as it is, we will have to move again. I don’t think there is a worse place than this – the river is far, the hospitals too.

“You know, all you need in life is water; if it rains, most of these problems will end.”

Livestock deaths

Mohammed Barisa, a former Hara area councilor, told IRIN he now had only three surviving cows from a herd of 200; the rest have died since 2009 due to unfavourable weather and pasture conditions.

He said: “The people are here, but the herds have moved to Garsen and Kipini [in the Tana Delta region]; so has the milk. We have black tea in the morning.

“Without livestock, we are doing many things to survive. Some of us are engaging in casual jobs such as watchmen at the NYS camps or slashing weeds for some little money. Others, who are in the Food for Work programme, share the maize and beans they are given at the end of the month with those who are not on the programme.

“The children are getting food from the School Feeding Programme [SFP]. But they still have to take water to school, which the parents have to bring from the river, to cook the SFP food.” WFP’s SFP programme has been ongoing during the August school holidays.

“As for me, my priority now that I no longer have many cows is just to educate my children by engaging in any casual jobs,” said Barisa.

Hara village Chief Mohammed Dubat said: “We have all but forgotten about samli [a ghee made from goat’s milk], yet before it was like our cash crop.”

''Here, when people plant, they ask God for rain and then they say, please let there be no wildlife''

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), accelerated depletion in grazing resources, increasing livestock deaths, declining livestock terms of trade exacerbated by exceptionally high food prices, and limited food and non-food interventions are contributing to pastoral food insecurity.

In the Duwayo area, 25km from Hola town, residents rely on floodplain farming but reduced Tana River flooding in the past two years has negatively affected food availability as a resident, Isaac Dima, told IRIN: “Most of the people have moved from here due to a lack of food.

“For those of us who have remained, we have been selling wood to our Somali brothers to fence their bomas [homesteads]; in exchange, they give us some beans or rice.

“In the shops, you buy something today and three days later the price has gone up. For example, 1kg of maize flour was about 25 shillings (US$0.27) in the past, but now it is almost 80 shillings ($0.80)

“The children are not getting a proper diet. Before, they would even have bananas and mangoes to eat but now they just have to eat ugali [maize meal], and githeri [a mix of maize and beans], which is not suitable for them.

“Even the beekeepers are harvesting very little honey for sale.

“We are now hoping that the flowering mangoes will do well if it rains in October.” The short rains season is expected to begin in late October, according to FEWS NET.

Fending off elephants

In parts of the coastal areas of Kilifi and Kwale, charcoal burning is the major coping mechanism following failed past harvests there, with food insecurity aggravated by wildlife invasion. Salama wa Kazungu, a resident of Bamba, about 50km from Kilifi, said: “I am relying on charcoal burning for a livelihood.

“I sell a 90kg bag of charcoal at 300 shillings ($3.33), but there are few customers as everyone else here is selling charcoal too.

“I need about 200 shillings ($2.22) daily to feed my five children but how can I get this money if I am only able to sell one bag of charcoal every two months?

“Sometimes, we just boil some wild vegetables to eat.

“There are people I know who have died after eating some poisonous plants but the reports probably did not reach the right people as we are not getting food aid here. Maybe someone else should die so that we can get some relief food.”

Photo: Ann Weru/IRIN
Women are traveling far distances in search of water

In the Kinango area of Kwale, also in Coast region, wildlife invasion of farmland due to drought conditions is compounding food insecurity, as Chai Ramoyo told IRIN: “Now that it is dry, the elephants are going to the low-lying areas such as Mazola and Nyango in search of food. Some farmers have abandoned their farms here and gone to Msambweni and Lungalunga to evade the animals. But it is just those who are able to leave who have gone to farm elsewhere.

“Here, when people plant, they ask God for rain and then they say, please let there be no wildlife.

“There is a time seven elephants came to my shamba [smallholding] and ate my crop for three hours, there was nothing I could do.”

Another resident of Kibaoni village, close to the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary in Kwale, Mazore Hamadi Mwakuwewa, showed IRIN the bow and arrows he uses to protect his crop: “I guard my crops day and night from elephants and baboons; warthogs are a problem too.

“We are hungry because of the wildlife invasion; the farm is mine but the wildlife belongs to KWS [the Kenya Wildlife Service]. Sometimes, I feel like we are farming to benefit other people.”

In the lower eastern area of Ngomeni in Mwingi, residents are frequenting market centres “as there isn’t much to do at home”, they say.

A succession of past poor crop seasons plus high food prices has adversely affected food security there. In response, some women are engaging in petty business at the centres.

“If you get 20 shillings [$0.20], it is cheaper to come to the kiosk for some tea and chapatti than try to buy food from the shops,” said a resident. The northern parts of Mwingi are among areas classified as being at the emergency food insecurity level, according to FEWS NET.