By ANDREW TUIMUR
Drought is a cyclic weather phenomenon that cannot be wished away. It is here with us currently and rest assured that it will still come back in future. Kenya has experienced several droughts, the most recent being the 2009-2010 one, which left losses estimated at Sh630.9 billion in the livestock sector.
The country is particularly prone to drought because only 20 per cent of the country receives adequate and regular rainfall, a challenge worsened by dependence on rain-fed agriculture by farmers. The only thing that we can do when faced with drought is to prepare well in advance by putting in place measures to lessen its adverse effects. Inasmuch as the government has a leading role to play in this; your individual effort is also critical.
Last year, the Meteorological Department sounded an alarm bell about insufficient short rains, a projection that has come to pass. Most parts of the country late last year received inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall that consequently affected crop production and vegetation cover. When crops fail, this heralds the beginning of a drought-induced food deficit with the next buffer being livestock. Unfortunately in such conditions, even livestock productivity is at its lowest. Most of our livestock production systems rely on natural pastures supported by rainfall. In the arid and semi-arid lands (Asals), which constitute 80 per cent of Kenya and where most of our livestock is to be found; pastoralism is the main production system that is also fully dependent on rainfall patterns.
During these lean times, the immune systems of animals are compromised due to inadequate feeds, predisposing them to opportunistic diseases. Inadequate feeds force the animals to graze very close to the ground, further exposing them to diseases such as anthrax and botulism. Other ailments common during dry spells, include foot and mouth disease. Conflicts among communities, humans and wildlife are bound to escalate as livestock are moved from one area to another in search of pasture and water.
Every drought has come with its lessons and these have been documented across sectors and even regions for quite a while. Today, drought management is not the preserve of the government. It has seen the development of other regional institutions such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), which now has a Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC), development partners and even national authorities to tackle drought. For our part as a sector we have documented a lot on the subject and developed short and long term drought management strategies.
The government has dedicated most of its time and resources to drought management, because it affects all the sectors of our economy. In the Vision 2030, drought is among the emergencies foreseen by the government, with the authorities supposed to put in place elaborate measures to lessen its effects. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and Blue Economy have set up several model farms to showcase pasture conservation techniques such as hay and silage making. These centres are strategically located in the Asals to appeal to the pastoralists. The government has also initiated livestock off-take to enable farmers to reduce their stock in exchange of money, which can be kept and used to restock when the drought ends.
In addition, the government is supporting strategic mass vaccination and treatment of livestock throughout the country as one of the measures to further lessen the effects of drought on our farmers.
It has not been easy convincing pastoralists to let go of their treasured livestock when the early warning sign is out. Many will want to hold on, hoping that rains will come in the near future to rescue their stock, only to be caught up when drought advances.
Change is a slow process that calls for a lot of patience and concerted efforts, but we remain optimistic that one day all will be working with us before, during and after drought to lessen its effects on humanity.
Dr. Andrew Tuimur is Principal Secretary, State Department of Livestock
This article was originally published in the Daily Nation