The challenge of the drylands in Africa

I just got a hold of a video about the northern Kenyan drylands and the Dertu Millennium Village. I used to work on this project and was fortunate enough to travel to this challenging area several times. I wrote about camel’s milk a while back on this blog.  The video is worth a watch, if only, to get a quick glimpse into how the Kenyan-Somali live and the challenges they face with drought, animal disease and clashes.

The drying of Africa is a huge issue that we will face in the coming years. Forty percent of Africa is considered arid, drylands. Climate change will obviously change that and already, we are seeing signs of further drying. Places such as the Sahel are predicted to have more severe droughts and as a consequence of human and animal pressure, the land is becoming rapidly degraded.

Numbers of around 25 million globally exist as pastoralists in these drylands. Pastoralists are defined as people who depend for their living primarily on livestock, and inhabit areas where the potential for crop cultivation is limited due to lack of rainfall, steep terrain or extreme temperatures. In order to optimally exploit the seasonally variable resources of their environment and to provide food and water for their animals, many pastoralists are nomadic or semi-nomadic.

I think it will take creative solutions beyond mobile schools and clinics (as highlighted in this video) for pastoralists to thrive with resilience and independence in the future – particularly with climate change and water resources becoming more and more limited. Business enterprise beyond livestock could be a solution, but they must be locally appropriate. I do believe that social protection programs including food safety nets will be a necessity, at least for the next decade.

I recently just came from Kenya, and traveled to Kitui, another dry area, in which the population undergoes periods of drought, creating massive food insecurity for the region. Bioversity is working with the community to diversify their crops beyond just maize and beans to other leafy greens and some drought tolerant crops that are nutritious but also provide income generation. The project in Kitui builds on from previous work on linking traditional foods to formal markets.

Women of Kitui cooking traditional leafy greens

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