IFRC


“Now there is life”: Diversifying livelihoods to survive the drought

Published: 29 July 2011 9:47 CET

By Kate Roux in Kenya

Approximately 100 km from Dadaab camp, where thousands of Somali refugees arrive after crossing the border in desperation, there is another story to be told. It is a story of success; one about pastoralists who have adapted their livelihoods in order to survive periods of drought – such as the one the Horn of Africa is presently facing – and it works.

In 1997 there was a period of drought similar to the one today. Disease wiped out livestock for a significant number of pastoralists, leaving them without a steady source of income or food.

Without many alternatives, a group of pastoralists turned to farming. With the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and later, the Kenya Red Cross and Government of Japan, the farmers have now created a 3,300 acre farm that serves nearly 2,000 people. The Kenya Red Cross named it, “The Tana River Drought Recovery Project”.

The Kenya Red Cross helped these farmers expand their crop by providing tractor services to cultivate the land, thousands of seedlings, training on modern farming techniques and an irrigation system. The Kenya Red Cross provides medical outreach programmes, hygiene promotion messaging and disaster risk reduction techniques to manage seasonal floods.

“Donated food is not the only answer. Pastoralists also want the infrastructure and support so we can feed ourselves,” explained Mahmoud Adhan, one of the farm’s chairmen.

While emergency relief is undoubtedly necessary for the immediate needs of those affected by the drought, Mahmoud’s testimony underlines the value of investing in long-term programmes that provide sustainable solutions for vulnerable populations.

Exterior to the farm, the land is sandy and dry. Camels saunter through the bush. Down the road, there are large groups of people collected at various water points with yellow plastic containers, and heaps of charcoal are being sold illegally. Evidence points to the fact that there is a drought in the region, and people are trying to find a way to survive.

Yet these former pastoralists are flourishing among banana trees, papaya, crops of tomatoes and kale. Their irrigation system is sourced by the Tana River nearby, surprisingly hidden amongst the surrounding desert landscape. It is reminiscent of an oasis, and these farmers are extremely proud of their achievements.

“With my life as a farmer, I can send my children to school, and we do not go hungry during period of drought as we have today,” stated Aden Shekh, member of the farm. “Now, there is life,” he says as he smiles, and hands me a large papaya.

Through the IFRC, the Kenya Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal for over 14 million Swiss francs to support one million Kenyans. It has also launched a fundraising campaign in Kenya, which saw donations of over $200,000 in the first twelve hours.


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