Drought-hit Kenyan farmers bank on goats as new currency

by Isaiah Esipisu | @Andebes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 11:30 GMT

Musili Kaka and other members of the Kwaituto Self Help Group in Kenya's Kitui county engage in "table banking," a community banking project that now uses goats as its main currency. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Isaiah Esipisu

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When even drought-resistant pigeon pea won't grow anymore, what's a community banking group to invest in? Goats

MWINGI, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Faced with increasingly scorching heat and drought that have lasted two years in Kitui County in Eastern Kenya, a community banking group has moved their investments to a new climate-resilient currency: goats.

The small-scale farmers, who contribute funds to a savings pool and are eligible for small loans from it, aimed to use the funds to improve their farms and boost their harvests of hardy crops like pigeon pea.

“But with this kind of climate, which has dried up even the most resilient pigeon peas on our farms, no other crop can easily survive,” said Elizabeth Nguuti, a farmer from the Kithambioni Self Help Group in Kithambioni village, in the county’s Mwingi region.

So the group has instead turned to a safer investment to hold onto their cash: hardy local goats.

“We are now banking on indigenous goats that have survived this kind of climate for years,” said Nguuti, a 39-year-old mother of four.

Most of the goats in the area are small East African goat breeds crossed with larger Galla goats, which hail from even drier areas further north in Kenya.

What the new goats can do, farmers say, is handle extremely hot and dry conditions, which are becoming more common in the region, known broadly as Ukambani. Nguuti said the last time the area had enough rain to harvest a substantial crop was in 2012, making it difficult for members of the banking group to repay loans and unwise to take out new ones for crop production.

So-called “table banking” – conducted over an ordinary family table – was introduced to the Mwingi area in 2011 by ActionAid International Kenya – a humanitarian nongovernmental organisation – as part of an effort to strengthen livelihoods in the difficult region. But changing heat and rainfall have made that difficult.

“We were so worried when the climatic conditions worsened in this area. But the farmers, through their indigenous knowledge, introduced the indigenous goats to cushion the situation, and we are happy it has worked,” said Serah Mwingi, the organisation’s programme officer in Mwingi office.

The organisation introduced the purebred white Galla goats to help improve the drought resistance of the local animals, Mwingi said. As the goats are also slightly taller, they can also reach higher into brush for food, according to an article published by Infonet Bio-Vision, a project of the Biovision Foundation, a Swiss nongovernmental organisation.

Kwaituto Self Help Group, with 25 members – 22 of whom are women – now has more than 300 goats bred through the community banking initiative. Since launching the move into goats, they have seen their investment total rise from Sh 13,000 ($150) in 2012 to Sh. 68,800 ($810) last month.

‘LIFE SAVING ANIMALS’

“Indigenous goats are our main livelihood security in this drought-stricken area. They eat literally any vegetation available, whether sweet or bitter, they drink very little water, they are hardly infected by diseases, and for me, they are the life saving animals,” said Musili Kaka, the head of Kwaituto Self Help Group.

Jane Ngima, from the same group, recalls how four months ago, when she was expected to repay her loan from the community bank, she did not have the cash. “I sold one goat, for Sh 3,000, paid off the loan which was Sh 1,200, and used the remaining money to buy a younger goat,” she said.

The small goat has since grown into a mature nanny that can fetch another Sh 3,000, according to the mother of three. But she won’t sell it because it is already pregnant, she said.

“With the goats, we are sure that we will have our capital available even if it takes more time before it rains,” said Nicolas Mwanzia Kilaka, a member of Muangeni Self Help Group in Kyusiani village.

Through the ActionAid programme, 800 farmers in Mwingi have started community banking initiatives in order to get access to credit without involving financial institutions.

All the farmers in the area, according to Serah Mwingi, have taken to indigenous goat keeping as an adaptation measure to the prolonged dry spell.

Apart from selling the goats for income, the farmers also milk them. “They produce very little milk, about a half a litre per day, but that is enough at least for the day given their resilience to the tough climatic conditions,” said Kilaka.

Isaiah Esipisu is a freelance journalist specializing in agriculture and climate change. esipisus@yahoo.com.

(Editing by Laurie Goering; laurie.goering@thomsonreuters.com)

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