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October 31, 2010

Hay management proves 'miracle solution' against drought for Maasai pastoralists

by Erick Wamanji

Tonge ole Mokua is happy as he attends to his herd. Yet with the predictions of an impending drought, like every Maasai pastoralist in Kenya, he should have been worried. But he is not.

In the past, prolonged dry spells have inflicted great pain and destruction to pastoralists, including Mokua.

“If drought comes today, I’m prepared,” he boasts. “I will not even need to migrate beyond this village,” he says with a smile.

What has changed for him? In the sleepy Orinie village, Kajiado Central, some 150 kilometers south of Nairobi, pastoralists have become smarter - they are making hay, literally, as the sun shines.

In a pilot programme, the cattle-keepers have been conserving pasture. They are now harvesting, baling and storing this hay to mitigate them against potential drought. So far, some 3,900 acres are under this project which is expected to yield 500,000 bales. The harvested hay is projected to support close to 5000 bulls or 40,000 goats for about five months.

Mokua and the 400 pioneers of this conservation effort are thrilled and confident.

“The last drought almost scorched my life,” Mokua recollects. “When it was severe, I migrated to Central Kenya. I had 168 cows and bulls. I came back empty-handed. I restocked. I went to Tsavo when the second drought hit; I only returned with 40 frail heads, the rest were wiped out by diseases, thirst and hunger, others just disappeared in the forest.”

Kajiado was one of the regions worst hit by drought a few years back. In February 2009, the area had a population of 352,000 heads, according to the Ministry of Livestock. As the drought wave spiraled, people started to migrate to far flung districts, even to neighbouring Tanzania, in search of pasture and water.

By December 2009, the population was reduced to 174,000. Many of the pastoralists who moved out in search of “greener pastures” returned several months later a frustrated lot - over 80 percent of their livestock died.

At that time the pastoralists forked out 400 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) for a bale of hay. They spent a fortune but it didn’t work. Today, the bales that Mokua and the others are making have cost them an average of 60 Ksh for each bale.

“I wish I had the hay idea then,” Mokua says. “I would have saved my cattle. I would be rich today.”

It is after the devastating drought that SNV Netherlands Development Organization, a Dutch NGO, partnered with a local NGO, NIA, and the Ministry of Livestock to create awareness about the possibilities in hay management to the pastoralists.

“We need to be innovative otherwise our generation is threatened. Movement is not good for our animals. They always get weak and susceptible to diseases when we are out,’ says Pashile ole Shompe, another pastoralist. “Livestock is our lifeline,” he continues. “Therefore, any idea that would guarantee the survival of our herd is embraced.”

Cattle keeping is deeply weaved into the cultural predisposition of pastoralists. They are prepared to always go the extra mile, sometimes literally for the survival of their herd. But the ever shrinking land has been a major threat to their survival. But for now, Mokua and the other pastoralists consider themselves pretty blessed with their newly found little miracle.

SNV Kenya

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