Communities in the Horn of Africa region are bracing themselves for the onset of drought following a sustained period without rain. The number of people in need of food aid is growing, but despite the apparent helplessness of people in the face of drought communities across the region are developing their own solutions to lessening its impact. In some cases, it means learning new skills and adapting traditional farming approaches.
Two three-year-old camels forage for leaves on a hillside in Moyale district on the northern Kenyan border with Ethiopia. It is still a relatively unusual sight but one which is set to become more common as a result of both increased population and the threat of drought.
The camels are owned by 54 year-old Galgolo Huka. He looks after the two female camels knowing that these animals will provide for his family as well as the community for many years to come. They represent a new beginning for this father of five and a return to his former life as a keeper of livestock.
‘I used to own 70 cattle which I grazed on this same hill, but following the drought of 1984, I lost all of them’, he said. ‘Since then, I have been a day labourer but this is a precarious way to support my family.’
The camels are still young, but once they mature, in a year’s time, they will provide a secure income to Galgolo Huka during their 30-40 year lifespan. Over four milking sessions a day, each camel will provide up to 20 litres of milk. Camel milk is considered something of a delicacy and fetches a good price. He can sell a litre of milk for around 75 Kenyan shillings (US$1) and once the camels start reproducing he will have valuable assets to pass onto his community.
‘I am hopeful that these two animals will change my life,’ said Galgolo Huka. ‘I will be able to afford to send my children to school, to buy them clothes and always have food to eat.’ He added: ‘I have not had this security since I owned cattle.’
He is one of six farmers from the village of Teso who received a pair of camels as part of a programme funded by the Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission (ECHO). He and the other farmers were chosen as recipients by village elders as they were amongst the poorest people in the community and were most likely to reap the greatest benefits.
Adam Jillo, who also received two camels, believes the twelve animals will bring significant change to Teso. ‘These are individual assets owned by the individual but they will benefit the whole community as we have the culture of sharing wealth,’ he said. ‘Female camels will bear one calf a year and these will be handed on to other farmers. There will also be a lot more money in the community as camel owners will spend their profits locally.’
The realtively lushly vegetated hills of Moyale may, at first sight, appear an incongruous place to find camels, but in the future Adam Jillo expects to see more camels and fewer cattle. ‘Traditionally, we were a cattle-keeping people, but because of consecutive droughts we are now turning towards camels. If we experience a drought which lasts 90 days, cattle will die but camels will not.’
It is a simple calculation for the people of Teso, but one which is based on a complicated background of shifting causes. The pilot project which Galgolo Huka and Adam Jillo are participating in is part of a €40 million (US$57m) drought preparedness programme set up by ECHO, which covers drought-prone countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Uganda.
The programme coordinator, Lammert Zwaagstra believes it responds to very real needs. ‘This area has more water than typical drought-prone bush-land regions, but it also has a higher population density. An increasing population means that communities are less able to deal with periods when rainfall is low. They are simply unable to feed themselves and so experience a decrease in food security,’ he said. ‘Camels will greatly increase their food security.’
It is not cheap supplying camels to communities. Each one costs around 25,000 Kenya shillings (US$345), but it is a worthwhile investment according to Lammert Zwaagstra.
‘The camels provide a real chance for communities like Teso to lead a sustainable existence. It means’, he added ‘that they will be able to endure the increasingly common and predictable periods of drought in the region rather than relying on and becoming dependant on food aid.’
If the pilot project goes well more camels could be given to other communities not just in Kenya, but in the other target countries as well. Meanwhile, Galgolo Huka continues to herd his two new camel calves along the hilly slopes of Moyale, counting the days until they produce their first litre of life-sustaining camel milk.
Regional Information Officer, Nairobi