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Technology is helping Kenya’s herders adapt to climate change4 minutes read

Weather forecasts are sent as text messages, so they are compatible with basic phones

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Technology is helping Kenya's herders adapt to climate change
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For generations, Kaltuma Hassan’s clan would study the sky over Kenya’s arid north for any sign of rain — some wind here, a wisp of cloud there — to guide their parched livestock to water.

But such divination has been rendered hopeless by intensifying droughts. Days on foot can reveal nothing more than bone-dry riverbeds and grazing land baked to dust, sounding the death knell for their herd.

“You might go a long distance, and they die on the way… It is a very hard life,” Hassan told AFP in Marsabit, a sparse and drought-prone expanse where millions of pastoral families depend entirely on livestock to survive.

Today, she leaves less to chance.

The 42-year-old relies on detailed rainfall forecasts received via text message from a Kenyan tech firm to plan her migrations, a simple but life-changing resource for an ancient community learning to adapt to increasing weather extremes.

Nomadic livestock herders in East Africa’s drylands have endured climate variability for millennia, driving their relentless search for water and pasture in some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain.

But their resilience is being severely tested by climate change, forcing a rethink to traditional wisdom passed down for generations.

Kenya endures a severe drought every three to five years, the World Bank says, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity, and temperatures are rising too.

With conditions ever-more unreliable, Hassan no longer relies on warriors she once dispatched to scout for suitable grazing land for her cattle.

“They wake up very early in the morning and they look at the clouds, they look at the moon, to predict. I use this now,” she said, scrolling through customised weather updates on her phone, sent via SMS in Rendille, a local language.

The service uses advanced weather data from US agricultural intelligence firm aWhere to provide subscribers with rain and forage conditions for the week ahead in their locality.

The forecasts are sent as text messages, so they are compatible with basic phones often used by pastoralists in remote areas.

Kenyan IT firm Amfratech, which launched the SMS service earlier this year, has also rolled out a more advanced app-based version. They hope to eventually sign up tens of thousands of pastoralists.

Dry skies

Rainfall — the difference between feast and famine in East Africa and the Horn — is more erratic than ever, arriving late or not at all.

A long dry spell can set a pastoral family back years and erode their capacity to handle future shocks, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a 2018 report. 

A second blow in quick succession can leave them teetering on starvation.

Such a crisis is already brewing in Kenya’s pastoral country to the north and over its borders in neighbouring arid regions.

This year’s so-called long rains failed to arrive, putting millions at risk. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned that hunger in pastoral areas will worsen in coming months.

“It doesn’t rain like it once did,” said Nandura Pokodo, at a dusty livestock market in Merille, an outpost in Kenya’s northern pastoralist heartland. Nobody wants his drought-weary animals, so he will return home empty-handed.

“It’s harder to find pasture… year after year.”

As the rains failed, Pokodo, 55, wandered for days between March and April in search of grazing land but found nothing. He lost 20 goats and sheep — a ruinous outcome for nomads whose fortunes are intertwined with their beasts.

“Even if you have a million shillings but have no goats or sheep or camel, they consider you very poor,” said Daniel Kapana, the head of Merille market, and an intergenerational herder himself.

Turn to technology

The text messages have also helped Samuel Lkiangis Lekorima protect not just his livestock, but the safety of his community.

Longer, harsher droughts have stoked intense competition between pastoralists for ever-scarcer water and pasture. A feud between two groups over a watering hole near Ethiopia left 11 dead in May, local media reported.

Lekorima, a 22-year-old herder from Marsabit, said advance knowledge of rainfall helped keep his people wandering far, and avoid any potential tensions with distant clans.

“When I get that message, I phone people (and) tell them… don’t go far away, because there is rain soon,” he told AFP.

Other modern interventions are also playing a part, helping protect not just pastoralists but a sector that contributes more than 12 percent to Kenya’s GDP, according to the World Bank.

The Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute uses satellite imagery to determine when pasture levels are critically low — a portent of livestock death.

Some insurance products are linked to this index and issue payments before drought hits, so pastoralists can buy enough fodder for lean times ahead. Tens of thousands of herders have signed up, industry groups say.

“A drought should no longer be an emergency,” said Thomas Were, of CTA, an EU-funded institution that is driving a pastoralist-resilience project in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Helima Osman Bidu, a traditional herder and mother-of-three, has joined a women’s collective that invests in non-livestock related enterprises, another approach to drought-proofing the family finances.

“It is good to have something on the side,” she told AFP, nodding to a padlocked metal box nearby containing the group’s seed money.

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Austrian, Rosenberger, Triumphant at 2019 Safaricom East African Safari Classic Rally

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After 9 exhilarating race days across Kenya and Tanzania, Kris Rosenberger emerged as the new Safaricom East African Safari Classic Rally champion, after powering his Tuthill Porsche 911 to victory in Mombasa on Saturday.

The Austrian and co-driver Nicola Bleicher finished ahead of 2015 Safari Classic champion Stig Blomqvist, also in a Porsche 911. Rosenberger held a 1 minute 19.40 seconds advantage over Blomqvist before the final stage and went on to finish second in the final Mombasa Cement stage. The Austrian, who last rallied in Kenya in 1989, cruised to the finish of the 9-day endurance rally to claim victory by 13:01:48.

“It was a fantastic rally, our tactics were 100% right. We know Stig, he is obviously the best and we knew if we stay close to him and we had the pace and as we rallied through the last stage we pushed really hard. We also know that it’s really hard to beat Blomqvist and we are aware of that for sure. He had more problems than us and we still think he is the man and we are happy to be here”, said Rosenberger.

Blomqvist, navigated by compatriot Jorgen Fornander, applied his extensive experience in endurance rallying when things got tougher in the last two days of the rally. In the last section on Friday, his Porsche 911 steering dumper broke 50Km into the last stage, while on Saturday, he had a soft roll in the last Mombasa Cement stage thus losing some time and ultimately placing second.

Kabras Sugar Racing’s Onkar Rai completed the podium dash, finishing third in a Porsche 911 navigated by Drew Sturrock. Onkar managed to post the fastest times in 6 out of the 20 run competitive stages.

“I span in this last stage and luckily we are here. To be honest, it’s been a quick safari and to be able to beat people like Stig is a pretty big achievement for me. Drew has been on the notes and I have been on the pace. We had a bit of bad luck, it’s part of rallying and we get over it and we would like to be back in 2021, Onkar said.

Other best placed Kenyans include Onkar’s older brother Tejveer Rai/Gavin Laurence who finished 8th, ALS Motorsports Aslam Khan/Imran Khan who finished 11th,, while Kabras Sugar Racing’s Baldev Charger/Ravi Sini finished 14th.

Another notable driver who emerged as the new driver to watch was 27-year-old Welshman Osian Pryce, navigated by fellow countryman Dale Furnish. Osian set the quickest time in the prologue and went on to rack up the fastest times in 4 stages, including the 14Km last stage at Mombasa Cement in Kenya’s Kilifi County.

Local rally ace Baldev Charger was the events front runner in the early days, before falling behind. He did however, manage to post fastest times in 4 stages. Out of the 20 competitors that started the 3,390km journey, 17 survived the demanding course across Kenya and Tanzania. Italy’s Gilberto Sandretto navigated by legend Fabrizia Ponz, was forced to end his run, citing important personal reasons back at home that he had to attend to. Another exit was Kenya’s Rommy Bhamra who left the rally unexplained.

In staying true to the nature of the safari classic rally, the weather played a major role in the cancellation or revision of several stages: The Day 3 itinerary was cancelled after torrential rain and subsequent flash floods rendered several sectors of the stages impassable, forcing the organizers to give the competitors a near full extra day service in Arusha, Tanzania.

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East Africa News

Six-storey residential building collapses in Embakasi, Nairobi

Access to the scene by emergency responders was hampered by the poor state of the roads in Tassia

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Collapsed residential building in Tassia
Collapsed residential building in Tassia.

A six-storey building in Tassia, Embakasi, a suburb in Nairobi, has collapsed with scores of people inside it. According to the residents of the building, the structure began sinking at around 5:00 am this morning and eventually collapsed. Eyewitnesses at the scene say that three bodies had been retrieved as of 1:00 pm EAT.

Access to the scene by emergency responders was hampered by the poor state of the roads in Tassia estate and made even worse by the ongoing heavy rains being experienced in the city and across the country.

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The Kenya Red Cross, St. John’s Ambulance, Emergency Plus Medical Services (EMS Kenya) and the Kenya Police are at the scene and are being aided by the area residents.

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Landslides claim 38 lives in Burundi after heavy rains

Police said 22 died in Nyempundu, three in Gikomero, 13 in Rukombe, though those were provisional figures

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Landslides claim 38 lives in Burundi after heavy rains
(File photo)

At least 38 people died in Burundi after heavy rains triggered landslides that swept through hillside communities in the northwest of the country, according to a provisional police toll on Thursday.

Police said on social media that heavy rains fell on Nyempundu hills in Mugina, Cibitoke province, around 120 kilometres north of the country’s main port Bujumbura, “causing landslides.”

“It happened at night, when everyone was at home, and landslides hit three very steep hills and buried everything in their path,” a witness said.

“Whole families were buried alive in their homes or in the fields. It was terrifying.”

Police said 22 died in Nyempundu, three in Gikomero, 13 in Rukombe, though those were provisional figures.

Landslides are frequent in Burundi, a mountainous country in the Great Lakes region.

The Nyempundu hills are in a difficult region to access, about five kilometres from the Rwandan border. Local authorities including the Cibitoke Governor were at the scene, witnesses said.

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