New Approaches Needed to Address Drought Emergencies in Kenya

New Approaches Needed to Address Drought Emergencies in Kenya

In recent years, Kenya has faced recurrent and intense drought conditions, which require more attention if the development agenda is to be achieved. On 10th February 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared drought a national disaster, having affected 23 arid and semi-arid counties. In his declaration, the President requested both local and international partners to support the government in its efforts to contain the effects on humans, livestock and wild animals. Although drought effects are felt across the country, the pastoralists are the most affected given that they traditionally derive their livelihood almost wholly from livestock while living in a hostile climatic environment with poor linkage to markets.

Effects of drought

The recent 2016/2017 drought spell can be described as an extreme event, but it was not as extreme as the 2010/2011 drought that cost the country Ksh 12.1 billion in drought related losses with the livestock sector accounting for 72 per cent of these losses. The drought has seen pastoralists, particularly in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) counties, lose their livestock with reports of large numbers of animal deaths in Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu, Kajiado, Wajir and Mandera counties. This has also seen a drop-in livestock prices for example, in Kajiado County where a cow that would normally cost Ksh 45,000 was sold off at as little as Ksh 500. In addition, the drought condition has witnessed pupils dropping out of school to accompany their parents in search of water, food and fodder, as well as high levels of malnutrition particularly in ASAL counties.

Policies and institutional frameworks on drought

In the long-term development blue print, Kenya Vision 2030, the government prioritizes containment of drought effects in achieving the national development agenda and commits to Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) in Kenya by 2022. The Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) strategy builds on the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands, using two approaches to reduce the impact of drought. The first approach is to strengthen the basic foundations for growth and development, such as security, infrastructure and human capital, while the second is to strengthen the institutional and financing framework for drought risk management (DRM).

The Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) strategy is also in line with the African Union Agenda 2063 priority on climate resilience and natural disasters preparedness and prevention and on renewable energy. Accordingly, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) of which Kenya is a member country has Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (DDRSI) that is relevant with drought management. The initiative recognizes that though drought-prone communities face common challenges and are often interconnected through shared natural resources, individual IGAD member states may have their own specificities and areas of emphasis.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) is mandated to exercise coordination over all matters relating to drought management. So far it has established offices in 23 ASAL counties considered highly vulnerable to drought. The NDMA implements strategic projects that reduce risk or strengthen preparedness to drought, and provides drought information by generating, consolidating and disseminating drought early warning information through publishing monthly bulletins that communicate the current drought status (Normal, Alerts, Alarm, Emergency and Recovery).

In addition, in 2015 the government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and in support of collaborating partners’ established Kenya Livestock Insurance Scheme Program (KLIP) to cushion pastoralists in the event of drought occurrence. KLIP is a public-private partnership between the government and a consortium of seven local insurance companies including UAP, CIC, Jubilee, Heritage, Amaco and Kenya Orient, under the leadership of APA Insurance and reinsured by Swiss Re. The program utilizes satellites to monitor vegetation available to livestock, and triggers financial assistance for feed, water and veterinary medicines when drought gets severe that animal lives are at risk. In the event drought conditions reach a certain threshold, pastoralists receive compensation, usually delivered to mobile money accounts, to purchase emergency animal feed and water. To be an eligible beneficiary of the insurance scheme, pastoralists are registered under the Hunger Safety Net Programme. For the registered pastoralists, the government funds premium for insuring five Tropical Livestock Units (five cattle or 50 goats and sheep) per vulnerable and exposed household while the local insurers, managing the overall program, offer additional coverage for a fee.

Since 2008, the government has been supporting Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) that was implemented in two phases 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. HSNP aimed to reduce extreme poverty and hunger among the poorest and most vulnerable households through cash transfers. Implemented through NDMA, HSNP provides regular cash transfer payments every two months, and emergency cash transfers based on prevailing drought conditions. Using a combination of Community-Based Targeting and Proxy Means Testing, HSNP beneficiaries were selected from the poorest 10 per cent in each county. The World Food Programme (WFP) and Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) also usually support cash transfers to vulnerable households in the event of drought occurrence.

To ensure all school going children have access to food, the country has developed a National School Health, Nutrition and Meals Programme Strategy which is in draft form. The strategy recommends Home-Grown School Meals Programme (HGSMP) as the most appropriate and sustainable approach for the country. While linking education, agriculture, health and social protection, the strategy ensures primary schools’ children have access to a hot midday meal and smallholder farmers get access to structured markets. Under the HGSMP, funds are transferred from the National Treasury to the Ministry of Education and then to school accounts. The amount transferred is based on enrolment, number of feeding days and estimated cost of a meal per child per day. Each school has a school meals programme committee composed of four teachers and four parents who manage the programme.

While the government implements HGSMP across the country, WFP provides schools meals across the arid and semi-arid areas and in the poor informal settlements of Nairobi. Currently, HGSMP a Kenya’s flagship project is reaching one million school-going children while WFP complements efforts in hard-to-reach areas, feeding an additional half a million. In addition, WFP also supports HGSMP through training and coaching of smallholder farmers, small scale traders and food processors nationwide. WFP also purchases food, donates equipment and facilitates access to structured markets.

Drought mitigation and adaptation strategies used

In mitigating the effects of 2016/17 drought condition, the government through the NDMA distributed animal livestock drought pellets to save livestock in affected counties including Turkana, Marsabat, Isiolo, Kwale, West pokot, Kajiado among others. Through the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP), the government unveiled a Ksh 215 million livestock insurance payouts. Livestock off-take programme was also launched by the Kenya Meat Commission in partnership with County governments of Kajiado, Baringo, Isiolo, Kwale among other counties. The cattle were bought, slaughtered and distributed as relief food in the same counties.

Using cash transfer to support the vulnerable communities, WFP supported drought-affected people in five counties (Isiolo, Kilifi, Laikipia, Samburu and West Pokot) and reached half a million people. Each family in the semi-arid counties received USD 23 while those in the arid counties received USD 30 per month. The support by the government in HSNP Phase II (2013-2017) through cash transfer reached 100,000 households across the four northern counties that include Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, and Wajir. Similarly, the KRCS gave each household a monthly cash transfer of Kshs. 3,000 to 41,990 households for three months in 2017. Other interventions by KRCS included animal destocking and slaughter programme, and distribution of foodstuffs in areas where cash transfer programme was not feasible. A total of 34,670 households (about 208,020 people) were reached with 900 MT of food in 8 counties against three million people food insecure in 23 counties. Through the destocking programme, up to 798 cattle and 10,982 goats and sheep were purchased and slaughtered in 5 counties among them Tana River, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera and Garissa benefitting 179,664 people.

Some County governments among them Kajiado, Turkana, and Marsabit in collaboration with the County NDMA offices responded to drought emergencies through rehabilitation of boreholes, conducting water trucking and provision of fuel subsidies. The county government of Kajiado, in addition, constructed a hay store in Kajiado Central targeting 1,250 households.

Challenges with mitigation and adaptation strategies used

As much as the government intervened in helping pastoralists cope with effects of drought in the 2016/2017, pastoralists still lost their livestock because the efforts made were inadequate to cover the large number of the livestock affected. For instance, the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program (KLIP), covers five animals or fewer per household and also the scheme is available to only six counties that include Turkana, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo and Tana River out of the total 23 counties that were affected by drought. Furthermore, the feed stores where pastoralists are supposed to spend their insurance payouts to ensure their animals’ survival, are often far away from pastoralists’ residence. Similarly, the feeds pellets given through NDMA to households were not only inadequate but were also issued to few households.

The KMC destocking interventions were not timely which saw some counties like Kajiado pastoralists selling their livestock for as low as Kshs. 500 in the local market. Moreover, the off-take programme generally pays less than the potential market rate. The school feeding programme was faced with a sustainability challenge due to insufficient resources. Inadequate funding saw WFP discontinue school meals between January and March 2017 affecting 460,000 children in all the seven counties including Lamu, Tana River, Isiolo, Marsabit, Garissa, Mandera and Wajir where it operates. Similarly, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology delayed in disbursing HGSMP funds meant to enhance retention and stable school attendance in the country including in pastoralists communities leading to children dropping out of school.


To make pastoralism sustainable and enhance pastoralists’ resilience to impacts of droughts, the country needs to come up with other approaches of mitigating effects of drought to complement the already existing ones.

The county governments in drought prone areas can establish community hay storage facilities to support pastoralists who have no capability to establish their own storage facilities. In addition, the county governments can provide fodder crops that appropriately suit the climate and soils in their county to the households. Furthermore, the NDMA can also facilitate raising of fodder in government’s as well as farmer’s land with buy back arrangements.

Establishment of feedlot systems by counties that have a comparative advantage in beef production could be a possible solution for pastoralists in mitigating impacts of drought. Feedlot is a grazing system in which animals are confined and provided with feed and water. The system helps to improve body weight and attract favourable prices in the market. Feedlot system is universally practiced in beef production in various countries that include Argentina, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Namibia and South Africa. In Kenya, feedlot system is at its introduction stage by two business partners in Milimani Village of Chaka in Nyeri County who started the venture in 2015. Adoption of feedlot system will lead to reduced livestock movement in search of pasture and water, check on the spread of livestock diseases as well as result in improved, healthy and quality animals. With the expectation of increased number of animals from the feedlot system, the counties can establish hides and skin cottage industries which are among the priority in the manufacturing sector. By so doing, these counties will support the national government in promoting the manufacturing sector one of the big four government agenda.

Vulnerable communities need to participate in drought preparedness measures such as feed conservation like hay which can be stored for several months. Involving the community in drought mitigation is likely to reduce community dependence in government support in feed subsidies and drought relief packages when faced with drought. Furthermore, community involvement in drought mitigation is important in ensuring sustainability and ownership of initiatives as has been with Home Grown School Meal Programme. With the HGSMP, the community is usually involved at all levels and therefore they own the process.

To cope with the delayed disbursement and inadequate funding of the HGSMP and WFP school feeding programme respectively, the county governments need to support the communities in starting school farming projects and embrace storage of the produce which can be consumed in the event of drought occurrence. The initiative will not only reduce absenteeism in school but also ensure sustainability of the school feeding programme.

With just a few people benefiting from the limited safety nets such as cash transfers and food aid across the county in relation to the large number affected by drought, the counties that are prone to drought need to increase their contingency fund to compliment the national government efforts at times of drought.


Author: Edith Wairimu, Productive Sector Division

Photo: Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation

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