- It is sad that residents of Kerio Valley, who had taken advantage of the prevailing peace to engage in serious farming, are now counting losses again.
- They had moved to abandon overreliance on livestock, which has led to rampant cattle rustling and banditry over the years.
Communities living along the Kerio Valley are staring at a bleak after marauding elephants destroyed their crops. Residents are now living in fear, not because cattle rustlers have struck once again, but because of elephants. The elephants are dashing any hopes among farmers of a moderately successful harvest this season.
Kerio Valley, bordering Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot and Baringo counties, has been peaceful following concerted efforts by government officials and leaders in the fight against cattle rustling and banditry.
It is because of the prevailing peace and the fact that the region is experiencing heavy rainfall that residents resolved to engage in serious farming. However, their efforts to be food secure have been thwarted by elephants from Rimoi and Kapnarok national game reserves in Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo counties.
Although human-elephant conflict in the region is not new, the frequency of incidents has increased manifold in recent years, partly because of loss of elephant habitat due to clearing of forests.
Panic is now gripping several areas along Kerio Valley, especially in Elgeyo Marakwet. This, indeed, is reversing the gains so far made in new agricultural ventures as residents move to abandon overreliance on livestock, which has led to rampant cattle rustling and banditry over the years.
Farmers had planted watermelon, butternut squashes, paw paws, bananas, millet and sorghum, but all these have been destroyed.
The elephants migrate annually from Rimoi National Game Reserve northwards to parts of Turkana South and back to the reserve between August to October.
Wildlife experts say the movement of elephants takes place when rains pound the region, especially after a long dry spell. They say elephants stray out of the reserves for various reasons and that they often get excited when it rains. That’s why they can be seen playing in the mud and pools of water after heavy rain.
It is believed that farming and charcoal farming along River Kerio has disoriented elephant movement between the two ecosystems, leading to frequent movement of herds outside the game reserve in search of alternative routes to neighbouring reserves. The worst affected is 20-acre Chelele farm set up by 50 youths from Talai in Marakwet East constituency.
What is now clear is that crop raiding by elephants is a serious management problem around protected areas. This is because of changes in land use, with crop farming taking place in previously unutilised land.
It is sad that residents of Kerio Valley, who had taken advantage of the prevailing peace to engage in serious farming, are now counting losses again.
To ensure food security among these Kenyans, the government should move with speed and compensate farmers whose crops have been destroyed.
There is, however, need to develop long- term mitigation strategies such as erecting fences around game reserves.
The counties should consider capitalising on the elephant migration by selling it as a tourist attraction.
Finally, the fact remains that Kerio Valley’s most serious challenge when it comes to wildlife is not poaching but finding a reasonable way to ensure that wildlife protection does not interfere with people’s livelihoods.