Climate Change / Drought / East Africa / Ethiopia / Food Security / Kenya / Pastoralism / Somalia / Sudan / Vulnerability

Keeping famine at bay in the Horn of Africa

Northeastern Kenya 7

A young boy herds a flock of goats on the road to Wajir from Garissa in northeastern Kenya (photo on Flickr by Ann Weru/IRIN).

Debora MacKenzie writes in New Scientist this week that low-key projects keep Horn of Africa famine at bay.

‘Drought in the Horn of Africa threatens 13 million people with starvation and is driving half a million to famine camps. In the past week the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said things are worsening in Sudan. . . .

‘But the region is by no means a lost cause. Recently I talked to two Africa experts at the FAO. “Of the rural people at risk in Somalia, 10 per cent need food assistance,” said Rodrigue Vinet. “That means 90 per cent are coping, and with a very bad situation. That’s really quite amazing.”

‘The Somalis’ success is not accidental, though. The FAO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others have been helping the region’s farmers and herders build drought resilience. A seed network in Somalia selects local varieties of drought-tolerant maize, sorghum and sesame and sells farmers good seed. A veterinary network allows herders to sell enough animals to keep the rest alive. Cash pays for roads, storage for crops, and tanks to trap and store storm water. This all costs a lot less than emergency aid—and, says Vinet, communities that benefit from such projects are coping.

‘His colleague Jean-Alexandre Scaglia says nomads long ago found the best way to live off this dry land: they herd sheep, goats, cattle or camels between patches of thin, sporadic greenery that appear at different times, never overgrazing any one patch. But there are two problems that threaten this strategy, and their existence.’

He says climate change is making the available pasture unpredictable and better health is making the human population boom.

Read the whole article at New Scientist: Low-key projects keep famine in the Horn of Africa at bay, 10 Oct 2011.

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