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How Kenya is Spotting and Stopping Drought in Remote Areas

By David Mutua

This Article in Brief

  • In 2018-2019, the drought in northern Kenya threatened the livelihoods of livestock owners.
  • An early warning system for drought is critical to mitigating its potentially devastating effects.
  • Country-led efforts in preparing for drought can reduce hunger and build a more food-secure world.

In 2018, the arid lands of northern Kenya were in the thick of a drought. The drought decimated pastures and grasslands and drastically affected the livelihoods of the predominantly pastoralist community. Thousands of livestock farmers lost cattle due to the lack of an early warning and early action systems or protocols, as they were left with limited time and had no information to prepare for the harsh conditions.

Identifying the signs of drought early is critical to limiting its devastating effects. Yet despite living in areas faced with prolonged or persistent drought conditions, many of these remote communities do not have a coordinated way to engage their local governments for the necessary financial support both before and after droughts, which further worsens the impact on livestock owners.

Withstanding weather, together

To help community leaders identify the early signs of drought and take swift action, including by engaging the local government to protect farmers and their livestock, Feed the Future supported the Government of Kenya’s Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) framework by working with communities and all levels of government to get ahead of drought before it becomes a crisis. The private sector also collaborates with government officials to help in the response and fill in any gaps, such as providing funding and purchasing cattle during drought.

Photo by Bobby Neptune for USAID

Photo by Bobby Neptune for USAID

The initiative hosts emergency planning training with community leaders that help them identify and respond to different levels of drought impact, further enhancing the efficiency of drought response. When community leaders raise an alert, they escalate it to the local government National Drought Management Authority, which then engages the private sector to begin work on mitigation measures and fundraising efforts.

“The grassroots contingency plans have enabled the community to identify and prioritize the necessary interventions needed from the government and key stakeholders ahead of a drought,” said Lordman Lekalkuli, the Isiolo County Drought Coordinator. “This has led to a swift and coordinated response by local leaders.”

Community alerts, resilience in action

Scenario planning has already made a difference. As a result of a recent alert, Magdalene Kirion, a community leader in the Ngaremara Ward, said the local government immediately provided livestock owners with 500 sacks of cattle feed. Each of the 250 households received two bags of feed, which helped 90 percent of cattle in this particular area survive the drought.

Over the duration of this drought, the National Drought Management Authority distributed 6,000 bags to 3,000 households in northern Kenya.

To help the local community strengthen resilience to weather future droughts, and in line with the Kenyan government’s plan, Feed the Future also supported the construction of Bule Dogo Dambicha, a commercial-level livestock feedlot and dairy unit. The feedlot serves as a purchase point for cattle during drought seasons to ensure the community does not suffer losses. It then feeds and sells the cattle for a profit.

Providing feed for cattle ensures that cattle herds and farmers in Isiolo district will thrive, even when droughts decimate the land typically used for grazing.

Through private sector engagement and government interventions, communities are able to better prepare for future droughts. An early warning system enables the local government, the National Drought Management Authority and the private sector to work together to mitigate the impact of the drought on the community, and ensures a systematic and sequential escalation of drought warnings to trigger quick government and private sector responses. The national and local government’s promotion of the early warning system under the EDE framework allows for scalability and mitigates the impact of drought on communities.

Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity is a USAID-funded program implemented by ACDI/VOCA, in coordination with partners Mercy Corps, Smart Regional Consultants and the BOMA Project. The program works to improve people’s resilience and reduce poverty, household hunger and chronic undernutrition through collective action; expand viable economic opportunities; strengthen formal and informal institutions, systems and governance; and improve capital.

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