LAIKIPIA-ISIOLO , 10 June 2009 (Kenya) – Millions of Kenyans are facing hunger due to a prolonged drought and successive failed rains. In the northern region, pastoralists’ livelihoods are especially threatened not just by drought and high food prices but also by deadly inter-communal conflict, livestock diseases and a lack of basic services.
Amos Lerasia, a 66-year-old elder from the Maasai community and a resident of Mukogodo, along the northern Laikipia-Isiolo districts’ border, told IRIN of the challenges facing pastoralists.
“I started herding [livestock] while very young, at the age of five; I was among a group of boys taking care of more than 300 animals. I was later employed as a herder and a guard.
“With my savings of 20 years I constructed a four-room mud-walled house and bought cattle. Livestock is treasured in my community, owning animals earns you respect… but I have a different opinion [now] because of what I have witnessed.
“Most of those who owned animals in the past have now lost them to drought, bandits and diseases…. most are now working as watchmen in towns, relying on relief food and organizations to feed and educate their children.
“Some are beggars, others cut trees to make charcoal… An old man who had more than 100 cattle in Mukogodo committed suicide after losing all his animals to drought… he bought pesticide, swallowed it and died.
“I have seen many men my age and great warriors lose livestock, become paupers, or get killed; it is not unusual.
“The past five years have been very bad… more people are now beggars, women have been left without husbands and children orphaned.
“Food prices have continued to rise. At the moment, a kilo of maize flour is 50 shillings [US$0.64]. Even people working for the government, like teachers, are struggling. Pregnant women are also dying of hunger. we are asked to wait and told the prices will come down. how long shall we wait?
“It pains me that in June last year I had 46 cattle but now I only have one; they all died due to the drought and diseases.
“The drought used to occur after many years, unlike now [when] it is experienced almost every year. It is almost three years since the last time we received enough rains, water and pasture. I am afraid our community will lose all its animals if this trend continues.
“These days our morans [young men] no longer dance or sing Sinkolio songs, which were sung during moments of joy after the animals were brought back from grazing.
“We see the recent failure of rains as a punishment that requires cleansing… even the bees that used to provide honey have migrated because the trees have dried up and been cut.
“The men have abandoned women and children as they cannot afford to provide food. Families have broken down; it is now common for young girls to move to towns to engage in commercial sex to survive.
“I fear for the future generation. They may suffer the most without livestock or property; it is meaningless to leave a future without animals, culture, health, food or property.
“I now believe pastoralism is the most risky investment… I regret my investment in it and wish that I had spent the money educating my children instead.”