Kenyan Herders Devastated As Long Rains Fail

Perewan Lesekat walks past a dead cow as he guides his herd to Mount Kenya's slopes in search of pasture.

(Copyright: WFP/Gabrielle Menezes)

Kenya’s drought has forced herders to roam further and further with their animals in search of pasture. Cattle are dying, pushing pastoralist communities into hunger and swelling the numbers of Kenyans needing food assistance. Read News Release

MOUNT KENYA -- The smell of rotting carcasses hangs in the air. Dozens of dead cows lie scattered underneath the pine trees. Herders have migrated to this fabled mountain with thousands of cattle, desperately searching for water and pasture -- both scarce with the devastating drought.

Perewan Lesakat lives about 60 kilometres away. Normally, he would never have needed to walk to Mount Kenya. But when several of his cattle became weak from hunger, he drove them further afield to graze. Now, unused to the mountain cold and already weak, his cattle are dying of pneumonia and tick-born diseases. Once numbering 120 cows, his herd is less than half that size.

Funding shortfall

Kenya is one of the countries around the world where WFP operations are having to be cut because of a funding shortfall.

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Number of hungry surges

With the failure of  Kenya’s ‘long rains’ season, the number of drought-affected people has surged to 3.8 million, compared to 2.6 million previously. Pastoralists and small-scale farmers have been hit hard. By the season’s end, experts predict, half the goat and cattle population in the country’s pastoral areas will be lost due to the direct and indirect effects of the drought.  WFP Seeks Urgent Assistance As Kenya Sinks Deeper Into Crisis

“I will continue on the way, looking after cattle. When they all die, I will go back home. I have six camels at home, I don’t know what else to do, so I will go back home and look after my camels,” said Lesakat.

Lesakat has been here since July tending his cattle. The traditional blanket he wears seems meager protection against the mountain chill, but he is prepared to go though almost anything to ensure his animals survive. They represent almost all his wealth and are his means of living.

Long-term effects

Pastoralists like Lesakat also have been affected by high maize and cereal prices. Pushed up by shortages, the price of the maize, the staple food here, has doubled over the past year.  To buy a 90 kilogramme bag of maize, a pastoralist would have to sell four to five goats, compared to only two previously.

As long as there is hope of feeding and watering their animals, pastoralists will continue to climb Mount Kenya’s slopes. But when the drought is over, the overgrazing and deforestation will scar the mountain.

Indeed, the drought’s costs -- the environmental degradation, the loss of people’s savings and livestock -- will be felt for many years to come.

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