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Photo by Dave Anderson, Heifer International
Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations posted a warning on the Horn of Africa crisis that speaks directly to Heifer staff, supporters, donors and potential partners: “Predictable, sustained support for rural economies and livelihoods is needed to avoid future crises.”
As world governments met today (Thursday) in Ethiopia for an international pledging conference aimed at winning more aid for the Horn of Africa, the FAO warned that efforts to keep farmers and pastoralists on their feet, prevent the crisis from worsening and speed progress toward recovery are not being adequately funded.
Heifer International is not an aid organization, our model to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth focuses on long-term solutions. The current drought and extreme hunger crisis in East Africa is not new. Though awareness has recently been raised through recent news coverage, including of visits from Jill Biden’s visit to refugee camps of Somalians and a promise of more U.S. aid, this same drought cycle has been battering the farmers and people of the region for more than a decade.
Read this article from The Economist from 2009 that describes the cycle:
“The drought cycle in east Africa has been contracting sharply. Rains used to fail every nine or ten years. Then the cycle seemed to go down to five years. Now, it seems, the region faces drought every two or three years. The time for recovery—for rebuilding stocks of food and cattle—is ever shorter. And if the rains fail before the end of this year, an unimaginably dreadful catastrophe could ensue.”
Just two years later, the catastrophe is here. Will we hand out aid again and not dig deeper to long-term solutions that help people survive despite the drought? Will the images and stories fade until two years from now, when it all happens again, we’ll scramble to repeat the inadequate response?
Heifer’s camel projects in Kenya and Tanzania have already helped farmers and pastoralists recover from loss of cattle and near starvation on a small scale. We’re studying ways to expand our model in Kenya to Ethiopia and Somalia to address the long-term needs of the people in this area. But as the FAO warns, support, funding and dedication to long-term solutions are critical. Yes, refugees need aid now. Yes, they also need a sustainable solution to get them out of camps with no way to support themselves.
Would you be interested in supporting a long-term project using Heifer’s model? Please share your ideas, concerns, hopes for how we can work together in comments here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heifer’s Kenya Country Program staff recently held a workshop for staff in the Nyanza and Western regions of Kenya to the Adaptation and Dissemination of Push-Pull Technology (ADOPT) project.
Okay, before you click away, thinking, workshop: boring; Push-Pull: never heard of it… Hear me out.
Push-Pull is super cool. It’s a simple agricultural technology developed 10 years ago to control the stemborer insects and striga weeds that destroy crops and cause poor harvests, increasing livelihood vulnerability in affected areas.
Imagine you’re a farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa, and you grow maize. Aside from being harmful on many levels, chemical herbicides and pesticides are absolutely out of your budget. To implement Push-Pull, you will plant your maize crop with a repellent intercrop, like desmodium, for your push; you plant an attractive trap plant, like Napier grass as a border crop, for your pull. The push crop repels stemborers, pushing them to the attractive Napier, which traps the and kills stemborers (an added bonus is that the Napier grass doesn’t suffer from this, allowing it to be harvested and used or sold for livestock fodder). Maize isn’t the only crop farmers can do this with; it’s also proven to be useful in protecting sorghum and millet crops.
Watch this video from ICIPE:
So, back to the ADOPT project, which will be implemented by Heifer Kenya, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Upon opening the workshop, Heifer’s Kenya Country Director Alex Kirui said, “As a development organization, we have the opportunity to disseminate technology from research institutions to farmers.” the ADOPT project’s overall objective is to enhance food security and increase prosperity for poor smallholder farmers in Africa who are vulnerable to climate change, including less predictable rainfall. The project’s activities will include identification, testing and selection of new drought-tolerant trap and intercrop plants that can be incorporated into the Push-Pull system, which will enable expansion into drier areas, develop capacity and promote widespread uptake. Heifer’s key role will be to mobilize and train farmers to integrate livestock production into crop farming system. The project aims to impact more than 10,000 farm families in Nyanza and Western Kenya.
With ICIPE and Heifer Kenya’s partnership, farm families–including those in non-ADOPT project areas–will enjoy easier access to desmodium fodder plant seeds through a desmodium revolving fund. The project’s original farmers will be the first to receive desmodium seeds from ICIPE. After they plant and harvest the seeds, they will pass new seeds on to other farmers through Heifer’s Pass on the Gift model.
“We are sure of a win-win partnership with Heifer Kenya. We are aware of Heifer Kenya’s systematic and organized entry into communities. The Passing on the Gift principle, too, is an asset that Heifer Kenya needs to be congratulated for, as it promotes sustainability and the spread of gifts in the community. That is why we want to replicate this in the desmodium seeds revolving fund,” Jimmy Pittchar of ICIPE said.
Photograph by Geoff Oliver Bugbee
Yesterday, the United Nations officially declared famine in two southern regions of Somalia, brought on by the worst drought there in 60 years.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden said that if action isn’t taken now, “famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia in two months due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.” (Read the entire AFP story on the announcement here.)
While Heifer has no projects in Somalia, about 78,000 Somalis have fled to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, where we do work. The influx has placed further strain on those countries, which are also dealing with drought.
We will continue to closely monitor the situation, and will update you on how our projects are faring as soon as we hear from our staff there.
However, about $1.6 billion is needed right now to help combat the crisis. There are a number of organizations already providing aid and relief in the Horn of Africa.
CNN posted this story that includes a number of ways you can help the relief efforts underway. Other organizations assisting in aid and relief can be found here.
We said this a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating: If you can’t spare money to donate, share news of this crisis with friends and family. Follow the organizations on the ground via Twitter and Facebook. Even these small actions can make a difference.
Below the photo is a news release from InterAction. The gist of it is this: in southern Somalia, drought has given way to famine and will be announced as such by the United Nations sometime today.
While Heifer does not have projects in Somalia, we do work in Kenya, which has been hit hard by the drought as well, particularly as Somalian refugees flood into Kenya seeking relief. In an email from Alex Kirui, our Kenya country director, I have learned our Kenya staff is currently assessing the drought situation in the pastoral parts of the country. We expect to hear back next week, but a bit of good news in the meantime regarding Heifer participants in Kenya is that our dairy project areas have not been affected by the drought, because the region has received normal rains. We will keep you posted on how our project participants are faring. In the meantime, I urge you to a) keep up with news coverage of this crisis, and b) give generously what you are able to organizations who are on the ground providing aid and relief.
We feel lucky to report that our dairy project participants have received enough rain.
Please continue reading to learn more about the drought-turned-famine in East Africa.
U.S. NGOs urge strong global response to East Africa crisis
WASHINGTON (July 19, 2011)—The United Nations is expected to officially declare famine in parts of southern Somalia tomorrow (Wednesday, July 20), marking a new phase in a crisis that has affected the East Africa region.
“Governments need to wake up to the severity of this crisis and meet critical funding needs. Severe malnutrition rates, acute hunger and alarming refugee flows demand an extraordinary international response,” said Samuel A. Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs.
At least 25 of InterAction’s members are responding to the crisis in East Africa, which has been hit by the worst drought in 60 years, spiraling food prices and ongoing conflict. More than 11 million people are at risk, according to U.N. estimates, and hundreds of thousands have fled Somalia to overcrowded refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The response by the humanitarian community has been hampered by complex security issues as well as legal restrictions in place to prevent donor funds from reaching extremist groups such as al-Shabaab, which controls much of southern Somalia.
Al-Shabaab has said it will allow international humanitarian groups access to affected areas, a promise it needs to keep if aid is to reach populations most in need.
“For aid to flow into southern Somalia at the levels required, al-Shabaab will have to cease its harassment of international aid agencies and staff, while the U.S. and other donor governments will have to trust the procedures of experienced aid organizations to ensure that aid reaches vulnerable people without diversion,” said Worthington.
The U.S. government has provided $383 million in fiscal year 2011, including emergency food, water and hygiene supplies.
“While the United States has been more generous than other nations, we need to do more. We appeal to U.S. lawmakers not to cut budgets that could affect millions affected by this crisis. It is the right thing to do,” said Worthington.
by Christian DeVries
A dam at the Maasai Animal Health and Livestock Marketing Project at Suswa Center in Kenya. Located in a small valley, the dam collects rain water and stores it in nearby containers. Photos by Russ Powell
I was surprised when I found out that Suswa Centre had no electricity. On the way into town I had seen newly-built power lines; however, even though the Kenyan government installed lines to the town in 2010, not a single family has been connected.
Although I was surprised they didn’t have electricity, I was totally shocked to learn that Suswa — a town of 2,000 inhabitants — has no running water.
Josephat Mutinda (right) and Charles Otieno stand on a water holding tank overlooking the Maasai Animal Health and Livestock Marketing Project.
Currently all of the town’s water has to be brought in by truck, and in the dry season it can cost $0.27 per gallon (6.00 Kenya Shillings per liter). While this might not sound like much, you have to remember that animals need water too, so thousands of dollars are spent every day.
Ramat, with Heifer’s assistance, has built a series of weirs, pipes and water tanks to capture rain and ensure their cattle always have fresh water. In addition to generating electricity and piping gas, the Ramat Holding Center plans to pipe water into town where it can be sold substantially cheaper than current rates.
This project is a great example of how Heifer helped by providing families what they really needed. Instead of farmers receiving a cow when they already have so many, Heifer gave them a place to sell their cattle, training to ensure more animals would make it to market, and skills and tools to protect the environment. Soon the entire community’s standard of living is set to improve.
by Christian DeVries
Francis Chepyegon, communication officer with Heifer Kenya, photographs bio-gas units at the Maasai Animal Health and Livestock Marketing Project in the Narok District, Rift Valley Provence, Kenya. Photos by Russ Powell
Heifer has provided training for 11 community animal healthcare workers who live in and around Suswa Centre. These ‘barefoot vets’ service huge areas providing small farmers with essential vaccines and medication. Their impact has been phenomenal. Before this project, farmers were losing 50% of their calves to East Coast Fever; now it is only 5%. More and healthier animals resulted in increased income.
More cattle also create more manure. Ramat can hold as many as 1,000 bulls. As you can imagine, they leave behind a mountain of manure. Together Heifer and Ramat are just finishing construction on a giant bio-gas unit to collect all of this potential energy.
Once the tanks are filled they will capture the methane in a massive balloon that is 8,829 cubic feet. The staff at Ramat estimates that it will produce enough gas to generate 440kW of electricity at any one time, enough energy for 9,000 families. They also hope to install gas pipes from Ramat to Suswa, so they can sell the gas for cooking and lighting.
Heifer knew that building a bio-gas unit would also help address a very serious local environmental concern — erosion. Almost all of the trees in this area had been cut to create charcoal. This deforestation created erosion and destroyed much of the areas grasslands which the Maasai herders depended on. Ramat is working to restore these areas by limiting grazing and seeding pastures with a drought tolerant grass.
In addition to improving the environment, this project will also raise the standard of living for those who live nearby.
Check back tomorrow for the third and final part of this series. Read part one here.
Check back tomorrow for the third and final part of this series. Read part one here.
If you’re not a subscriber to The Economist, you might have missed The 9 billion-people question: A special report on feeding the world (February 26, 2011).
I had quite the surprise the other day when I sat down to read it: “Hey, I met that man!”
Posing with Heifer Africa staff and Laban Talam (on my left).
If you click over to this section, you’ll see mentioned Kabiyet Dairies and Laban Talam. Kabiyet Dairies is part of our East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) Project, and I met Talam on my visit to Kenya this past December. Talam’s farm and family are indeed as prosperous as The Economist mentions. When I asked Talam if he would be willing to come to the U.S. to provide testimony to the difference Heifer has made for his family and community, he gave me an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Laban Talam (center in gray shirt) shows us around his farm.
I’ve been a bit out of pocket, haven’t I? After our day of meetings, we traveled to Nairobi with our Heifer Kenya colleague, Alex. I accidentally slept until 8 this morning and had to rush to grab breakfast. While Pierre met with USAID Kenya, he gave Dero and me some time to be tourists. Another colleague, Francis, took us to the animal orphanage and the Giraffe Centre. It was a real treat! After finally eating some traditional food, we headed to the Heifer Kenya office.
I absolutely love going to work at headquarters in Little Rock, but if I worked at this office, I don’t think I’d ever leave. The grounds are lush and lovely, and I think I’d insist on meetings outside in the shade. The buildings are small, older and charming.
Heifer Kenya office.
The staff is so welcoming. This afternoon we have met with the Heifer Kenya staff, learning more about what they do here and putting faces to names I’ve heard before. It is such a shame, though, that I didn’t get to see the projects with Pierre at the start of last week.
Pierre discussing economies of scale and diversifying revenue.
In the short time here, I’ve learned about a pretty interesting technology. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s using solar panels to make ice… Crazy, huh? Here’s the thing–say you’re a dairy farmer in rural Kenya, and you have some cows to milk. If you take your surplus milk to a collection station or a chilling plant for it to be sold to a processor, you might only be able to make that journey once a day. Well, cows have to be milked twice a day, and with no refrigeration, you may be missing out on capturing income from the evening milking. Many farmers in this situation sell all of the morning milk, and their families wait to drink milk until the evening. Makes sense. But what if you have several cows?
Stay tuned, and I’ll dig further into this. Heifer Kenya has two of these solar ice units in use, and I really want to learn more about it.
Good news is reported on lower child death rates in Kenya and other countries. Ted Conference presenter Hans Rosling uses graphic “bubbles” to show new UN data to help us see the big picture on reaching Millennium Development Goals. Some investments — electricity, clean water, and education (especially for girls) — may take an entire generation, but great progress steadily follows.
I’ll let Mark Graham (links to Graham’s blog), a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, do the talking. From his blog post earlier today on The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog:
“East Africa is in the process of reinventing itself. The government of Rwanda has invested heavily in IT infrastructure to bring high speed internet connections to even the most remote parts of this small, resource-poor country. Kenya, similarly, has ambitious plans to become a highly wired nation and attract a share of the growing market in international business outsourcing.”
But Graham doesn’t stop there. He goes on to pose the difficult and important questions about technology and developing countries:
“Will altered connectivity really allow firms in east Africa to become hubs in the global economy? Or will improved connections simply allow foreign firms to better exploit the demand in east Africa for IT services? Perhaps most importantly, who stands to benefit? And who will be left out of these transformations?”
Thoughts or insights?