Women hit by drought trade wa­ter for fire­wood in Kenya

African Independent - - NEWS - WES­LEY LAN­GAT

NE of the many re­sults of re­peated drought in Kenya is that when crops fail, women turn to cut­ting trees to sell as fire­wood in or­der to feed their fam­i­lies.

They make lit­tle money from it, but say they have no choice.

But around Kobolwo, in western Kenya, men have banned women from cut­ting down the few re­main­ing trees near the vil­lage, where maize crops have been dec­i­mated by the drought.

So Gla­dys Korir, a 54-year-old mother of six, and 50 other women have come up with an­other plan to sur­vive: Us­ing don­keys, they now fetch wa­ter from the Mara River near Kobolwo and carry it to dis­tant landown­ers in ex­change for the right to ac­cess their land to cut wood.

“We no longer have trees (near home). The few trees that are avail­able are not sup­posed to be cut. My hus­band will not al­low it,” Korir said.

So the women rise at 4am to walk hours to the Ki­pleleon hills bor­der­ing the fa­mous Ma­sai Mara game re­serve, an area owned by

Oherd­ing com­mu­ni­ties that of­ten face wa­ter short­ages. “We al­low them to cut shrubs that can re­gen­er­ate eas­ily,” said Fran­cis Ko­ri­ata, one of the landown­ers there.

“Some­times these women come here with­out money and when they ex­plain to you how they have slept hun­gry with­out food, you just pity them,” he added.

But the women make lit­tle money from the busi­ness – only enough for one meal a day and a few other ba­sics like buy­ing school uni­forms for their chil­dren.

Af­ter cut­ting the wood, they travel sev­eral kilo­me­tres look­ing for mar­kets in ho­tels, restau­rants or even sales to other vil­lagers, sell­ing the wood for 100 Kenyan shillings (about $1) per stack.

“We need food for our chil­dren,” said Joan Mainek, an­other woman in the busi­ness.

“Here, there is no other way of get­ting money, it’s hard. Our maize has dried up. By now we should have been har­vest­ing maize but there is noth­ing on our farms. We buy maize through­out the year, a thing we are not used to do­ing,” she said.

About 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple in Kenya need food aid, and the num­ber was likely to rise to 3.5 mil­lion as the drought con­tin­ued, ac­cord­ing to the UN Of­fice for the Co-or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs. Korir said that be­fore she be­gan sell­ing fire­wood five years ago, in times of drought, she used to work at a sorghum plan­ta­tion near her home.

There she earned 250 shillings ($2.40) a day – not enough to sup­port her fam­ily, she said.

“You were over-worked, given only 30 min­utes for lunch and no days off. So I pre­fer the fire­wood busi­ness, where no one forces me to work,” she said.

She makes about four times more money sell­ing the fire­wood than she used to – al­though “it’s hard and risky be­cause some­times we en­counter wild an­i­mals like ele­phants and they chase us away,” she said.

Richard Lan­gat, chair­man of the Elen­erai Co-op­er­a­tive, a women’s group based in a neigh­bour­ing county, ac­knowl­edged that “women in this area don’t have much of a choice other than us­ing nat­u­ral re­sources to make money to buy food”.

But ex­ces­sive loss of trees and shrubs cover could lead to wa­ter degra­da­tion and wors­en­ing scarcity in the Mara River, he warned.

In 2012 he brought to­gether nearly 1 000 women from Narok County who re­lied on sell­ing fire­wood and char­coal, and trained them in dairy farm­ing so they wouldn’t have to cut down trees to earn money.

“The women no longer need to fetch fire­wood and are able to meet their fam­ily’s needs,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Paul Oren­goh, a co-or­di­na­tor for wa­ter and ecosys­tems at the Kenya-based Re­search Tri­an­gle In­sti­tute, “we need to help women find al­ter­na­tives sources (of in­come) to fire­wood, like plant­ing fruit trees, while pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Fri­dah Gacheri, an ad­viser at SNV, a Dutch char­ity that helps farm­ers in­crease their in­come and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, said that women’s skills and knowl­edge in man­ag­ing nat­u­ral re­sources – through farm­ing and gar­den­ing, for ex­am­ple – are too of­ten over­looked in en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

“Women are very in­volved in agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties so we should tap their po­ten­tial when look­ing for al­ter­na­tive sources of in­come to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment,” she added. - Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion

There is no other way of get­ting money. Our maize has dried up. By now we should be har­vest­ing maize but there is noth­ing on our farms


SCARCE RE­SOURCE: A young boy scoops wa­ter from a hand-dug well in the dry riverbed near Matinyani, in the semi-arid Ki­tui County in south­east­ern Kenya. Ac­cord­ing to the UN 17 mil­lion peo­ple lack ac­cess to safe wa­ter in Kenya, where drought is a peren­nial prob­lem.

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