Cereals are no ‘food’ for starving Turkana, help them get own food

Monday March 25 2019


Residents of Turkana Central get relief food on March 15, 2019 as drought continues. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It is that season again when politicians and humanitarian agencies pose for newspaper photographs and video clips for the television while donating some kilogrammes of maize, beans or flour and cooking fat to starving families in Turkana County and other arid and semi-arid lands (Asals).

In 2017, when the current political leaders were being elected, they were fully aware that this moment would come. Ironically, all of them, including those who hail from Turkana, knew, as they still do, that maize, beans, flour and cooking fat is not the proper ‘food’ for this community.


It is not completely lost to them that nearly the entire Turkana community does not practise agriculture but live exclusively off the products of their livestock — milk, meat, blood and skins.

To make the situation worse, more of these benefactors will soon head to these communities with very sharp knives to buy and slaughter the only surviving but emaciated livestock in the name of distributing ‘free meat’ as food aid. Yet they know so well that these animals are the mainstay for the community and slaughtering them en masse is literally killing their livelihoods.

Climate change is not a new phenomenon in Kenya and the recent trends and projections of what we should expect in the near future is public knowledge.

Kenya has a very elaborate National Climate Change Framework Policy — perhaps pointing out some reasons why Joseph Mithika Mwenda, alias Mzalendo, was named alongside the likes of Pope Francis, Al Gore, President Hilda Heine as some of the top climate change policy influencers. His organisation, Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, helped in drafting the document.

The document points out that, because of climate change, the country’s drought cycles have been reduced from 20 years (1964-1984) to 12 (1984-1996), then to two (2004-2006) and finally became a yearly occurrence as recorded in the period between 2007 and 2012.


However, leaders and humanitarian agencies have buried their heads in the sand, pretending to be unaware of studies conducted in places such as Turkana that suggest solutions to the annual disaster.

Recent research findings from the country’s 21 Asal counties reveal that cattle population has decreased by more than 26 per cent in general in the past 30 years due to climate change.

The study by Kenya Markets Trust, under the watch of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), shows Turkana is the most affected. It recorded a drop of nearly 60 per cent in the 38-year-period ended 2015.

Scientists say this is due to temperature increase in the Asal areas with Turkana recording an increment of 1.8 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years. That shows why the drought has hit Turkana residents hardest.

However, instead of giving them what is not ‘food’ to them, leaders and humanitarian agencies should already have considered research. Findings of studies show that, as the cattle population decreased, that of goats, sheep and camels was increasing at the same period.


That means higher temperatures favoured small animals and the resilient camels, but not cattle. So, a survival technique would be to help the community to swap their cattle with more resilient animals.

Instead of the slaughtering of emaciated cattle as a way of preventing their ‘death’, leaders should consider establishment of feedlots for rapid fattening of the animals. A feedlot is an intensive animal feeding programme for finishing livestock — in most cases, beef cattle — prior to slaughter.

Early intervention with correct priorities will not only avert hunger but give such pastoralist communities healthy livestock, which is their main source of livelihood, and there will be no need to give them what we think is ‘food’, yet, to them, it is not.

Mr Esipisu, freelance science journalist, is the coordinator for Pan-African Media Alliance for Climate Change (Pamacc). [email protected]