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Kenya herder doubts nomads' future

by Dekow Farah | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 15 July 2011 17:06 GMT

"Children have diarrhoea, vomiting, weakness," says herder in Kenya

Dekow Farah, 49, is a herder in Fini, in Northern Kenya’s Habaswein district

I was brought here by the drought.

I had 500 sheep and goats and I used to move with them. Now I have 50. I had six cattle but they died. Two of the four camels I used to shift my homestead died.

I settled my children in a permanent settlement so I can get aid from the Kenyan government or nongovernmental organisations and I might get casual work.

It is God that normally provides. So when there is a natural calamity like this, you pray for divine intervention.

Before, we used to eat rice, meat, milk, spaghetti, everything. Now it’s just beans and maize. We have reduced from three meals a day to just lunch. In the morning, we take strong tea.

The drought has really affected children and the elderly. They have the same needs: milk, meat and animal fats.

Children have diarrhoea, vomiting, weakness and are coughing a lot. The elderly are complaining of heartburn, ulcers and throat cancer.

We buy food from Dadaab refugee camp, 45 km away. It’s the local business hub. It’s an expensive trip. We send one person from the village on a bus. He puts five or ten goats in the boot of the bus and sells them.

Animals have lost their value because there is nowhere to take them. Even if someone buys an animal from you, he expects it to die. Four years ago, one goat was fetching 4,000 shillings ($45). Now the fattest goat can fetch 1,200 ($13). You sell at a throwaway price so that you can feed your children.

A 50kg bag of maize is 3,000 ($33). Buying it is a headache because it’s not readily available. It goes to the one who has the most money.

What my grandfather used to do during droughts – although they were short – was to slaughter two to three fat camels. They cut the meat into small containers, dried it and stored it. People fed on that.

That culture is eroding because of the response by NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and the government.

During past droughts, the response was high, food was available so people had nothing much to worry (about).

 But this drought is very long and food isn’t available. I don’t know what is wrong.

 I don’t see a future in the nomadic way of life. The time of moving around with animals is fading because of droughts like this one.

 It’s good to settle down and take the children to school so they can learn how to cope with the modern world. If the children go to school, they might get work and send some money home.

 I would like to go into business but I never went to school. Where am I going to start?

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