• Animals are the main source of livelihood, but the severe drought has led to the death of animals leaving the communities without a source of food.
• Data from Kajiado show close to 300,000 cattle have died due to drought. The government has since released Sh350 million for livestock offtake programme.
Pastoralist communities have been hard hit by the devastating drought in the country that has led to the loss of thousands of animals.
Animals are the main source of livelihood, but the severe drought has led to the death of animals leaving the communities without a source of food.
This has resulted in a change in diet and lifestyle.
In addition, they have to share the little they have with their neighbours.
Some pastoralists from Kajiado county spoke to the Star on how they have been coping with the drought.
Sophia Nenkai, 35, from Meidanyi village in Oloililai subcounty, Kajiado Central, said being the area chief’s wife comes with a huge responsibility especially during this drought period.
She has had to accommodate children from members of the community who do not have food. Some even come to spend the night at her place with the hope of getting a meal the following day.
Her day starts early in the morning by preparing breakfast for her family and for any villager, especially children, who may pop in looking for something to fill their tummy.
“I make black tea because that is what I can afford. Then at 10am, I make porridge for the children who did not have anything for breakfast. Sometimes I can get three or four children coming to take porridge," Nenkai said.
"I also make sure I cook lunch and dinner, not because I can afford three meals in a day, but so I can help those in need. I believe in sharing the little I have with those that do not have.”
She said this has been the worst drought she has experienced, and she has been forced to sell some cows at a loss rather than watch them die.
Nenkai said as the chief’s wife, the community relies on her when they do not have food. She said in a day, she can spend about Sh3,000 on food.
“The drought has been severe and parents who cannot afford to provide even one meal a day send their children to get food in my house. Sometimes the mothers come to eat at my house and then carry some for the children at home,” she said.
Nenkai was making some money from the sale of milk from her cows but due to the drought, she has been forced to sell them.
She supplemented it by making beauty ornaments with beads but this too has been a challenge. The mother of six said she does not have time for beadwork because she has to take care of the remaining animals that have not died due to drought.
Her daily expenses also include buying water for domestic use and for the remaining two cows and the few goats and sheep. In a week, Nenkai uses 250 litres of water at Sh1,000.
It is midday as we get to Sennet’s homestead in Ngatataek village, Oloililai, in Kajiado Central. He is busy tying a tow rope to his pickup truck, not to tow another car but the carcass of a six-month calf.
We did not want to distract him from his work so we joined him and a group of four men as they struggled to remove the dead animal from the cow shed.
Besides the dead calf, another animal is too weak to stand and Sennet told us that he would take it to Ilbisil animal market in Kajiado to sell it before it dies.
He has lost 10 cows in one week. He is now left with a few cows, sheep and goats which are not enough to feed his seven children.
Sennet said he has had to change his family's diet of meat and milk to githeri, a mixture of boiled beans and maize.
“Traditionally, Masaais are known to eat meat and milk but due to the devastating drought, we have lost many animals. We do not have livestock for food and we are now eating githeri, which is a first for many of us,” the 52-year-old livestock keeper said.
The drought has also forced them to look for alternative diets for their livestock to survive. Many of the pastoralists are now feeding their remaining animals on animal feeds and fodder like hay instead of grazing them.
Daniel Kasikwa, a resident of Merueshi, Kajiado East, said he has had to travel as far as Mombasa and Makindu in Maukeni county in search of pasture and water for his animals.
Other livestock keepers have travelled to Narok county even though the situation is worse in those areas.
“We have returned with some of the animals that have survived the drought. The remaining ones are emaciated and weak and for them to survive, we are buying hay from Naivasha and Narok where they grow wheat,” he said.
A bale of hay is sold at Sh350 which is consumed by one cow for only two days. Kasikwa said with 100 cattle, one can spend close to Sh35,000 in one week.
“Transporting the animals in far places like Mombasa is expensive as one cattle costs about Sh1,000. Getting a lorry to transport the animals is also not an easy task. Sometimes it could take you one to two weeks to get the transport even if you have the money,” he said.
“Once you get the transport, the lorries will just take you till the main road and then you have to walk for 50-100 kilometres to get to where there is pasture. Sometimes you leave home with 100 cattle but you lose 20 on the way. These were some of the challenges pastoralists have had to endure during the drought season.”
Data from Kajiado show close to 300,000 cattle have died due to drought. The government has since released Sh350 million for livestock offtake programme.
Dr Judy Kimaru, director of Action for Protection of Animals Africa in charge of Disaster Risk Reduction, said Kajiado has missed two rain seasons. As a result, Kimaru said, families are losing 60-70 per cent of their cattle because of starvation.
“The coping option for the livestock keepers was to go to Tanzania, Narok, Chyulu Hills and Oloitoktok and the areas also did not get good rains,” she said.
She said another coping mechanism was for pastoralists to get hay from Narok, Kirinyaga and Murang’a counties.
“The challenge with this is that hay from rice is not of high nutritional value and the cattle in this area are not used to this kind of hay. Through our postmortem, we have seen that the hay is getting stuck in the rumen and the cattle are not able to properly digest it. So we are having what you call internal starvation," Kimaru said.
“So despite eating the hay, the animals are not able to derive the nutrients from the hay. As much as pastoralists are trying to supplement their animals with dairy meals, they do have knowledge of the feeding regime. There is knowledge about how to feed their animals and how to select the animals that they need to feed,” she said.
Edited by A.N