04 Mar 2011 16:25
Source: Alertnet // Gitonga Njeru
Nairobi (AlertNet) – A growing number of farmers in parts of Kenya’s eastern and north-eastern regions are selling their land and moving to urban areas in search of alternative livelihoods as a severe drought believed linked to climate change makes farming increasing difficult.
The trend is taking a toll on Kenya’s economy and, if it continues, could leave areas of once valuable farming land uncultivated, potentially threatening the country’s ability to produce enough food for its population, agro-economists say.
Kenya is again suffering extended drought, following an earlier severe drought in 2009, according to the country’s meteorological department, and experts say the conditions do not bode well for the country’s struggling farmers, 80 percent of whom depend on rain for their crops.
“Pastoralists are already losing their livestock in north-eastern Kenya. Let’s hope for the best,” said Matayo Indeje, an associate research scientist at Kenya’s meteorological department, speaking at a conference in Nairobi.
December, January and February tend to be the hottest and most humid months in East Africa but in recent years, average temperatures have increased. That is destroying a growing share of crops and leaving many cash-strapped farmers with little choice except to sell their land and try to find work in urban areas.
As drought forces farmers to sell their land, the country’s ability to feed its population could be at risk, said Juma Oyier, a Nairobi based agro-economist. While land is often sold on to other farmers, there is often a break in crop production in between owners, he said.
“Even if the land is bought immediately … it could take the new farmer several months to get used to his new land. It takes a lot of time to plan what crops to plant,” Oyier said.
To help struggling farmers facing drought, the government began a livestock purchasing programme in November, offering to buying herds at market rates from farmers and pastoralists struggling to take care of them. However, the programme so far has failed to find adequate funding, raising a third of the $200 million it needs from donors such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Kenyan officials said.
The government is instead providing water to farmers and pastoralists in drought-stricken areas to help keep animals alive, hoping to minimise losses of cattle. Officials fear the program may not have enough water to survive prolonged drought, however.
Kenya has some 7 million cattle, 31 million goats, 500,000 donkeys and 3 million camels, according to government estimates. “Some pastoralists are walking all the way to Nairobi for several weeks with their cattle herds just to find a place to graze. It’s a sign that things are bad and immediate action should be taken. Even pasture is hard to find when climate change does so much damage,” Oyier said.
“About ten years ago, drought was not as severe as it has been recently. This is the cost of messing with Mother Nature,” he said. As much as $2.5 billion may have been lost from Kenya’s economy over the past two years as a result of changing weather patterns linked to climate change, World Bank statistics show.
04 Mar 2011 16:25