Reviving traditions to survive drought in Kenya

Sorghum and beans

“Droughts have been part and parcel of our weather pattern for centuries, but in the last 30 years, their frequency and severity has increased,” said Fatuma Issack, chairlady of the Tukuma Women Group based in Burduras, a small village in Mandera, Kenya. To make matters worse, CARE has found that local communities have been forgetting traditional coping strategies.

Mandera is a traditionally pastoralist area. Its Gari people rely on rearing three species of livestock: cows, camels and sheep or goats.

Traditionally, this community have always coped with drought using a wide range of strategies; migration, preservation of food (particularly meat and ghee), foraging for wild fruits and tubers, and culling old and young animals, which can reduce pressure on land.

Through an assessment, CARE has discovered that apart from migration, all other traditional coping strategies are slowly disappearing. This is particularly disturbing as droughts themselves have become more frequent.

This loss has been partly attributed to reliance on food relief distributions. The younger generation are also less aware of traditional food preservation techniques. The solution? CARE has begun training local people in food preservation as part of Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

Gari’s local DRR group discovered that their dreams of achieving self-reliance in time of drought would only be possible when they regained this traditional local knowledge.

In particular no longer practicing the process of meat preservation appears to have caused difficulties. So CARE, working with the Kenyan Department of Livestock Production and Ministry of Public Health, is providing training to women in Mandera.

Training has also been provided on the subject of meat hygiene, and ways to add value to the traditional practices.

Opening a butchery

Following the training, The Tukuma Womens' Group has begun to preserve meat for commercial purposes. The group runs a butchery where they sell raw meat and process parts of it into a product locally called ‘Nyirinyiri’. 

“The meat is cut into small pieces, deep fried and then stored in oil to extend its shelf life. It can last for a year and even longer, depending on the type of oil used,” said Fatuma.

The process ensures continuous income for the group members. Preserving takes just an hour and it increases the value of the meat per kilogram from 240 Kenya Shillings (3 USD) to 400 Kenya Shillings (5 USD). Working in the meat trade has also enabled households taking part to access animal protein regularly.

Another member of the group, Habiba Gabow Osman shared how she benefited from the business: 

“In the past we relied on humanitarian food distributions during drought. However, this was not adequate in quantity and quality. Our children’s health is better now despite the biting drought. This is because they eat meat products every day, thanks to our group business. 

“Our business is thriving even during the drought and with regular income our members are able to buy water and supplementary feed for selected livestock. I come from one of the poorest households and I couldn’t have afforded to purchase water for my eight dependants, but now I can.”

Longer term work

In addition to our immediate response in the face of this current food crisis CARE International emphasises the need to tackle the long-term, underlying causes of poverty. We have been present in the region for over 25 years and are helping families to break the cycle of hunger and to adapt to the changing climate and recurring droughts.

Our ongoing work in the region includes:

  • Maintenance, protection and development of water points and wells.
  • Working with women in Mandera, Kenya to revive traditional food preservation techniques.
  • Vaccination of animals to prevent diseases breaking out as they congregate at remaining water points.
  • Helping families have more consistent sources of income by supporting them in diversifying their work.
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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.