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Feed scarcity pushes pastoralists into hay

By Joe Ombuor
Mohamud Abdirahman Adan at a silo of hay in Bulahaji location, Kalalio Division in Mandera County. [Joe Ombuor, Standard]

After years of feed scarcity, herders see light in hay farming

For the majority population in the arid North Eastern, virtually everything about commerce and food revolves around pastoralism. Raising and herding of livestock for a living is therefore a matter of life and death.

The heart valves of this lifestyle passed down generations from time immemorial are water and pasture whose scarcity is often the cause of communal conflict in these areas.

Both are terribly scarce in these times of unpredictable rains that come erratically after long intervals and prolonged droughts that are increasingly becoming the norm. The older generation to which Mohamud Abdirahman Adan, 54, belongs remember easier times when rains were more frequent and pasture readily available.

Rains are rare

“That has changed with time, ushering in spells of drought that leave pastoral communities clinging to the hides and bones of dead livestock with hunger staring them in the face.

Luckily, all hope is not lost.

In a bid to save the situation, the county government started an awareness that the devastation caused by lack of pasture could be tamed by growing and preserving grass in the form of hay that lasts long if well kept.

To roll it out, they started by growing exotic, highly nutritious grass on demonstration farms that people were encouraged to visit to learn from and taught how to convert grass into hay for hard times.

Adan says the idea that has proved a boon to pastoralism in his Kalalio Division in particular did not wash easily with conservative folks who view anything new through suspicious lenses. Resistance reigned before reason took over.

“Our people could not understand how grass that generally grows wild after the rains could be planted as a crop, harvested and stored for the animals.

They could not fathom spending their meagre resources building granaries to hold grass. They laughed off the idea as crazy.

“When our chief, Mr Sala Mohamed Hassan of Bulahaji Location became the first person to build a silo and store indigenous grass in it, everybody thought he had run mad until his hay came in handy when drought set in. I was among the first people to emulate him,” says Adan, who today has enough hay to feed his 16 cattle, 12 camel, 300 goats and seven donkeys any time that drought sets in.

Banking on irrigation

The father of six says he would not have managed to educate his children, three of whom have completed university if he had not taken to hay farming to save his animals from dying.

“I have in my brood a nutritionist, a secondary school teacher and a clinical 0fficer. Another of my children is poised to go to college while two are still in secondary schools,” says Adan.

He has 2,500 bales of hay in his store that has a capacity of 3,000 bales weighing between 20 and 18 kilograms each. A bale fetches up to Sh600 during dry spells.

He has dedicated four of his seven and a half acres of land on the banks of the River Dawa to the growing of hay by irrigation.

He appeals to the County Government to avail mechanical grass cutting and packing facilities for hire to farmers who currently have rely on the cumbersome manual ways that are time consuming and waste prone.

“We look forward to a time when mechanical harvesting and packaging will be the norm and availability of seed will cease to be a hurdle,” says Adan.

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