Pastoralists in Kenya abandon cattle to settle for sheep and goat amid rising temperatures
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12 May 2018 Author :   Isaiah Esipisu
Sheep and goats were able to survive 2017 climate stress

ISINYA, Kenya (PAMACC News) - After losing nearly all of his cattle to drought in 2017, David Ole Maapia, a young Maasai man who grew up in Kenya’s Kajiado County as a herdsboy is one of many residents from pastoralist communities who are slowly changing their way of living, to adapt to the changing climatic conditions in the country.

“It is already raining, and there will be plenty of pastures in the coming months. But following my experience last year, and also what happened to my neighbours, I can no longer keep cattle for more than a day,” said Ole Maapia, a resident of Isinya Township, 56 kilometres out of Nairobi City. “Instead, I have chosen to bank all my wealth in sheep and goats,” he said.

The 32 year old father of five children lost 48 cattle following last year’s dry spell. And for the past six months, he has been buying cattle almost every day, have them slaughtered the same day before supplying meat to designated hotels in Nairobi. He then uses the profit to purchase at least two or three goats every market day.

I already have more than 200 goats and sheep, and I know by December, I will have over 1000,” he said. “If I sell all of them during the festive Christmas period, I will have enough money to purchase a small piece of land within Isinya Township where I intend to construct commercial houses as an alternative source of livelihood,” he said.

Many other residents have as well abandoned cattle keeping, which has for many years been considered the most prestigious thing among pastoralist communities.

Though without any formal education, Ole Maapia’s switch in lifestyle conforms with key findings from a new scientific study in Kenya, which shows that cattle have been the most vulnerable animals to climate change in nearly all the 21 semi arid counties in the country.

According to the study conducted by scientists from the Kenya Markets Trust (KMT) with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), through a project known as Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies (PRISE), average cattle population in all semi arid counties reduced by 26 percent between the year 1977 and 2016.

But the same study, whose key findings are currently being disseminated to targeted counties reveals that the population in sheep and goats increased by an impressive 76 percent in the same period, with camel population also increasing by 13 percent.

“This is a clear impact of climate change,” Dr Mohammed Said, one of the lead researchers told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We say it is climate change because in the past 50 years, we observed increase in temperatures in all the counties with five of them recording more than 1.5°C increase in the same period,” he said.

The most affected county, says the scientist, is Turkana, whose temperature increased by 1.8°C in the past 50 years, leading to over 60 percent decrease in cattle population in the past 38 years.

According to the scientists, a research scientist, cattle can thrive well if average temperatures do not surpass 30oC and should not be below 10oC. But small animals like sheep and goats, and also camels can tolerate warmer temperatures, hence the reason why they were able to multiply exponentially in the wake of the rising temperatures.

“It is true that goats and sheep survived the 2017 dry-spell, and that’s why many people are now selling the remaining cattle stock to invest in animals that have proven to be strong enough for such tough conditions,” said Ole Maapia.

The Paris Agreement on climate change calls for international interventions to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

At a county government level, four neighbouring semi arid counties in the country have come up with an initiative known as the ‘AMAYA Triangle.’  The County governments of Laikipia, Baringo, Isiolo and Samburu are now working together to address climate change so as to avoid resource based conflicts which are always associated with droughts.

Following massive deaths of cattle during extreme droughts, the counties are already establishing feedlots and fodder banks to help in fattening the most impacted animals, as a way of adapting to climate change, according to Laikipia Deputy Governor Hon. John Mwaniki.

“Climate change does not recognise boundaries. And so, if we solve a climate change related problem in Laikipia for example, without addressing the same problem in the neighbouring counties, then we will be creating a platform for conflicts among the residents,” said Hon. Mwaniki.

80 percent of beef eaten in Kenya comes from local pastoralist’s communities, and also from Uganda and Tanzania pastoralists. But with the rising temperatures, Dr Said feels that the most affected counties should begin investing in sheep, goat and camel value chains as a way of adhering to the prevailing conditions.

“The only way counties can adapt is by using such scientific projections to identify possible future scenarios and capture it in their spatial plans, because the current conditions are likely not going to be the same in the next 10 years,” he said.

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