Integrating Farming into Pastoralism for improved lives
Almost 10 years ago, Musa Ketsene lost his only source of livelihood as a pastoralist during a severe drought in Kenya. Musa, watched as his rich herds of goats, cows and camels died following the 2006 prolonged drought that that mainly affected his hometown of Garissa in the manly arid lands of North Eastern Kenya. His family was left destitute, and had to rely on food aid to survive. He attempted to do other businesses including charcoal burning but found that it was not sustainable. He however did not lose hope; instead, he teamed up with other men in the community and was allocated land at the banks of River Tana to try their hand in farming. It has been 5 years now since he started farming and his fortunes have changed for the better.
“We used to move our families every time we experienced drought spells. Our children would miss out of school and even after moving for so long, our animals would still die. We are now happy that we can settle our families and see them get educated as well as have good nutrition. Our animals are also healthier” explained Musa.
Several people in the area have followed suite and part of the landscape in the region is quickly changing opening up to an oasis of green plantation of variety of food crop including bananas, maize, tomatoes, water melon and most recently Rice.
“We were dying of hunger and malnutrition. But now we want to supply food to all parts of this region, and ask other pastoralists to join us in this endeavor” Added Ibrahim Sheikh Abdi Rahman, the chairman of the Galbet farmers association.
The group has been producing bumper harvest after they got a boost from UNDP in collaboration with National Disaster Management Authority and enabled over 2000 farmers benefit from the project. This partnership that aims to rebuild livelihoods as well as improve household food security, facilitated the farmers to get drought tolerant seeds, have access a high capacity generator to pump water from the river to irrigate their farms in addition to building canals to distribute the water throughout the irrigation scheme. The farmers were further provided with a tractor to help them clear the 200 acres of virgin land for agriculture and trained on better farming methods. The results have been rich food crops that the farmers have been able to supply to the Garissa market and have made enough profits to improve their lives.
This has however not come without challenges. While they anticipated a bumper harvest, getting a market for their products was at first not easy. They also had to grapple with the shelf life of the crops which are highly perishable. They are now looking towards value addition as a way of sustainability such as making tomato paste, storing their crops for longer in the refrigerators and possibly even putting up greenhouses so that they can get a continuous crop without relying on the weather patterns.
The farmers have a great vision of seeing the county transformed from being a drought prone region, to one which can tap into the rich water resource of River Tana to become food secure and economically empowered county.