Dry weather in Kenya has not only affected the energy sector, but has also wrought untold misery on those whose livelihoods depend on good rains and moderate sunshine:
Nomadic pastoralists abhor the destruction of livestock.
In traditional society, a man’s wealth and stature was measured by the size of his herd. Today, cattle still occupy an important position in social transactions. The value of a wife equals the number of cattle turned over to the in-laws for her hand in marriage. Thus, cattle are the glue that holds families and clans together. To the owners, the surrender of their herds must have felt like a spear right through the rib-cage!
It is inevitable that questions arise at the sight of the last-minute buy-off of so many beasts, most of which were too weak to live and too unhealthy to be slaughtered..
Firstly, the government was aware that the climate had not been kind to the farmer or the herdsman. In June, there were herds of cattle grazing on the poor pickings next to busy highways, meaning that the usual grazing grounds were depleted.
Roaring business selling water in Nairobi.
Why was there nothing done then to relieve the cattle-holders? Then, the animals still had some meat on their bones and could have fetched a better price.
Secondly, the nomadic-pastoralist lifestyle and the eternal battles with the elements has been discussed in text-books and World Bank studies as long as I can recall. In most cases, the conclusion is that the free range lands for nomadic activities are virtually non-existent.
Collective ownership of land has gradually given way to titled, individual ownership.
Among the pastoralist communities, those who caught on to the benefits of private ownership now boast hundreds of hectares of fenced-off ranches. Those left landless have to trespass and engage in running battles with custodians of national parks, reserved for the tourist and the wild beasts.
"Illegal" Grazing In Nairobi National Park
It is clearly no longer realistic to have communities that depend wholly on herds of cattle if they do not have access to vast common land.
Now, about the sun. Left to its devices in 2008-2009, it has been a merciless enemy. It dries up the few common watering holes there are for the nomads, turns the savannah brown and burns it into a barren, black carpet. A superstitious being could easily believe that they have been cursed by their ancestors, their lands turned into a hell where their beasts perish in the dust…..
Need this be so, these cycles of bountiful lushness and stretches of misery in dust-bowls?
The same sun, if we have foresight and a willingness to invest and pre-empt disaster, could have saved those beasts and also given the herdsmen a more secure way of life. How?
In the Australian outback, which is just as harsh as the savannah, the use of photovoltaic panels to run water pumps is quite common. The water that they suck out of the earth (wells, rivers and lakes) is used to water livestock or to irrigate crops. With a raised water storage facility present to hold the water and deliver it by gravity to the troughs crops, no expensive storage batteries are needed.
The initial expenditure for such a system may seem daunting, but the benefits are evident and enduring.
If the Kenyan government is keen to avoid a repeat of the Kenya Meat Commission’s twelfth-hour “rescue” of dying beasts, it must help the Maasai, Samburu, Rendille, Boran and other pastoralist communities secure water supplies during drier periods. There is water in the ground, and the scrubland can be permanently green, if there is a will.
For their part, the nomadic-pastoralists may have to adjust to the economic realities of today’s Kenya. The community can remain cohesive if it collectively develops and manages a common pump-fed watering and irrigation facility. United by the blessed sun!
There are not many free range lands, and the movement of large herds over hundreds of kilometres is no longer viable. Perhaps it is time too to look at the quality of the herd instead of the quantity,…. for a proud father to accept one fat bull and 3 fertile cows for his daughter, instead of twenty scrawny specimens destined for the KMC graveyard.