Herders In Kenya Expand Livelihoods To Cope With Drought

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WFP and partners are working on improving the lives and diversifying sources of food for the people of Oldonyiro, in northern Kenya. © WFP/Martin Karim

By Martin Karimi — 15 February 2017

WFP is helping 650,000 food-insecure people living in the arid and semi-arid lands build resilience to drought. Together with partners, WFP is helping these families to build rural productive assets while transferring new production skills and approaches in order to enhance and diversify livelihoods. These activities are helping many better cope with the severe drought that is currently affecting Kenya. Traditionally people in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya have been highly dependent on livestock for survival and it is a measure of wealth for the family. Usually women could not lay claim to property, particularly livestock, but in Oldonyiro village in Isiolo county, things are changing. Naipaari Lengirinas is one of the 127 people – mostly women – working on WFP-supported asset creation activities.

“We come together in groups of about 10 and buy livestock, which we later sell at a profit. Right now we have seven goats and one bull,” explained Naipaari Lengirinas. “We grow our own fodder. Our animals don’t have to roam far in the bush,” she said.

Thanks to a WFP supported programme Naipaari and her neighbours can now afford to keep their animals near their homesteads and provide enough pasture to keep them healthy. This has been vital in their survival as a widespread drought grips the country following a poor short rains season in 2016. Livestock prices are plummeting as the body condition of animals worsens and most herders are having to walk long distances in search of water and pasture, often searching for months.

Fodder for food

The community chose to grow African foxtail (cenchrus ciliaris) and Massai grass (eragrotis superba). Fodder production is one of several activities under WFP’s asset creation. These activities cushion families from the impacts of natural hazards such as drought by providing an extra source of income and food.

“We initially tried planting food crops such as cowpeas, green grams and black beans, but the harvest was poor,” said Josephine Lesokoyo, the group’s secretary. “That is when WFP introduced varieties of grass for livestock. The harvests have been very good.”

In a year, the group harvests three times.

“We made sales worth 15,000 Kenyan shillings (US$150) during the last harvest. Each bale of grass goes for 350 shillings,” explained Josephine.

Water harvesting technologies

The group’s farm measures about six acres (2.5 hectares). Since the area is dry and receives very little rainfall, the women have dug rectangular pits known as zai pits, which trap the little water hitting the scorched ground whenever it rains. The soil within the pits and the raised embankments retain moisture for longer, providing enabling conditions for crop and fodder growth.

“Building the pits was hard work – and the men kept away,” said Kumontaare Lesoito, a member of the group. Being purely livestock keepers, the women had to learn how to dig using hoes. In return for working to establish the infrastructure of the communal farm, the group receives a monthly food ration.

“The food we get is very helpful. But the farm is giving us even more,” said Kumontaare. “We are happy that the hard work is paying off.”


WFP is not the only agency working on improving the lives and diversifying sources of food for the people of Oldonyiro. The County Government of Isiolo and the USAID-supported Resilience for Economic Growth in Arid Lands programmes have provided equipment and training in fodder production and packaging, and built a modern livestock market.

The group is also trained on bee-keeping, soap making and making beads as alternative sources of income. It has 13 beehives all strategically placed near members’ homesteads.


In addition, the Oldonyiro group is also banking together. Members can borrow money from the group to grow their small businesses or to meet other family obligations.

“The men respect us more. Sometimes they come to us for financial help,” said Kumontaare. “They cannot sell our livestock without consulting us.”

As part of a multi-sectoral approach, cooking demonstrations are held to introduce nutritious foods and teach the group ways of cooking without destroying valuable nutrients.

“The Samburu community values milk and ugali (maize meal); but now we’ve learnt that it is healthy to eat green vegetables. They are good for the body,” said Kumontaare.

WFP’s asset creation projects are supported by Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Switzerland, UN CERF, and USAID.