Climate Change

Drought in Kenya puts livestock at risk; crop failure triggers fear of starvation

Kenya is prone to drought because only 20 per cent of the country receives adequate and regular rainfall

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Wednesday 25 January 2017
The scale of problem is too overwhelming for locals to sustain their efforts. Credit: CIFOR / Flicker
The scale of problem is too overwhelming for locals to sustain their efforts. Credit: CIFOR / Flicker The scale of problem is too overwhelming for locals to sustain their efforts. Credit: CIFOR / Flicker

Climate change-induced drought has again come to haunt an African country. Kenya is witnessing a repeat of the devastating drought that hit the country in 2009-10. Tens of rivers across the country are drying up due to the persistent drought and massive forest degradation. Signs are ominous for a country like Kenya, whose one-fourth of the economy depends mainly on rain-fed agriculture.

The water volume in most lakes, dams and reservoirs is declining due to a prolonged dry spell. According to Mathew Koech, an Eldoret-based environmental expert, “The five water towers of Cherangany, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon, Mau Complex and the Aberdares that are a lifeline for Kenyans are experiencing declining water volumes because of the prolonged drought and destruction of water catchments by human activities.”

This answers why several towns in western Kenya such as Bungoma, Webuye and Eldoret are faced with shortage of water for domestic and industrial use. “The tributaries that supply water to most rivers in the region have dried up, posing a serious threat to human beings and livestock,” said Wilfred Longronyang, the county executive for water.

Kenya is prone to drought because only 20 per cent of the country receives adequate and regular rainfall. As rainfall is becoming increasingly unreliable, the residents have been adopting traditional methods of water conservation. However, the scale of problem is too overwhelming for locals to sustain their efforts.

Impact on tea and coffee production

The late onset of Kenya’s second rainy season has made the production of Arabica crop uncertain. “With the conditions as they are, we expect coffee production to decline,” Harrison Mugo, a director at Coffee Research Institute. While Kenya grows very little coffee compared to Ethiopia and Uganda, its beans are prized globally. Kenya is world’s largest exporter of black tea and this year’s target of increasing tea output by 25 per cent to 500 million kg is likely to be missed as the dry spell persists.

Livestock

The drought has also affected the livestock population.  It is estimated that over 14 per cent of the population in Tana River County in east Kenya depends on livestock for income and food. For the locals, cattle are a critical financial asset providing food (milk, meat) and income (through sale, barter, transport). The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) has taken up the task of destocking, which is aimed at removing the affected animals before they become emaciated, lose their value or pose a risk of public health.

This also helps pastoralists to recover some money from their livestock and utilise it to meet basic needs and strengthen the community’s ability to recover from effects of the drought.

Food insecurity

Farmers could harvest very little because erratic climatic conditions resulted in large-scale crop failure. Credit: Frühtau/ Flicker

 

At present, about 12 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in need of food assistance. A large of people in North Pokot and Central Pokot sub-counties in Kenya are in dire need of food. Surge in food prices is adds to the burden of the locals who are already witnessing high rate of malnutrition among their children.

In Kenya, the pastoral community is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change because of their low adaptability to unpredictable weather patterns. They are now making very low profits as high food prices are keeping away customers. The supply of food to the market has dropped significantly as farmers could harvest very little because erratic climatic conditions resulted in large-scale crop failure.

A 90kg-bag of maize is retailing at $38.45 up from $28.83 while the same bag of beans is selling at $62.47 as against $51.90. Some traders are also forced to import some commodities from neighbouring countries, including beans from Uganda, which they buy at $43.25 per 90 kg bag.

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