/ 19 November 2010

Turning to veggies to survive

Turning To Veggies To Survive

Under the shade of a Dambi tree overlooking the green fields of southern Ethiopia, Hussein Godana is giving a ­cookery lesson. Of sorts. He twirls his arms and grinds his fists, as 25 women look on with ­curiosity.

“You have to pound the beans,” says Godana, giving off the energy of a man better suited to the stage. “But how do we do that?” asks one of the women. “You add oil first. Then you mash,” he says, pumping his hands up and down as he goes through the motions, moving on to how-to-guides for cooking potatoes and making groundnut oil.

It sounds like pretty basic stuff. But for the women of Somare village and the northern Kenyan region of Moyale, it’s completely new.

Until 10 years ago the people of this area depended on cattle and other large animal livestock for their livelihood. As pastoralists, they didn’t grow vegetables, instead living on the meat and milk that came with keeping animals. But a succession of droughts in the past few years has put an end to that.

The cattle have died and even when people have them, they have to move further away from their villages to find sufficient pasture.

“Babies used to feed on milk and meat until they were five years old,” says Bonaye Gagolo, a community facilitator with the Irish aid agency Concern, which funds 32 community health workers in the northern districts of Sololo and Moyale. “Now the cattle are gone, they have to start ­eating vegetables.”

Various factors
The acute malnutrition rate in some areas now stands at 12,3% for children under five years of age, halfway between what constitutes an alert and an emergency.

One of the reasons for this is the increase in population, which has doubled in the past decade according to community health workers. But changing weather patterns have played their part too.

In the past decade five droughts have plagued northern Kenya. According to experts say that it is difficult to say whether this is part of a significant trend. “But it is very clear that there has been an above-average frequency of them,” says Andrew Mude, an economist with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi.

Cattle herds have shrunk dramatically in size, he says, making it more difficult for pastoralists to restock.

“It has been shown that the bigger the herd, the easier it is to maintain a viable herd size. But as per capita herd sizes get smaller, the ­vulnerability to drought is much higher.”

In Somare village, a 40km drive from Moyale, the village elders count off how many cattle have died and how many are left.

“Twenty of my cattle died. I have 10 now,” says one man, twisting a homemade toothpick in his mouth and staring at the red soil.

“I had 60 cows, now I have six,” says another. One man has just one, having lost 30 in the past few years. “The community is desperate,” says Yousseff Diba, one of the leaders.

“There used to be plenty of rain. The long rains would start in March and go all the way to June. Now there is no rain at all in Moyale. It can go on for just a week, maybe even days.”

At war
In 2001 war broke out between their own tribe, the Garreh, and the Ajuran, a Kenyan tribe with Somali roots. In search of greener pastures, the Ajuran came down from the northeast with their animals, only to be told by the Garreh to go back where they came from.

Animals were looted, houses burned and, according to locals, more than 200 people died between the two communities. The Borana, who speak the same language as the Garreh got involved too, even coming to blows with their cousins.

A peace committee settled the dispute. But in 2004 six people from the Garreh tribe were killed when returning from market with their cattle.

A disarmament campaign has removed weapons from the different tribes in Moyale, while Kenyan police reserves have been deployed in the area to help maintain the peace. But there is no guarantee that it will be upheld.

“We don’t know if it will happen again” says Diba. “We can only sit and wait.”