Marsabit County in Kenya is dry and vast. A large desert covers our project areas and drought is recurring with potentially devastating effects to the pastoral communities who live in Marsabit County. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL’s Kenya team has been working to build resilience for these communities since 2006, focusing on water, livelihoods and community managed disaster risk reduction (CMDRR). Getachew Demesa, our Field Coordinator in North Horr, reflects on his experiences there.
What is it like to work in Marsabit County?
It’s an absolute pleasure! I’ve worked in places with a similar climate such as Darfur. The context is of course different, but the most significant difference is that Marsabit County is generally peaceful with only small pockets of sporadic intercommunity violence. However, the populations we work with are very cooperative and willing to engage in introduced concepts such as CMDRR. Communities are slowly moving away from the dependency syndrome a lot of places suffer from. The purpose of CMDRR is for communities to be in the centre of decision making. We are just there to facilitate the process.
We also introduced farming for pastoral communities to diversify income sources in case a natural hazard destroys a livelihood. This was challenging at first, but after some time and frequent dialogue, pastoralists are growing their own food!
Why do you think SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has been so successful in Marsabit County?
A number of reasons: the initiatives themselves are well-designed. But the main reason why we have been successful here is thanks to the staff. A majority of them come from Marsabit County and possess much needed cultural knowledge. The staff and I speak the local languages. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL staff members are literally neighbours with beneficiaries. As a result, the communities trust us and our intentions. I think the pastoralists who engaged in farming are a perfect example of how community trust can overcome reluctance of engaging in a totally new livelihood.
But can anything grow in the desert?
Of course! The idea that nothing can grow in the desert is completely false. I even built a small greenhouse using wood, a wide net, some soil from a few kilometres away and seeds. Plastic bottles cut in half are used as pots. This is the type of innovation Solidarités International is known for, and the practices should start from home. We’ve grown and harvested spinach and colewort this far. Onions are next!