A growing success in the shadow of famine

In 2011 East Africa was in the grip of its worst drought for 60 years, and a staggering 230,000 people are estimated to have died. Islamic Relief was in the forefront of providing emergency aid in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, but we are also part of a small success story in a remote part of Kenya which offers real hope for the future.

Dry, dusty Mandera county is in the far north east, bordering Somalia. While most of Mandera struggled to survive during the 2011 drought, some families fared much better because of an Islamic Relief project that is helping communities switch from livestock farming to growing crops on land irrigated by the river Daua. People are changing their whole way of life to fight back against climate change.

For many generations most of the population of Mandera have lived as pastoralists: itinerant livestock farmers who roam over vast areas to find pasture for their cows and goats. But a succession of severe droughts are taking their toll on this way of life, killing millions of livestock and leaving many pastoralists dependent on food aid to survive.

Not Ishmail Mohamed, 36, and his wife, Nuria Ahmed. They can now feed their seven children without emergency aid – and managed to do so in the face of the most severe of droughts in 2011.

Before he got fully involved with Islamic Relief’s irrigation project, four of Ishmail’s children were acutely malnourished and enrolled in Islamic Relief’s therapeutic feeding programme. Now all seven are thriving.

“There’s not enough rain to keep livestock any more,” explains Ishmail, who used to have 100 cattle but now has just a handful of cows to provide milk for his children. “In the future I intend to reduce my numbers of livestock further and concentrate on growing crops.” He already grows maize, beans and cash crops such as capsicum, onions, tomatoes, pawpaws and kale.

Ishmail may be sad that he won’t hand the pastoralist skills of his forebears to his children, but he is also proud of his new expertise. “Onions are our best crop, there’s a high demand and we get a good price. We normally sell to wholesalers and traders who transport them to Nairobi.”

If Ishmail did not have this chance and his children became malnourished again, it would cost around £33.70 per month to provide food aid for his family. But it costs only £19 per month to provide a family like Ishmail’s with seeds and diesel to irrigate and cultivate an acre of land – which goes to show that disaster protection can save money as well as lives.

Islamic Relief is facing the reality that pure pastoralism is no longer sustainable for large numbers of people because of climate change. The landscape is too barren, and livestock are simply too vulnerable. So funds from our Ramadan appeal last year are helping 55,000 people like Ishmail to find new ways to make a living and even embrace a whole new way of life – boosted by an additional donation from the UK Government. In the long run the beneficiaries are expected to become self sufficient, selling their produce and feeding their families themselves.

Check out our Infographic and video, which summarise our wide-ranging work in disaster protection.