For pastoralists in Kibish, Lokori, Katilu and Kapedo villages in Turkana County, the month of May was one of their worst as they were facing, yet again, the grim reality of losing most of their livestock due to drought.
The delayed March-April-May rains were threatening the lives of a total of more than four million goats and sheep due to scarcity of water and pasture.
Moruarengeran Lokolong, from Kibish village, said that grazing fields had dried up and the only two remaining options were to drive his livestock towards the nearby insecure border with the Merille community of Ethiopia or towards Lokamarinyang village, more than 60km away.
Mr Lokolong said both options are usually risky because armed Merille militia attack them frequently and steal their livestock when they realise they are desperate for pasture.
“At Lokamarinyang, there is always a high concentration of livestock and the few surviving but weak ones easily contract diseases and die when they come into contact with sick ones,” he said.
Another herder, Nangolol Nateleng, said that during the drought, there are always conflicts over the few available grazing fields in the hills.
“Drought pushes most of us closer to the border, exposing us to attacks,” Mr Nateleng said.
But then hope and a solution are on their horizon.
The two herders are among the beneficiaries of a drought monitoring tool, the satellite-based drought index under the Kenya Livestock Insurance Programme (KLIP).
Satellite data is being used to estimate the availability of pasture on the ground and triggers payouts to pastoralists when availability falls.
With drought representing the single greatest cause of livestock mortality in the northern arid and semi-arid lands, the national government, through the new livestock insurance programme, is purchasing drought insurance from private insurance companies on behalf of vulnerable pastoralists.
County Pastoral Economy Executive Philip Aemun said that in Kibish alone, 297 households who had been earmarked to benefit from the insurance programme in collaboration with the county government were given their cheques worth Sh1,688,148 million for July, with each receiving Sh5,684.
The allocation for 69 beneficiaries in Kapedo was Sh36,134 each; 78 in Lokori received Sh13,398 each; while 38 in Katilu got Sh8,932 each. They will spend part of the cash to restock their herds or purchase fodder, Mr Aemun said.
Since President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the programme in Turkana in 2017, a total of 2,502 beneficiaries have shared Sh113 million through the drought monitoring as part of the government’s effort to mitigate the effects of perennial droughts.
During the launch, President Kenyatta expressed optimism that the government’s drought mitigation initiative would help improve the lives of Kenyans in arid and semi-arid counties.
“The Kenya Livestock Insurance Programme (KLIP) – which is the first of its kind in Kenya, East Africa and Africa – will also ensure that pastoralists are able to restock even after they lose their livestock through drought,” President Kenyatta said then.
Turkana County is seeking to broaden the programme to accommodate more pastoralists by developing the County Livestock and Insurance Bill that will be centred on disaster risk management.
For now, the devolved unit has rolled out pasture farming in areas practising agro-pastoralism to address resource-based conflicts and provide a reliable source of pasture during droughts.
Mr Aemun said farmers are also being trained on how to make hay for storage and to be utilised whenever traditional grazing fields dry up.
Speaking in Simailele village, where 20 hectares of land have been set aside through the Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DRSLP) for commercial production of pasture, Mr Aemun said the venture will also generate income for the pastoralists.
“Pasture production is a worthwhile venture for pastoralists in areas frequently experiencing rainfall and areas with irrigation infrastructure along River Turkwel and River Kerio for their home consumption and the surplus sold for income,” the county official said.
He said the Nariemeto Pasture Production Group in Songot village in Turkana West sub-county has already embraced the venture and the county government, as well as partners, are buying from the members.
Mr Aemun rallied farmers to consider the venture, noting that erratic climatic conditions were increasingly becoming a threat and therefore pasture production was a reliable way to diversify livelihoods.
He said droughts have always left thousands of farmers vulnerable over lack of pasture.
“Pastoralists always lose their livestock during drought or are forced to migrate to neighbouring countries, exposing them to resource-based conflicts,” the county official said.
He listed Kalemngorok, Kangirega, Namakat and Nabeye among others as the villages that can support pasture farming.
The villages, he said, had 100 households that benefited from the distribution of free goats procured by the Rural Livelihoods Adaptation to Climate Change component under DRSLP to boost their resilience due to adverse effects of climate change.