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To Survive, Herders Become Farmers in Northern Kenya


The people of northern Kenya have traditionally been herders, since the land has long been considered too dry for farming November 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)

The people of northern Kenya have traditionally been herders, since the land has long been considered too dry for farming November 28, 2014. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)

The northern part of the East African nation of Kenya is hot and gets little rain. The area has been suffering from periods of small amount of rainfalls and droughts, when almost no rain falls. This has been going on for many years. People who live there say the droughts are becoming more severe.

Herders are among those suffering the most. They are people who move with their animals from place to place. But over the past few years, many of the animals have died. The lack of rain has stopped the growth of grasses and other foods the animals eat.

Many of the herders have no animals left, so they are forced to become farmers. In their culture, being a herder brings them power and respect. Farmers are not as respected as herders.

Ali Abdi was a herder. His family was considered wealthy. He had respect from people in his home district of Garissa, in northern Kenya. Mr. Abdi had about 100 goats. He moved when the seasons changed, searching for new places for the goats to eat. But in 2012 and 2013, little rain fell, and Mr. Abdi’s world changed.

As the pastures dried up, he says, his animals lost weight, then started to die. By the end of the drought, more than two-thirds of his goats were gone. They were the only way he could feed his family.

Ahmed Sheikh works at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization. He says Mr. Abdi was not the only herder who suffered.

“Most people actually went into destitution. People who had 100 heads of cattle remained with 10, goats the same. The herd size is what makes pastoralism a bit economical, but once the herd size shrinks it becomes really uneconomical.”

This year drought has again hit Garissa, so Mr. Abdi made a difficult decision.

Mr. Abdi and about twelve other men and women are trying to grow crops. The group prepared about three hectares of land using long knives.

It was so difficult that some of them thought it would be impossible. But now they are growing fruits and vegetables, including bananas, tomatoes, chilies and lemons.

Some local people criticized Mr. Abdi for choosing to become a farmer.

Mr. Abdi says his wife was unhappy, because in their society a man who farms is considered lowly and poor. This is still true, he says, even though he now makes more money from his farm than he did with his goats.

With the help of money from development organizations and the government, a few herders in Garissa have begun to crow crops. Of course, they cannot depend upon rain. But Ahmed Sheik says technology is being used to irrigate the crops using water from the Tana River.

The new farmers have to be taught everything, including preparing the land, how to plant the seeds and proper methods for watering. A non-governmental aid organization called African Development Solutions is training them. Abshir Abdi works for the group.

He says few herders have become farmers yet. But he says the number is growing. He says he sees more and more land being prepared for farming near the Tana River.

I’m Marsha James.

Correspondent Hilary Heuler reported this story from Garrisa, Kenya. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. Marsha James read and produced the report.

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Words in This Story

drought n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain

herder n. a person who gathers and moves a group of animals

pasture n. a large area of land where animals feed on the grass

destitute adj. extremely poor

pastoral adj. of or relating to the countryside or to the lives of people who live in the country

irrigate v. to supply (something, such as land) with water by using artificial means (such as pipes)

Have you been affected by drought? If so, how? We want to hear about your experiences. Tell us in the comments section below.

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