Pastoralists from northern Kenya are counting immense losses after their camels were chopped with machetes by irate farmers in Taita Taveta County. During the skirmishes where a farmer was stabbed to death, the camels that survived were slaughtered as they sustained incurable injuries.
The tension erupted as the country continues to come to terms with the intensified harsh climatic conditions, mainly in the northern part that prompts herders to travel south in droves with their herds in hunt for water and pasture. Because of climate change and variability, the dry land mass is extending southwards.
Herders have claimed that their movement is not an invasion as they enter into binding agreements with ranch owners to graze the camels but famers insist that the herders are to blame for the drying river Mwagodi.
The agitated farmers say the livestock are grazing on their farms, clearing green vegetation and overusing their only source of water, River Mwagodi, which they claim will soon dry up, a matter that has attracted the attention of the courts although no sustainable ruling has been given.
The escalating issue has also attracted the county leadership, whose effort to flush out the herds was halted by the courts on grounds of the nature of agreement herders have with ranch owners.
It has been reported that at the core of the intensified tensions, 28 ranches are involved, which locals want protected against over illegal entry by herders. As the rivers meandering through the national parks dry up, the wildlife will move from parks in search of water and pasture, an imminent problem that should not be overlooked.
Taita Taveta County spans nearly 17,084 square kilometres of which slightly more than 60 percent is a protected area under the Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks. With a population of 284,657 people according to the 2009 National Census, a household has barely two hectares at its disposal, yet the population that must be fed is growing.
The wildlife invading farms from the national parks, especially during seasons of scarcity augment the quantum of stress that farmers are facing. Management of farmlands is proving difficult due to the uncertainty and unpredictability of weather patterns. The unprecedented development is drifting farming into a loss-making venture because farmers are compelled to replant when rains fail.
This year has been particularly stressful for famers because the March- May long rains failed in most agro-economic zones, which is a pointer to reduced harvest at the end of the year and spiked farm commodity prices.
According to the Economic Survey, 2019, Kenya has been experiencing increased mean annual temperature(s) in recent years. The data, which is collated by the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) and complied by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reveals that the country’s mean annual temperature rose from a low of 27.7 degrees Celsius in 2013 to 29 degrees Celsius in 2015 before receding to 28.9 degrees Celsius in 2017, signalling a worsening climate scenario.
As climate change continues to intensify there will be more direct and indirect shocks that society must contend with. Recent studies have identified a strong correlation between climate variability and reducing physiological responses of both plants and animals, meaning an intensified pressure on use of available resources.
Other studies have also warned of the increasing psychological effects attributable to the harsh weather. It can be conjectured that it is the harsh weather in the north that prompts herders to chance on pasture by travelling southwards to the contiguous Mount Kenya, Meru and Taita Taveta areas.
In the past, tensions have also been reported between herders and farmers in Meru with farmers resorting to burn grazing fields to keep them away.
While it can also be conjectured that it is climate change that is building the heat between the two groups, use of inappropriate interventions does not provide the much needed solution. It muddles chances of finding a sustainable solution, leads to deaths and losses lives and property that could have been avoided if more amicable administrative channels can be used.
Obed Nyangea, economist, via email.