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Farming for life
(16 July 2007)
Adan Abdi on his land
The deep red earth between Adan Abdi’s hands stands out against the green of the surrounding bush. Adan, 44, lives in the village of Hareri in the Mandera district of north eastern Kenya.

Farming does not run in his blood, like most people here he is a nomad; raising herds of livestock and relying on their milk and meat to survive.

Drought

Over the last ten years, frequent droughts have destroyed the traditional way of life. The 2005-2006 drought pushed over a million people to the brink of famine and wiped out more than 70 percent of their livestock.

IR and other aid agencies provided emergency food and water for the most vulnerable.

Struggle to survive


Adan Abdi

Times were hard for Adan and his family even before the drought. He had ten children but today only five still live. Adan worked on casual jobs, collecting stones or wood to sell for construction but he did not earn very much. Sometimes his family would go without food for days.

“Would anyone be happy to see their children go hungry?” he asks.

Adan used to have 40 goats, which he only sold as a last resort. “What do you do when people are naked and you don’t have money? The only thing is to turn to the goats and sell the biggest one,” Adan explains.

Only ten of his goats survived the drought.

Malnutrition

With little milk and meat available, Adan’s 80-year-old mother and Faisal, his two-year-old son, became weak from poor nutrition.

When IR began providing food supplements in the area, both received Unimix - a nutritious porridge. Faisal soon made a full recovery, while Adan’s elderly mother continued to need the supplement.

After the Drought

When the rains finally arrived, Adan and his mother received mosquito nets from IR, to prevent malaria and other diseases.

Although the drought is over, its effects are still felt by people like Adan who have no means to support their families.

Farming

IR set up a farming project to help those who can no longer earn a living from livestock.

Sixty people who had some experience or interest in farming were selected from Hareri village.

Adan had worked on a Maasai farm in southern Kenya. “I grew lots of vegetables popular with Indians, like ‘karela’,” said Adan.

One acre of idle land near the river Daua was given to each new farmer to prepare, by clearing it of wild bushes and trees.

IR hired a tractor for ploughing, and bought seeds for the farmers. Each group of ten farmers will also receive a water pump for irrigation.

Adan plans to grow sesame, onions and watermelons and also maize to feed his family.

Learning from others

To give the future farmers a taste of what farming can achieve, IR organised a visit to a commercial irrigation project near Nairobi.

Adan was inspired by some Maasai farmers who had harvested 80 crates of tomatoes, earning a profit of 15,000 Kenyan Shillings. “We have more advantages than them - we’re just not exploiting them,” Adan said, “I could do much more than what they were doing.”

Adan has already used his farming experience. “As the tractor was ploughing I collected all the grass and everyone wondered why. Now, no grass has grown back on my field, while theirs are full of grass!

Future

Adan regrets leaving the farm in the south. “A fool does now what he should have done before,” he says. “I was given an opportunity but I didn’t exploit it. I don’t want my children to fall into the same trap, but to get educated and depend on their own hands.”

Two of Adan’s children are at school. He hopes that one will grow up to become an ambassador and the other a doctor.

Adan explains that the nomadic way of life did not offer him many opportunities. He believes that people who restocked their animals will suffer again in future droughts. “They crossed a fire and got burnt, then they saw another fire but instead of avoiding it, they are repeating their mistake.”

Adan wants to reduce his own herd and invest elsewhere.

““We think day and night of what to do to overcome our problems. I’m going to make every effort to succeed with my farm though nothing can be achieved without God.”

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