Climate change to blame for row between Taveta farmers, herders

Farmers attacked herders' camels as vengeance for one farmer stabbed by a herder in a grazing conflict

In Summary

• Failed March-May long rains in most agro-economic zones, which is a pointer to reduced quantity harvest at the end of the year. 

• Wildlife from the Tsavo parks invade the farms in times of scarcity. 

Camels quench their thirst at Ndara group ranch in Taita Taveta county
SCARCE RESOURCES: Camels quench their thirst at Ndara group ranch in Taita Taveta county
Image: FILE

Pastoralists from Northern Kenya are counting immense loses after several of their camels were attacked, bodies chopped with machetes and killed by irate farmers in the hills and slopes of Taita Taveta county. During the skirmishes in which a farmer was stabbed to death, camels that survived will have to be slaughtered as they sustained incurable injuries.

The decade-long ugly tension erupts, again, at a time when the country continues to come to terms to the intensified harsh climatic conditions, mainly in the northern part of the country that prompts herders to travel south in droves with their herds in hunt of water and pasture. Because of climate change and variability, the dry land mass is extending southwards.

Herders have claimed that their movement is not an invasion and articulated that they are orderly as they enter into binding agreements with ranch owners to graze the camels but farmers insist that herders are to blame for the drying river Mwagodi.

They are agitated, saying herders' livestock is grazing on their farms, clearing green vegetation and overusing their only source of water, river Mwagodi, which they claim will soon dry up.

This has attracted the attention of the court although there is no sustainable ruling has been given.

The escalating issue has also attracted the county leadership, whose effort to flush out the herds was halted by the court, undoubtedly, on grounds of the nature of agreement herders have with ranch owners. It has been reported that at the core of the intensified tensions, 28 ranches are involved, which locals want protected from illegal entry by herders. As the rivers meandering through the national parks dry up, the wildlife will move from parks in search of water and pasture, an imminent problem that should not be overlooked.

Taita Taveta spans nearly 17,084 square kilometres of which slightly more than 60 per cent is protected area under the Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks. With a population of 284,657 people according to the 2009 census, a household has barely two hectares at its disposal, yet the population that must be fed is growing.

The wildlife invading farms from the national parks, especially during seasons of scarcity augment the quantum of stress that farmers are facing. Management of farmlands is proving difficult due to the uncertainty and unpredictability of weather patterns. The unprecedented development is drifting farming into a loss-making venture because farmers are compelled to re-plant when rains fail.

This year has been particularly stressing for farmers because the March-May long rains failed in most agro-economic zones, which is a pointer to reduced quantity harvest at the end of the year and spiked farm commodity prices.

As climate change continues to intensify, there will be more direct and indirect shocks that society must contend with. Recent studies have identified a strong correlation between climate variability and reducing physiological responses of both plants and animals, meaning an intensified pressure on the use of available resources. Other studies have also warned of the increasing psychological effects attributable to the harsh weather. 

Economist, Nairobi