East African farmers prepare for 'worst drought in 40 years'

Agriculture is the region's economic mainstay and absence of rainfall likely to hit hard

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A drought believed to be the worst in 40 years, is expected to hit parts of East Africa, including the Horn of Africa, prompting farmers and agricultural workers to make frantic preparations.

No rainfall is expected for the fourth consecutive year, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development said.

And as weather becomes more severe with rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean causing more frequent cyclones, meteorologists pointed to man-made climate change as a likely culprit.

East Africa's main source of livelihood comes from rain-fed agriculture and so this lack of rainfall is likely to have a massive impact.

The UN humanitarian office warned last week that the current drought “risks becoming one of the worst climate-induced emergencies in recent history in the Horn of Africa”.

Young girls stand in a field of millet outside the remote village of Hawkantaki, Niger, July 19, 2012.  A group of international aid organisations said Tuesday April 5, 2022 that West Africa is facing its worst food crisis in a decade due to increasing conflict, drought, flooding and the crisis in Ukraine that is affecting food prices and worsening an already disastrous situation. AP

Mama Charity Kimaru, who practices mixed farming by rearing livestock and planting cereals and vegetables in her 12-hectare farm in Nyandarua, about 126 kilometres north of Nairobi, is among the farmers who are preparing for the worst outcomes.

Ms Kimaru says that increased temperatures recorded over the past few months have denied her livestock pasture and the crops she had planted in anticipation of the long rainy season have failed.

The weather agency said in February that the region should prepare for a “wetter than average” and lengthy rainy season, which normally pours from March to May, but the agency revised its previous forecasts this week.

“The March, April, May rains are crucial for the region and, sadly, we are looking at not just three, but potentially four consecutive failed seasons," Workneh Gebeyehu, executive secretary of the intergovernmental agency, said.

“This, coupled with other stress factors such as conflicts in both our region and Europe, the impact of Covid-19, and macro-economic challenges, have led to acute levels of food insecurity across the greater Horn of Africa.”

Below average rainfall for 2022 are likely to prolong the already extremely dry conditions which have not been experienced to this degree since 1981. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia — which will be severely affected by the reduced rains — are already in the middle of a dire famine.

Lack of rainfall late last year and the ongoing drought during the current long rainy season have already led to crop failures and livestock deaths, causing high food prices and intercommunal conflicts over scarce pasture and dwindling water resources.

“Whenever we have intense cyclones in the Southwest Indian Ocean, we always prepare for a long drought season in eastern and the Horn regions,” Evans Mukolwe, the former science director at the UN, said.

“This is because the cyclones suck much of the moisture depriving the region of the much-needed precipitation. It has been the pattern for decades.”

Aid organisations are already concerned about how worsening climate change impacts will affect the region in the future.

“This is not the Horn’s first drought, nor is it likely to be its last," said Sean Granville-Ross, the regional director for Africa for the aid agency Mercy Corps. “As the climate emergency worsens, droughts will become more frequent and severe. People affected by climate change cannot wait for one crisis to end before preparing for the next.”

“The international response must prioritise immediate needs while allocating additional resources to long-term, smart interventions that will result in long-term change and assist communities in becoming more drought-resistant.”

Updated: April 14, 2022, 9:36 AM