Like most other people in Mandera in north-east Kenya, Mohammed Abdullahi, aged 65, has spent most of his life making a living from his animals. Living a traditional pastoralist way of life he would travel with his animals in search of water and pasture. However, years of drought decimated his herd and forced him to turn to agriculture to feed his family.
Mohammed is part of an agricultural group in Yabichio village that was set up by Islamic Relief. This group is made up of former pastoralists like Mohammed who can no longer sustain a life that relies on their animals.
Islamic Relief provides them with training, teaching them how to prepare land, plant the seeds and harvest the crops. We have also provided them with pumps to irrigate the land and distributed seeds and tools. Now despite the serious drought that has hit Mandera, Mohammed is able to grow his own food to sell at market and provide for his children.
When there is drought, there is nothing
Mohammed said, “Life as a pastoralist is very difficult. When there is rain then your animals are healthy and you have milk and meat, but if there is drought then there is nothing.
“There was a drought 19 years ago that seriously affected my livestock. Gradually I got my life back together, but then this recent drought struck and nearly all my livestock died. Now I have just two cows, ten goats and two donkeys.”
“Around 20 years ago I planted some mango trees on this piece of land but for many years I only grew a few crops as my attention was still focused on livestock,” said Mohammed. “I used to travel from place to place with my animals and didn’t have knowledge about agriculture or the equipment to irrigate the dry land. I didn’t know about pumps and other tools, so when I started farming it was very difficult.”
With help from Islamic Relief, famers in Mandera are able to irrigate their land and grow crops
Islamic Relief opened our eyes
“But Islamic Relief opened our eyes and gave us the knowledge and tools we didn’t have. They gave us pump sets, fuel, seeds, farm tools and importantly, training. They trained us how to use the pumps and how to maintain them, and how to plant the seeds and when to harvest the crops. We now know about growing cash crops, how to build canals and how to prepare the land for planting.
“Before we had the pumps it was very difficult to irrigate the land and we had to bring up the water by hand. Sometimes the land would flood if there was heavy rain and would wash away the crops because we did not have any dykes or flood control systems.
“Despite the recent drought I have managed to harvest plenty of maize and I still have some in store. I am now planting again and so will have another harvest soon. I also received fodder seeds from Islamic Relief which I planted and which helped to keep my remaining animals alive,” said Mohammed.
Children go to school
“Sometimes I feel bad that I have left the pastoral way of life that my family practiced for so many years, but I know I am better off now. The life of my whole family has improved since I changed to agriculture. I now have more food, can provide better healthcare to my children, and because we don’t have to move around in search of pasture anymore all my children can attend school.
“At the moment I am growing maize, cowpeas and watermelon. I use these to feed my family as well as to sell at market in Ram so I can buy sugar, oil and vegetables,” said Mohammed. “None of my children are earning a salary and so I have to work very hard even though I am an old man as this is our only source of income.
‘I am happy I have another option’
“I would like to expand my land and spent all of today preparing new land to grow more crops. I have leased some extra land from a neighbour and now my children and I are preparing this so that we can plant maize very soon,” said Mohammed.
“The rains this year were very poor and other farmers who don’t have the irrigation systems that my agricultural group does have already lost their crops,” said Mohammed. “There have always been problems even when I was a child, but I think things are getting worse.
“Most people here who are pastoralists have lost their animals because of the drought and are suffering from food shortages. They are reliant on the relief aid that charities give out but this is not a good way to live. I am happy that I have this other option to grow my own food which should help me through this hard time.”