Blogs tagged as drought

  • Investing in agriculture to alleviate hunger

    October 16th, 2011

    2011 Blog Action Day on 16 October – World Food Day – is, naturally, themed around food


    Food is a basic human need. Yet for many people across the world, this basic human need is not that easy to come by.

    Putting food on the table is a struggle for small scale farmers and pastoralists with little income or natural resources. It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it, that the very people who grow food or rear livestock for food are those that go hungry? Why? Lack of agricultural knowledge and investment, little access to credit, little access to markets, growing competition for land and price volatility.

    What is more, where the climate is changing year on year, there are no spare resources to adjust or adapt practices in order to reduce the impacts of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.

    Mothers queue for hours at Mandera District Hospital to get food

    I was recently in Mandera, north western Kenya, where I came face-to-face with the terrible reality of drought, and the devastating impact it’s having on families and children.

    People hadn’t eaten for days, yet when asked what they needed, not one person said they needed food.  In fact, any food aid they received went to their livestock. What they needed was rain so they could grow their crops and feed their livestock.

    So it was good to see Practical Action working with agricultural communities to cope with drought by helping to develop drought resistant crops, protect livestock and conserve precious water.

    High up in the Andes in Peru, the temperature can drop to as low as -35 degrees centigrade and there is practically no vegetation. Practical Action works with communities to grow food that will survive these harsh conditions.


    And in flood prone places like Bangladesh where it’s impossible to grow crops, Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.

    We work with entire market systems, often focusing on helping poor farmers and producers to build their abilities to engage with people they do business with and get better deals for themselves and their communities.

    Investing in farmers and pastoralists like this ensures not only can they put food on the table but they can also earn more money – working themselves out of poverty.


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  • Working to Save Pastoralists’ Livelihood in Mandera

    August 23rd, 2011

    Mandera residents are among the hardest hit by the current drought. However, their plight has not been highlighted as much compared to other areas like Turkana. As a result, many pastoralist families continue to suffer.

    Able bodied men and women, who in the recent months were proud owners of healthy animals, have lost a majority if not all their animals due to the drought. The Ministry of Livestock estimates the losses to between 45-60%. The loss of their animals – the main source of their livelihoods and income – has reduced many to internally displaced persons living in makeshift camps where relief supplies are normally distributed by the government or humanitarian agencies.

    During our recent trip to the area I could not help but notice the loss of pride and the level of devastation in the eyes of these pastoralists. Their experiences are moving. It is overwhelming.  I can only imagine the explanations the men and the women give to their children when they are no longer able to provide food to them.

    “What needs to be done to secure the pastoralists’ sources of livelihood?,” asked Tom Kimani, a Kenyan journalist.

    As an organization we believe that although time is extremely short and the needs are great, efforts by all stakeholders to save the lives of many pastoralist and their generations should not stop at providing emergency aid. Relief is important but not enough. We must move beyond it to help these impoverished regions escape from extreme poverty and become more resilient to the changes in weather associated with climate change. The use of appropriate technology to address the challenge cannot be overemphasized.

    Despite the above state of affairs, all is not lost. Our mission came across healthy herds of animals at watering points in Garba Xuoley, Borehole eleven and in Mandera township thanks to one of the current emergency interventions by Practical Action in the area. The initiative, built on observations that pastoralists share some of the limited relief food supplies with their animals to save their capital asset, has so far given a number of the pastoralists a reason to smile. The organization with support from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) and The BROOKE is not only providing the animals with supplementary feeds and concentrates but also providing them with essential animal health services to secure a nucleus of animals capable of surviving the overwhelming effects of the drought.

    A pastoralist boy holds one of their remaining sheep in Elwak

    “The animals being fed today are descendants of those animals that were secured during the 2005/06 drought period. We are not only grateful but optimistic that the animal feed and the health services will help see a number of our animals to the next rainy season,” said Fatima Mohamed whose herd has been reduced from 120 to 40.

    And although the noble initiatives are making a difference in the lives of the animals of poor pastoralists in the area it does not reach all the areas. The rations are not enough. Generosity and speed are of the essence. With your support more can be done to cushion pastoralists’ sources of livelihood.

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  • Veterinary care helps pastoralists cope with drought

    Pastoralist communities in Kenya’s arid lands depend on their livestock and their donkeys for income. Basic veterinary care is one of the best ways to protect their animals and pastoralist livelihoods in these areas.

    This is especially vital during the drought because weakened animals are at major risk from contagious diseases. But in remote areas such as Mandera in north eastern Kenya, pastoralists are unlikely to have access to veterinary services.

    That’s why Practical Action vet Dr Golicha and animal health assistant Abdi Hamid, with funding from animal welfare charity The Brooke,  have been training and mentoring 110 community-based animal health workers (CBAHWs) in the area in an effort to bridge this gap.

    Dr Golicha from Practical Action (right) with some of the community based animal health workers

    What are CBAHWs?

    CBAHWs are predominantly herders themselves from pastoral areas who live and move with their animals in search of water and pasture.

    I spoke to some of them at a watering point near Mandera town where pastoralists bring their livestock to drink and load their donkeys up with water to transport back home.



    CBAHW Adan Ibrahim told me that they provide animal healthcare services to members of their communities. They diagnose and treat common diseases and play a major role in disease reporting, surveillance and community mobilisation. They contact Dr Golicha and Abdi Hamid if there’s anything that comes up which they are unable to treat.

    I watched the team treat donkeys for worms and give them vitamin supplements aimed at reducing opportunistic diseases and infections associated with drought.

    “My donkey is vital because it carries water from this shallow well 16 kilometres back home.”

    Pastoralist Adan Abdirahiman with his donkey

    Pastoralist Adan Abdirahiman said many of their livestock have died and donkeys are their only hope of earning money – through collecting and selling firewood and water:

    “My donkey is vital because it carries water from this shallow well 16 kilometres back home. We are grateful for the help that Practical Action and The Brooke have given us – drugs for our donkeys and animal welfare advice to ensure we’re not overloading them – this is especially important during this drought when they have to carry water over longer distances and are more likely to suffer from health problems.”


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  • Drought devastates pastoralists

    August 12th, 2011

    A pastoralist girl holds on to one of their family's weak animals

    The pastoralist way of life in Kenya, is in jeopardy. There is less rain and growing pressures on fewer areas of pasture and water sources.

    This means the animals that pastoralists depend on for their livelihoods have no food or water. They are either too weak to sell or are dying. Pastoralists therefore can’t get an income and can’t feed themselves or their families.

    Our drive through the vast rangelands of northern Kenya reveal s the devastating effects of the current drought to pastoralist families in these areas.

    The most affected are the most vulnerable groups including children under five, breast feeding mothers, the elderly, and people who have lost their livestock. They cannot travel to the nearest relief distribution centres. And the humanitarian agencies bringing food relief cannot reach these people in remote areas due to the poor road and communication network. They are on their own.

    But as both humanitarian and government agencies are busy fundraising and using the available resources to reach the most vulnerable, this is the right time for development organizations to put in place measures to address the current challenges in the long term. It is time to act, plan and ensure that long term development interventions are implemented effectively to bring back the pride of pastoralist families.

    Practical Action’s drought preparedness project in Turkana is a good example of what needs to be done to ensure pastoralists cope with the negative effects of drought. The project works with stakeholders in the livestock and water sectors to supply essential animal health services and safe clean water to the communities. This has helped the pastoralists ensure their livestock are healthy and have enough water and pasture in dry spells.

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  • A long walk to water

    We’ve all read about how Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. But have you ever read about how people in Mandera, north eastern Kenya, can walk a round trip of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) to fetch water?

    For someone who only has to walk a few paces to get clean running water, this is incomprehensible; especially when you consider that these people have to walk this distance in temperatures of up to 40˚C. I almost consider trying it just to see if I can make it and appreciate the suffering that these people have to endure.

    But this journey is one fraught with danger. Water is in such short supply that violence regularly breaks out at the few remaining wells – with many innocent women and children wounded or killed.

    Practical Action is reducing the trek that people have to make to fetch water by rehabilitating shallow wells dug into seasonal river beds.

    I spoke to a woman at one of the rehabilitated shallow wells who said she now only has to walk two kilometres to fetch water and feels much safer. While I was there, I was told by several pastoralists that the trough next to the shallow well gives their livestock easy access to water and as a result, is helping to keep them alive.

    Patoralist Adan Ibrahim said: “The rehabilitation of these wells and the building of new wells is crucial to the livestock because they will always have water. This will ensure that they survive the drought until the next rains come.”










    It’s clear that amongst the complex solutions we’re introducing to this area, this simple technology is a life-saving answer.

    This is why it’s so critical for us to dig more wells and rehabilitate more wells. 90,000 households across Mandera county depend on them.

    Find out more about our shallow well work.

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  • The future of pastoralism

    Emergency relief camps in north eastern Kenya are full of pastoralists whose livelihoods have been destroyed as a result of recurring droughts.

    The droughts have decimated their livestock. Now many of them have been forced to forsake their traditional culture.

    Kausa with one of her remaining grandchildren

    We visited a refugee camp in El Wak where I met Kausa, a 50-year-old grandmother. After the rains failed and drought killed her livestock, she was forced to leave her home and walk more than 50 miles to El Wak to get help. By the time she arrived at the camp four days later, two of her grandchildren had died. She said:

    “My husband ran away when the animals died. There was no water, no food. First the cows died, then the goats and the camels. I knew we had to leave. Everyone was weak from hunger and thirst.”

    She now depends on handouts in El Wak as she’s unable to provide food for her remaining ten children and six grandchildren.


    Former pastoralist Fatima outside her make-shift grass hut in an emergency relief camp.


    Another grandmother, Fatima, aged 56, told me that when she lost her herd of 200 goats she knew that life as a pastoralist as over. She said:

    “I know I cannot go back and I will now carry firewood on my back to earn money to feed my family because there is not enough food here to feed everybody.”

    The pain and suffering that I saw here made me so deeply sad but also frustrated. There is aid coming into the Mandera region. Indeed, the guest house that we were staying at was also hosting people from humanitarian aid organisations.

    People collect food aid from a distribution centre

    But this is food aid they are bringing for people, not the livestock they depend on. Yes, these people are hungry and need food – I can’t disagree with that. But this is a short-term survival solution. They cannot live on handouts forever.

    In drought-affected regions of Kenya, 25-50% of livestock is expected to be dead by January. In parts of Mandera County, 65% of cattle are estimated to have died.

    Unless decisive action is taken to help these nomadic herders adapt even further to the extremes of climate change, they will no longer be able to sustain their way of life. There must be a huge programme of investment to enable pastoralists to cope with climate change.

    Practical Action is working with communities on a variety of projects such as:

    • rehabilitating water structures such as shallow wells
    • improving the market for livestock
    • supporting animal health services working with authorities and organisations on managing drought situations
    • improving access to information services on health, water, vaccinations, seasonal forecasts and technology
    • linking them to other emergency service providers.

    You can find out more about these projects by following my blog.

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  • Emergency drought response programme

    Today was an exciting day for us. Journalists from a number of national UK newspapers came to Mandera, northern Kenya, to see an emergency drought response programme that we’re running, with funding from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA).

    We wanted to show them the best way of helping poor people cope with drought, in the hope that they would take this message back to the UK.

    This is the situation that we are trying to raise awareness of:

    Lots of food aid is arriving to feed the hungry. But poor people in this area are nearly all pastoralists who depend on their livestock to survive. Food aid is needed for their livestock because if they die, pastoralists won’t have a future and they will have to rely on handouts for the rest of their lives.

    Part of our emergency drought response programme - feeding livestock to keep them alive











    This is what the community in Mandera say:

    At a meeting with elders in El Wak, a town in Mandera County, elder Haji Mohamed said: “Everyone who comes here asks if we are hungry, if we humans have enough food. That is important, but for us more important at this time is feeding the last remaining animals that have survived these years of drought.”

    Another elder, Aden Kala Dido, added: “When the last animal goes, then it is time to start waiting for the humans to begin dying too.”

    This is what we’re doing:

    They are grateful for programme we are running in Mandera – supplying 90,000 tons of animal food to feed 50,000 goats and sheep, vaccinating 80,000 livestock against opportunistic diseases and facilitating drought related animal health services.


    Vaccinating livestock












    At first, prioritising livestock feeding doesn’t seem quite right when people are streaming to feeding centres to find food aid. However, the penny dropped for the journalists when they learned that pastoralists are actually sharing the food they receive from aid agencies and the Kenyan government with their animals, denying themselves and their families of these vital rations.

    “The pastoralists would rather die themselves than let their livestock die.”

    “That is the measure of how important the animals are to these people,” said Lenkai Ole Tutui, the district commissioner in charge of the area around El Wak. “The pastoralists would rather die themselves than let their livestock die so whatever food they get, they share it with their livestock. Everyone is looking at food aid for humans. It is high time that people realise this and send food for livestock.”

    I think this photo (below) on the wall of the Practical Action office in Mandera is a poignant illustration of how the pastoralists feel about these animals and what we need to be doing to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the drought in Kenya.


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  • The road to drought and devastation

    August 9th, 2011

    We’ve travelled by road for 19 hours from Nairobi to Mandera, northern Kenya, where people are suffering from the worst drought seen here in 60 years.

    The effects of the drought were evident as we got closer and closer to Mandera – more and more carcasses of animals (sheep, goats, cattle and camels) on the roadside.

    The death of these animals is more significant that you’d think, for they are essential to pastoralists who make up 95% of the population in Mandera. These are people whose main source of livelihood is livestock with which they move seasonally in search of fresh pasture and water.

    Pastoralists depend on livestock for all their basic needs and any losses undermine their economic and food security.

    Healthy camels can fetch a good sum of money at the market. These animals are built to survive in the desert, so I was shocked when we came across one sitting by the side of the road. Too weak to walk through lack of food and water, it’s owners had no option but to leave it to die.

    We pass a lorry carrying food relief – for humans. Unfortunately, emergency relief often doesn’t appreciate the importance of saving livestock in emergencies.

    But we hope that the national newspaper journalists we are meeting will raise awareness of this issue back home. They are visiting a livestock feeding and vaccination programme we’re running with funding from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA). The hope is that by feeding the livestock and vaccinating them against common diseases, families can continue to support themselves during and after the drought.

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  • Droughts need not be as devastating

    Droughts are a recurring phenomenon in the arid and semi-arid Lands of north eastern Kenya. The incidence of drought in Mandera had increased fourfold in the last 25 years.

    Added to the recurrent droughts are the issues of chronic instability along the Kenya-Somalia border, conflict and rangeland degradation due to felling of trees and vegetation for firewood. All these factors combine to form a toxic mix that erodes pastoral resilience to drought and pushes them over the brink into abject poverty.

    Resilience to drought

    As we travelled to Rhamu and then through Wargadud to Shimbir Fatuma and back again to Mandera we encountered not only signs of despondency and despair but also evidence of pastoral resilience to drought and solutions that if developed and implemented at a larger scale could insulate local pastoralists against the worst effects of drought.

    A few kilometres from the River Daua we saw a berkad, a roofed sub surface water reservoir that has a capacity of storing thousands of litres of water but was bone dry. The local community possessed neither the organisation nor the means to transport water from River Daua to fill the berkad and no assistance seemed forthcoming from the local authorities.

    At a village called Elele we saw an earth dam that still held water and a well fitted with a hand pump that yielded water for human consumption. And at a watering point just outside Shimbir Fatuma, local residents were collecting water pumped from a borehole. Also drinking at the troughs were cattle, camels and goats. But the pump had not been serviced in 11 years and at several other locations, the pumps had packed up for want of service and proper maintenance.

    These experiences left us with the impression that there were immense possibilities for alleviating the water stress experienced during droughts by better managing existing water sources and by developing new watering points where rain and surface runoff can be harvested.

    The National Livestock Marketing Council of Kenya has established a demonstration farm on the banks of the Daua. Here, in the midst of a crippling drought with the bleached bones of cattle strewn across a parched landscape, we were shown stands of irrigated Sudan grass, tall enough to conceal a man after a growing period of just 45 days. The farm prepares hay from the harvested grass and sells it to local farmers. Much to our amazement, the farm is also rearing exotic milch goats and has already supplied a few cross bred animals to local farmers. And amidst the Sudan grass were plots of banana trees.  The sight of food for humans and livestock growing in abundance during a time of drought pointed to yet another possibility for bridging the hunger gap.

    Droughts need not be as devastating as they currently are. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to entertain the thought that pastoralist’s areas can become economic power houses of the future. 

    Solutions exist

    Solutions for making droughts an inconvenience rather than a recurring national catastrophe exist. What is lacking is the political will and commitment to achieve this objective. Also lacking is consensus and coordination of effort among all those involved in pastoral development.

    As development practitioners we gaze in amazement at the concern of national and international leaders, donors and institutions as pictures of dead and dying victims of drought flash across their television screens.  We all knew this was coming. We have all seen it before. Why didn’t we do something about it?

    And so now the money pours in to save lives that need never have been threatened, to accommodate people who should never have been displaced. Soon the crisis will be over and the issue forgotten…. until the next drought.

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  • Since when did the suffering of 12 million people stop being headline news?

    This morning before work I spent my usual few moments educating myself about today’s news on the BBC website.

    I was especially interested in reading the latest about the Horn of Africa drought and famine because in five days I will be travelling to Kenya myself to visit a range of Practical Action’s projects. My trip will include four days in Mandera, an area in the very north of the country, and one which is severely affected by the worst drought in 60 years.

    However, it took me much longer than I expected to read news about the drought. In fact, it took me four mouse clicks to reach any sort of update about the current crisis. The drought does not even headline the Africa section of the BBC news page.

    This horrifies me perhaps even more than I can express. Since when did the suffering of 12 million people stop being headline news?

    When reading the comments section underneath virtually every article on Africa and development and poverty on any mainstream news website, there is a worryingly high number of opinions along the lines of “Africa brings its poverty on itself”, “it’s not the West’s problem anymore, we’ve done enough”, “charity begins at home”, “just give them condoms” and a whole host of other ill-thought out, lazy and ignorant attitudes.

    Of course development has its problems. But when the lives of 12 million people – and most of these children – are at risk these do not matter.

    You have two choices. Bury your head in the sand and ignore the suffering of so many because it has nothing to do with you – which is a very easy choice, as demonstrated by the absence of the crisis from mainstream news. 

    Or support relief efforts of other NGOs, and the long-term development work of Practical Action.

    You can give, and try to help.

    Or you can choose not to. And more many innocent girls and boys from Africa will die.

    I will be reporting from Kenya throughout my time there. Stay tuned.

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