LETTERS: Farmers need support in combating drought

maize crop
A farmer inspects maize crop destroyed by drought. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The year 2017 registered an extended drought episode that almost wiped out livelihoods in large sections of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid land areas (Asals) for over six months.

Pasture scarcity is a major constraint to livestock production in Asals. Thousands of livestock moved from one region to another in search of water and pasture during the drought period. Even in their movements, they faced scarcity.

These unregulated movements also escalated resource based conflicts, disease outbreaks and households separation. The 2018 March-April-May (MAM) rains as projected were above normal, which turned disastrous in some quotas. Range lands and farms have been restored as a result.

Incidentally, comparable cycles will recur over and over again in future. Such are the happenings that demand answers now that normalcy has returned in Asal regions. There is a pattern to drought episodes. Drought has become more frequent and severe than before. In fact, no single year passes without a drought incident. Some might be severe, others mild.

As the 2018 MAM rains subside, Asal communities need to do livelihood reviews in order to put stop gap measures against probable drought effects in future.

The timing is ideal given that grazing fields have recovered, crop fields are doing well and animals’body conditions and health are satisfactory and so is production.Just recently I participated in some ward levels contingency planning at county level.

The exercise concluded with development of community action plans (CAPs) that resonated with local needs. It was obvious coming from participants’ there is slow adoption to modern agricultural practices. Such failure to adjust with times inhibits resilience building.

Over the years, Asal livestock productivity has been low as farmers largely relied on natural grass as their main source of livestock feeds. Performance of natural pastures fluctuates with seasonality.

Pasture deficit during dry spells leads to poor body conditions, loss of production and deaths. Communities should embrace farmers’ groups, cooperatives and farmers unions as a platform for advancing their interests. Where farm produce is marketed through co-operatives and farmers unions, farmers enjoy favourable prices.

They also offer soft loans, support farmers with improved breeds, promotes good agricultural practices thus enhancing productivity. In addition, farmers benefit from modern storage facilities, enabling them to hold onto their produce until such a time when market prices improves or for future use.

Co-operatives and unions also link farmers to markets. Surplus pastures achieved with the 2018 MAM rains might get wiped-out with onset of a drought phase. Pasture scarcity during drought phases is as a result of low adoption of modern conservation technologies. If adequately conserved in times of plenty, surplus forage can sustain livestock through a drought episode without requiring outside support.

It can also be used in support of feed lots for lactating and weak animals in the event of drought. Furthermore, seeds harvested from pasture fields can be redistributed for scaling up and renewal of dilapidated grazing fields.

If well supported, farmers groups can guide the 23 Asal counties in exploiting the regions potential in livestock breed improvement, resilience building, value addition and livelihood diversification and keep drought effects at bay.