Issue 53 - Article 6

Mitigating the impact of drought in Moyale District, Northern Kenya

March 19, 2012
Wendy Erasmus, Leina Mpoke and Yacob Yishak, Concern Worldwide
Drought in Moyale, Borena zone

Moyale District in northern Kenya is a sparsely populated area. Livestock account for 70% of household income, and 67% of the population live below the poverty line. Droughts have eroded household assets and further reduced the coping mechanisms available to the pastoralist residents of Moyale. Yet a recent survey revealed that severe acute and global acute malnutrition rates in Moyale are much lower than in the neighbouring areas of Marsabit and north-west Wajir, where similar conditions prevail. Why has Moyale fared better? This article argues that Concern’s approach to working in the district was key to improving both malnutrition rates and resilience.

The key components of Concern’s approach are:

  • Creating resilience over the long term.
  • Strengthening government capacity to respond.
  • Early scaling up of food, nutrition and livelihood interventions.
  • Good coordination.

By diversifying livelihoods, switching to more drought-resistant livestock species and breeds, improving rangeland management, mitigating resource-based conflicts and lengthening the water availability period, the ability of pastoralists in Moyale District to withstand the 2011 drought affecting Northern Kenya was enhanced. Working closely with communities and local government authorities (and simultaneously building capacity), WFP and other NGOs operating in the area was critical to achieving impact.

Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR)

Concern has been implementing an integrated set of initiatives designed to create resilience among pastoralist communities in Moyale District since 2006. The central component is community dialogue. Concern uses the Community Conversations (CCs) approach, which places pastoralists at the centre of the changes and initiatives described in this article. In this way we are able to learn from and build on traditional pastoralist mechanisms and systems for managing drought.

Managing drought is a normal part of pastoralism. In the past, drought came in ten-year cycles, enabling pastoralists to build up their herds and regenerate pasture and water resources to withstand the next drought. Over the past 30 years, however, drought cycles have been shrinking to every five years and now every two years – and the droughts are more prolonged. Ever-shrinking drought cycles hinder pastoralists’ traditional drought management strategies, making them less resilient. CMDRR aims to help pastoralists to adapt their strategies to take into account changing climatic conditions. Specific CMDRR activities are designed to reduce poor communities’ risk and vulnerability to drought and enable them to prepare for future drought by strengthening traditional coping mechanisms.

Communities undertake a range of inter-related development activities whose flexible timeframe and scope can be adapted as a crisis develops. As drought conditions worsen, pastoralist communities focus more and more on basic survival. They are forced to migrate in search of pasture and water, and they move to areas where relief food distributions are likely to take place. Concern shifts its focus to emergency and recovery as pastoralists shift theirs. Reducing and expanding development activities as drought conditions progress requires flexibility from both development and emergency donors. Concern integrates this principle into its project documents and communicates changes in operating conditions to its donors at an early stage.

Promoting diversified livelihoods

Being solely dependent on livestock is a risky livelihood strategy. Moyale town in particular benefits from a booming petty trade market with a strong cross-border element and a vibrant international and regional livestock market, giving it an advantage over Marsabit and Wajir. This well-developed market infrastructure has resulted in fewer pastoralists being completely dependent on livestock and livestock products. Nevertheless, Concern’s target group, poor pastoralists who are handicapped by their distance from the town and lack of access to capital, do not necessarily interact with these markets. Concern’s aim is to create conditions that enable poor pastoralists to interact with markets by strengthening the livestock product value chain and encouraging and supporting livelihood diversification.

Concern has introduced retail businesses, hide and skins trade, veterinary pharmacies and dryland farming. Dryland farming is of particular note; it has enabled the production of kale, onion, tomatoes and fruits (papaya, oranges and passion fruit), which are marketable and improve dietary diversity. Concern provided the resources and developed a link between interested communities and the Department of Crop Production in the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to facilitate procurement, installation and the provision of technical advice to community-managed micro irrigation. Seeds suitable for the dry climate were part of the package.

Switching to drought-resistant livestock

One of the changes resulting from Community Conversations was that poor pastoralist communities came to understand the potential benefits of diversifying their livestock holdings to include camels. Camels are more drought-resistant and their milk is more nutrient-rich than cow’s milk for children under five years of age. Pastoralist communities subsequently began acquiring camels through marriage, gifts and the sale of cattle, sheep and goats. In addition to facilitating the CCs, Concern has promoted this community-driven shift by providing technical advice to communities and livestock health workers on how to manage camels and camel herds.

Rangeland management

CCs were also the vehicle through which Concern addressed rangeland management issues. Through CCs, pastoralist communities were able to distinguish between positive traditional grazing practices, such as controlled grazing to avoid livestock trampling and destroying grazing areas, and negative practices, such as letting animals graze in the rainwater catchment area and damage the catchment capacity. Building on the existing community-based Environmental Management Committees (EMCs), Concern gave communities training and technical advice on using deadwood and tree prunings for fencing and firewood, rather than completely destroying the tree. Concern provided information on how managing animal grazing (reducing overgrazing and uncontrolled random grazing) reduces pasture degradation and enables its regeneration, and how it contributes to the control of livestock disease.

Conflict mitigation

Conflict in Moyale often flares up when neighbouring communities vie over scarce resources. Working through traditional peace committees, Concern brought groups together to discuss and agree on solutions to conflict. One solution has been to organise and enforce grazing patterns designed to avoid conflict. As resources became scarcer in 2011, these  committees met more frequently and agreed to allow livestock to move freely between water and pasture, prolonging animal production to support households that would otherwise have suffered from malnutrition. Lastly, Concern linked community peace committees to the District Security Team to enable more rapid interventions by the authorities when conflict did arise.

Increasing water availability

Water points in Northern Kenya are managed by Water Users Associations (WUAs). In collaboration with WUAs, Concern constructed water catchments – dams and underground tanks – to harvest rainwater. This contributed to resilience in two ways: it reduced the distance pastoralists had to travel in search of water, and it increased the availability of water between rains by increasing storage capacity.

Strengthening government capacity

Concern has been implementing a nutrition project in collaboration with the Moyale District Health Management Team (DHMT) since the drought in 2009. Following the acute emergency phase, Concern’s aim was to reduce health-and nutrition-related morbidity and mortality while enabling the DHMT to prevent and treat acute malnutrition and establish systems to mount an early response to the next crisis. This included technical training to DHMT staff including Community Health Workers (CHWs), establishing technical protocols and quality of care oversight systems and adopting interventions with the highest impact on mortality.

Scaling up food, nutrition and livelihood interventions

In 2010, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) indicated that Moyale District was at risk of becoming ‘highly food insecure’. This warning led Concern, in collaboration with the Kenyan government and local partners, to begin scaling up High Impact Nutritional Interventions (HINI) across the District. HINI is a package of interventions proven to reduce mortality rates. It includes management of acute malnutrition, vitamin and mineral supplementation (Vitamin A, Zinc, etc), immunisation, de-worming, promotion of appropriate child feeding and hygiene practices, and nutrition education.  One hundred and twenty-three CHWs were recruited to increase coverage around health facilities offering nutrition services. This was instrumental in the early detection of malnutrition cases, which allowed for admission in Supplementary Feeding Programs before children’s health deteriorated further. The Ministry of Health was supported in the opening of six new health facilities, and formal and on-the-job training was provided for health workers. At the start only two staff members from rural health facilities had received Integrated Managing Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) training; currently more than 46 are trained. Vulnerable households within Moyale were linked to other programmes, such as World Vision’s Project for Emergency Assistance in Kenya (PEAK) programme. These additional programmes provided livelihood, agriculture and educational support. High Impact Nutrition Interventions were adopted at health facilities and through outreach, and aggravating factors, such as poor water quality, were mitigated through the distribution of water purification tablets to households and at health facilities. As the situation continued to deteriorate with the approach of the rains, and indictors confirmed a breakdown in coping mechanisms among poor pastoralists, Concern initiated a food voucher scheme for 3,000 poor households not receiving other assistance. These households were identified through community based targeting mechanisms. In all, these interventions reached 33,935 direct beneficiaries, including 7,000 children under five and 1,500 pregnant and lactating women.


A concerted coordination effort was made between Concern, World Vision, WFP and the DHMT to streamline supply pipelines of both food and nutrition treatment commodities. Families of children and women admitted to nutrition treatment programmes were also targeted for food aid. Recovered children were therefore discharged into a household environment where sufficient food was available. This enabled faster recovery and a reduction in the number of cases slipping from moderate to severe malnutrition.

Targeting DRR interventions to strengthen the resilience of families at high risk of or with malnourished children was another important aspect of Concern’s approach. Coordinating these sectoral inputs made a visible impact in terms of lower rates of malnutrition in Moyale.


Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in Moyale was at 1.5% in June 2011, one-third of the 5% found in Marsabit and one-quarter the SAM rate of 6.8% found in north-west Wajir. Moyale has a Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate of 13.7%, which is half that of Marsabit and Wajir. Moyale experienced only a 1.4% increase in GAM between June 2010 and June 2011, despite severe drought conditions. During the same period GAM rates in neighbouring Marsabit and Wajir north-west rose by 13.7% and 8.1%, respectively. All nutrition health services in Moyale exceeded Sphere standards, including Cured Rate, Death Rate, Coverage Rate and Defaulter Rate, with 85% of health facilities adhering to national IMAM protocols.


The need for a humanitarian response in Moyale was delayed by four months largely as a result of greater resilience among Moyale residents in general, and poor vulnerable pastoralists in particular. There is considerable scope for building further resilience among Moyale’s poor pastoralists. Concern’s future plans include the introduction of drought-resistant crops such as cassava, millet and sorghum and further livestock diversification, with the introduction of Gala Goats to smallholder herders. Goats’ milk and meat is relied upon heavily during droughts as a food and income source, and Gala Goats are more drought-resistant than the common East Africa Goat and have higher milk and meat yields. Despite the existence of water resource management systems in northern Kenya, effective management of water sources in pastoralist areas remains a challenge. Building on what we know of pastoralist movement and culture, Concern is exploring alternative management systems that exploit public–private partnerships.

Strengthening local government capacity will also be a strong focus for Concern in the future. With the DHMT, this will involve participating in DHMT budgeting processes to ensure that adequate government resources are made available, setting thresholds, strategies and protocols for the scaling up and down of health and nutrition strategies and monitoring mechanisms aimed at informing triggers for scaling up. Concern will also form stronger links with the local government arms of the Ministry of Livestock Production and the MoA.

Wendy Erasmus is Assistant Country Director for Programmes, Concern Worldwide, Kenya. Leina Mpoke is Programme Manager for Rural Livelihoods and Yacob Yishak is Nutrition Coordinator.


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