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Bloody conflict between western Kenya farmers drives bid to improve water, fodder

by Anthony Langat | @Antonykip | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 12 December 2016 00:01 GMT

"When the sun shines, water flows, and when it is cloudy, it stops, so we wait"

By Anthony Langat

ALALE, Kenya, Dec 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most days Kenyan teenager Andrew Taimoi leaves his village on the Ugandan border before dawn and takes his family's livestock in search of food and water, risking his life on the way.

More frequent and longer droughts in Kenya's dryland areas have increased competition for resources between the different tribes of West Pokot County, western Kenya, and easier access to guns is increasingly turning these battles deadly.

For with its proximity to South Sudan, which has been plagued by three years of civil war, West Pokot has seen an infiltration of illegal guns over Kenya's borders that are largely uncontrolled bar a few checkpoints.

Last year 92 people died in a single cattle raid in West Pokot, Turkana and Samburu counties, according to local media, but for Taimoi and his family there is little choice.

Much of the year their village of Chemolingot is dry with water scarce. Taimoi said his days would often start at 6 a.m. to drive the cattle to a river 5 km (3 miles) away.

"When there is no rain and the place is very dry like it is now, we have to walk longer distances to find pasture for the livestock," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But with violence on the rise, several local projects are now underway to try to improve resource availability and stem the conflict.

The government launched two projects in Pokot at the beginning of the year to make resources more abundant: one to increase fodder production and another to sink more boreholes - narrow shafts bored in the ground to extract water.

In West Pokot, 100 hectares of fodder is being planted in four different locations.


"We have chosen four different locations to reach the thousands of people that live around those places," said Eveline Koskey, director of agriculture for the county.

"With enough fodder, the people of Pokot will not have to move in search for pasture and therefore this will put an end to resource conflicts," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The fodder project in Pokot is part of a $54.8 million "drought resilience and sustainable livelihood" investment co-funded by the Kenyan government and African Development Bank.

The fodder planted in some villages is already nearing maturity, and Koskey said local committees would set a reasonable price for the hay to make it work in the long run.

The boreholes have also reduced the number of villagers crossing into Turkana, curbing violence levels.

"We hope that by the time we are done, the conflicts over resources will be a thing of the past as fodder and water will be readily available," said Koskey.

In West Pokot, the local government has drilled and refurbished more than 200 boreholes, said Alfred Tulel, local official in charge of water in West Pokot.

Most are hand-pumped but seven have solar-powered pumps.

"In places where we have solar-powered pumps, we have received favourable feedback. We hope to add more in the next financial year," Tulel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Taimoi said the addition of a solar borehole in the village of Chemolingot has cut his journey to water to less than 3 kms. The borehole is also attracting herders from nearby villages.

Yet there is one snag: the weather. With no battery storage, the solar pumps come to a halt in cloudy weather.

"When the sun shines, water flows, and when it is cloudy, it stops, so we wait," said Taimoi.

(Reporting by Anthony Langat, editing by Clelia Oziel, Zoe Tabary and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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