SEATTLE — On February 10, 2017, the government of Kenya issued a major national disaster declaration following the release of the short rains assessment (SRA) taken due to the drought in Kenya. The data collected from the SRA confirmed that the number of individuals in need of humanitarian aid has drastically doubled, from 1.3 million to 2.6 million people, between August 2016 and February 2017. Experts say the water situation in East Africa is the worst the continent has experienced since 2011.
According to UNICEF, millions of Kenyans’ lives have been affected as a result of the drought in Kenya. 2.7 million individuals are in need of water, sanitation and hygiene support, 1.1 million children lack proper food security, approximately 100,000 children under the age of five are malnourished and 174,000 children are not in school due to the drought.
Approximately 10 million people own half of Kenya’s livestock population and are dependent on their fragile arid and semi-arid lands for continuity. Livestock accounts for approximately 12 percent of the gross domestic product in Kenya and about 40 percent of its agricultural sector. As the drought continues to threaten Kenyan livestock, herders are fighting against hunger by producing their own grass.
For over 20 years, Elizabeth Meyerhoff and Murray Roberts have been working with local communities to bring back to life these fragile grasslands that have been compromised because of the drought in Kenya and initiate the concept of managing thriving lands. Through their organization, Rehabilitation of Arid Environments (RAE) Trust, they have rehabilitated 6,000 acres of land around Baringo, Kenya, with natural grasses that various groups can raise their livestock on.
The activities that the RAE Trust initiates in the local Kenyan communities start with continuous communication among varying social and environmental circumstances. The primary goal of each project is to reclaim large areas of severely damaged land and turn them into fertile grasslands, which is a mechanism used to provide visual proof that desertification is reversible. A few of RAE’s major areas of activity include Land Reclamation, Sustainable Community Management and Generating Income, Improving Livelihoods.
In order to identify suitable methods and strategies to recover deteriorated land, RAE carries out a thorough environmental and social assessment. All the stages of these assessments involve the local Kenyan community, whether on a large or small scale. Some of the methods they use to reclaim land include fencing the perimeter, adding a water harvesting system, building micro-catchments and planting drought-resistant trees and hybrids of grass.
Building a sizeable community of workers that are able to manage their resources on a sustainable basis requires continuous training and follow-up. Smaller, well-defined groups have proven to be more effective than the management of larger-scale communities. The majority of the communal fields are managed by shareholder groups, with each of its members paying a portion.
There are typically six officers per shareholder group. Ideally, larger communal fields have somewhere between 30 to 40 shareholder members and smaller fields have about 15 to 20 members. The main responsibilities of shareholder groups include writing by-laws, managing and tracking income generating activities and registering the group with the government.
Today, local Kenyan communities are securing profits from restored lands that were once considered wastelands. The aim is to maximize profits through quick turnover, requiring careful time and project management. RAE continues to work with local Kenyans as partners in order to meet the challenge of pinpointing profitable markets for field products, as well as supplying as much training as necessary.
Combating the drought in Kenya is RAE’s number one priority. The expansion of the organization to date has been relatively small. In order for them to expand on a much larger scale and help communities that are displaced by the water situation, they need financial support and funding and more modern infrastructure and technical support. Continued growth of the organization will translate into better outcomes for Kenya’s most vulerable herders.
– Zainab Adebayo