Amid drought and con­flict, Kenyan women are buzzing with a new live­stock

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Mo­raa Obiria

RES­I­DENTS of Kailer vil­lage nor­mally live to the rhythm of moo­ing cows and bleat­ing goats, but over the past year, si­lence has reigned over th­ese swathes of dry land, dot­ted with cacti and ma­th­enge, a dense shrub.

Faced with se­vere drought, herders and their an­i­mals have had to travel fur­ther than nor­mal to find wa­ter or graz­ing and to es­cape wors­en­ing raids on their live­stock at home, say the vil­lage’s women.

“We don’t know when they’ll re­turn, as cat­tle raiders may at­tack them on the way,” said a wor­ried Chris­tine Le­wat­achum of Kailer, a vil­lage in the Rift Val­ley county of Baringo.

As cli­mate change brings wors­en­ing drought and more er­ratic rain­fall, com­pe­ti­tion for wa­ter and graz­ing is grow­ing, stok­ing ri­valry and theft between live­stock herders.

Women and their chil­dren left to mind some of the an­i­mals at home, also find them­selves vul­ner­a­ble to live­stock raids – and left with­out an in­come when they hap­pen. How­ever, an un­usual kind of live­stock, bees, is help­ing.

Since 2009, women in the vil­lage – and oth­ers like it in the re­gion – have man­aged bee­hives as a new way of earn­ing a liv­ing.

They use the hives to pro­duce honey, soap, beauty creams, can­dles and cough syrup and sell them to res­i­dents from neigh­bour­ing vil­lages.

While the business has been go­ing on for some time, it is prov­ing par­tic­u­larly valu­able as droughts grow more fre­quent and se­vere as a re­sult of cli­mate change.

Even as con­di­tions grow more un­cer­tain, “we want to break free from poverty,” said Josephine Le­mangi, a res­i­dent.

Solomon Ke­rieny, an an­i­mal pro­duc­tion of­fi­cer at the Min­istry of Agriculture, said a longer dry sea­son and er­ratic rain­fall have se­verely af­fected earn­ings from live­stock, mak­ing fam­i­lies more vul­ner­a­ble. “When houses lose live­stock, they lose their liveli­hood,” he said.

“Women need to em­brace al­ter­na­tive sources of in­come such as bee­keep­ing.”

Vi­o­lent cat­tle raids

For women in Baringo county, cat­tle raids and vi­o­lence are a fact of life. In 2009, Faith Leki­mosong, a mem­ber of the women’s group, was forced to leave her vil­lage of Kis­e­rian with­out her live­stock – 80 goats and 18 cows – af­ter eight raiders at­tacked her home.

“Af­ter that I would hear gun­shots ring­ing in my head for a long time,” she re­called, hav­ing found refuge in a nearby vil­lage.

“It is a night­mare to live in a place where you have no idea if your an­i­mals will be there to­mor­row,” she added.

The women’s group, which Le­wat­achum co-founded in 2000, ini­tially spe­cialised in buy­ing and rais­ing dairy goats “to stop de­pend­ing on our hus­bands’ in­come”.

In 2005, how­ever, cat­tle raiders stole most of the women’s herd.

“It was too much,” said Le­wat­achum. “We sold the few re­main­ing goats and had to find a new so­lu­tion.”

They de­cided on bee­keep­ing. “Raiders are less in­ter­ested in bees as they don’t con­sider them as valu­able as live­stock,” Le­wat­achum said.

The Min­istry of Agriculture and var­i­ous char­i­ties do­nated five bee­hives to the women in 2009, and trained them on mak­ing honey-de­rived prod­ucts.

In­come and jobs

Every three months, the group har­vests and sells about 22kg of un­pro­cessed honey for 4 000 Kenyan shilling (about R500). Pro­cessed honey sells for three times that price.

A 100g pot of body cream goes for 200 shilling and a piece of honey soap fetches between 20 and 30 shilling. Other prod­ucts made from honey or hon­ey­comb are more un­usual.

“The arthri­tis and asthma syrup as well as the snake venom an­ti­dote are par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar,” said Le­wat­achum.

The women dis­play their prod­ucts at wed­dings or farm fairs, she said.

When they aren’t able to meet the de­mand, they buy honey from other bee­keep­ers.

The women put the profit they make into a fund from which mem­bers can take out loans with a 1 per­cent in­ter­est rate.

This has al­lowed them to ex­pand their oper­a­tion to 14 bee­hives and to buy land in the vil­lage, where they plan to set up a honey-pro­cess­ing plant.

“We will use it (the plant) to in­crease our pro­duc­tion so we can sell prod­ucts in the rest of the coun­try and offer jobs to women and girls,” said Le­wat­achum.

She said the ini­tia­tive had pro­vided women with not only a bet­ter in­come, but bet­ter prospects for the fu­ture.

“When the mem­bers take out loans, they know they have to pay them back and that prompts them to think about po­ten­tially set­ting up their own busi­nesses or rent­ing a por­tion of land to farm it,” she said.

Group mem­bers now earn an av­er­age of 26 000 shilling a month com­pared with next to noth­ing pre­vi­ously, as ev­ery­thing was stolen by raiders, she added.

Se­cu­rity still issue

While the women are be­com­ing more se­cure eco­nom­i­cally, con­tin­u­ing in­se­cu­rity threat­ens their progress, ex­perts say.

“With­out phys­i­cal se­cu­rity, the women can­not es­tab­lish long-term in­vest­ments as cat­tle raids or counter-at­tacks rou­tinely burn houses and in­jure res­i­dents,” said Tom Nya­mache, a pro­fes­sor of economics at Kenya’s Turkana Univer­sity Col­lege.

In Fe­bru­ary, the gov­ern­ment de­ployed at least 100 po­lice re­servists to the area to re­in­force lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, but even they were at­tacked by the ban­dits, Nya­mache said. But while cat­tle raids con­tinue, the bee­hives have so far re­mained in­tact. – Reuters

In­dus­tri­ous Kenyan vil­lagers that had in the past been hit by cat­tle rustlers and drought have hit the honey pot by be­com­ing bee­keep­ers.

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