Kenya: Tana Pastoralists Start Growing Pasture to Avert Clashes With Farmers

Before one of the worst droughts ravaged arid and semi-arid areas of the country in 2016, Komora Igiro had 77cows.

He was one of the wealthiest men in Danisa village in Tana River County, among the middle-aged men whose opinions were held in high regard.

He had herdsmen on his payroll who would take his cattle to Boni forest for pasture in the dry season, as his children went to the local private school in Garsen on a motorbike.

Then came the year that grabbed his riches, when a drought claimed almost all water reservoirs and pasture in the Delta.

Between 2016 and 2017, he lost 65 cattle to the biting drought, leaving him with 12.

“The distance to the available water sources was too long, there was no grass along the route so the cows grew tired and one after the other they refused to move and most of them died of fatigue,” he says.

Some of his cows were eaten by cackles of hungry hyenas that roamed the villages at the time.

One of his men was trampled and killed by buffaloes and some of his cattle were stolen by herdsmen seeking to replace their losses.

Some died from injuries caused by machetes, inflicted on them by farming communities after the animals invaded their farms.

“One of the boys came back home and told me we had lost everything, I took a donkey and embarked on a journey to see for myself,” he says.

His journey revealed much of the truth but also a conspiracy by the herdsmen to defraud him.

He was gone for three months and returned home with only 12 cows in a truck as he feared losing them all on the long trek.

“I was a depressed man. I did not know where I was going to start. I could see my wife’s face, she was afraid we were being ruined and losing our prestige,” he says.

Their children withdrew from school as there was no milk to sell and he could not risk selling the remaining cattle he had as they were his only source of pride as a man.

It was not just him. Dozens other men also lost their riches and prestige.

They were no longer being invited to important discussions regarding the community but instead were ordered around.

“There was a lot of disrespect that as a man I found very difficult to bear. Eventually I withdrew from people and decided to focus on my family,” he says.

All that time it never crossed his mind that he could do something about the dilemma they were in.

When he was richer, he had toured many places in the country, had witnessed a lot of livestock keeping in Embu, Meru and villages in Rift Valley.

He had seen how livestock keepers were making forage to cushion their animals during the dry season, but he came back home and did not try to copy what he had seen.

In the past three and a half years, he has depended on relief aid from the National Drought Management Authority.

He feeds his livestock with drought pellets whenever dry spells strike.

His dream of making forage for his remaining livestock, however, now seems achievable following the intervention of the European Union through a project called Rebuild.

The project seeks to rescue the community from the effects of drought by encouraging pasture farming and forage making.

More than 20 households have been trained on pasture production and management and have embarked on the farming.

The Danisa community has provided 18 acres of land that has been tilled and planted ahead of the long rains.

The project, Mr Igiro says, is a life-changer for herdsmen in the village as it will save them from conflicts with farmers over pasture.

“This is a dream come true. I saw others do this elsewhere. I wished for it in my village. It is here with us, I am delighted,” says the joyous 58-year-old.

Hawaa Abdi, 28, is also delighted about the project, as she thinks this will help save her marriage.

“I gave birth to three of my children while my husband was away. He only came back to make me pregnant, then after a few months he disappears. But with this, he is going to stay home,” she says.

Ms Abdi, a mother of four, calls the forage-making the idea a life-changer as he foresees a moment when the community will sell forage to other herdsmen.

However, challenges still abound about the farm’s security.

Villagers are worried that itinerant pastoralists may drive their herds into the farm if it is not fenced.

“The herdsmen are always the problem to communities in the delta. They are unruly and may undermine our efforts,” says elder Mohammed Boru.