By Betty Luke
The biting drought in Northern Kenya continues to threaten pastoralism rendering local communities poor and unable to fend for their families.
Some of the residents, who have been relying on pastoralism as their main source of livelihood, are slowly diversifying to crop farming for increased income.
Quest for reliable source of income gave birth to a women’s group in Sololo, Moyale Constituency in Marsabit that has in the last few years tremendously uplifted lives of its members.
Barely five years old, Tulu Fodder Group that started with seven members in late 2016 for economic empowerment, has grown the membership to 35 and savings to Sh400, 000.
The representation of the group, whose majority of the members have not gone through the formal education, include married women, widows, divorcees and persons living with disabilities.
Committed to earn income and provide for their families, the woman prepared a fruit seedling bed at one of the members land and sold the plants at Sh50 each.
The idea was informed by presence of local farmers who the group hoped to sell the orange, pawpaw and mango seedlings to.
Drying of a local borehole that they relied on forced them to try out their luck in brick making business which also did not last long.
“We made a profit of Sh16, 000 which we shared equally and used it to pay school fees for our children who had been sent home at the time,” the group’s secretary Ms Tume Shana said.
Then came the idea of fodder production but they had no land to plant the seeds. They settled for the fodder production as grass requires little water to grow.
The group approached the Marsabit County government and were offered six acres of land for the venture and later assisted with fodder seeds by the county agriculture office.
Grass that resist warm climatic conditions have thin-walled cells between the veins of their leaves that keep the leaves expanded under normal conditions but roll up the leaves to slow evaporation during the drought season.
Mat guthes and carpet grass are the common examples of grass grown for animal feeds that require little water and are able to survive in warm temperatures.
In their first season, the group grew Mat guthes and Maasai love grass and harvested 60 bales some of which they sold and shared the remaining ones for their livestock.
They harvested 130 bales during the following harvest but faced myriad challenges including pest invasion and lack of fencing and storage facility.
“We stored the fodder at Chairperson Fatuma Guyo’s home and carried it on our backs to the market as Sh100 charged by boda boda operators for each trip was very costly,” the 40-year-old mother of three noted.
All this time, they faced huge resistance from a section of men who felt they should have not been allowed to manage and temporarily own the resource (land) due to cultural beliefs.
Herders from the village would occasionally drive animals into the open piece of land subjecting the group to losses and making them contemplate quitting the venture.
During past interview with The Press Point, Ms Shana said planting, weeding and harvesting was tiresome as they did everything manually forcing them to spend almost the entire day at the farm.
She says had they not benefited from donation of manual harvester, grass cutter, hay baler, plough for planting and donkey cart for transporting the fodder from the USAID funded Livestock Market Systems (LMS), they would have given up.
The organisation also constructed a spacious store for them and they also benefited with water storage tank from the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) that empowers rural communities through health, education, environment and livelihood programs.
The aid enabled them increase their production in the subsequent year to 215 bales.
Ms Guyo says they no longer rely on their husbands to provide for their families because they were economically stable and can even afford to pay school fees for their children without any struggle.
“Even if my husband is not around, I can sort out several issues in the house without strain,” Ms Guyo, who recently paid Sh70, 000 school fees for her daughter told The Press Point.
The 58-year-old mother of seven said that they are look forward to growing the membership from the current 35 to over 100 women.
Ms Shana says the returns enabled her support her husband study a Masters Degree which he recently completed.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, the group was selling a bale of Mat guthes at Sh500 and Maasai love grass at Sh400 but reduced to Sh450 and Sh400 respectively due to the harsh economic effects of the pandemic.
The women who sell the fodder across the county currently have 120 bales in the store.
Through Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), the women have in barely two years saved Sh400, 000 which they loan out to members at 0.5 percent interest within Sh20, 000-Sh60, 000 range.
They urged fellow women from the pastoral communities not to stay idle at their homes but venture into income generating projects to be self-reliant.
“Let them form groups and start projects that will propel their familes forward,” Ms Shana appealed.
The women are determined to be the main fodder producers in the region and to supply across the Northern region counties.
“We are calling on the county government to allocate us more land to increase our productivity and well-wishers to assist us fence the land for security purposes,” she appealed.