As Kenya’s farmers recover from one of the worst droughts for more than 10 years, their donkeys are taking much of the strain. Because so many oxen died during the water shortage, the farmers have had to put their surviving donkeys to work ploughing the land. Our team based in Kenya have been helping these farmers keep their donkeys as healthy as possible. Field officer Wycliffe Gwatemba told me about his meeting with one man whose donkeys are saving him and his family from severe hardship.
“I visited Ikalaasa in the Eastern province of Kenya, a place hit particularly hard by the drought,” says Wycliffe. “After the recent rains, all is now green, and farmers are frantically trying to plant crops to make use of this rain. Donkeys are putting on weight again and when we arrive in the areas, farmers quickly gather to have their donkeys de-wormed, and discuss matters of concern. With so many donkeys showing signs of wounds on the back of their neck, we soon realise the true toll that the massive loss of oxen is still having on the donkeys that have survived.”
The story of Mumo, a farmer Wycliffe met in Ikalaasa, is fairly typical. Mumo has two donkeys, Kavisi and Mwiti, which he used to use for fetching water from a river eight kilometres away, transporting firewood from nearby bushes, and carrying goods to market. But now that Mumo’s oxen have died, the donkeys are also taking on some arduous farm work.
“With my two bulls dead I have no choice but to use them for ploughing, otherwise we have nothing to harvest, eat or sell,” he told Wycliffe. “The donkeys are a Godsend and will help us buy oxen again, if we can keep them strong.” He described how, when he first put Kavisi and Mwiti to work on the fields, they started ploughing without any training at all, as if they understood that the oxen were gone and it was important for them to do the job instead.
Wycliffe and his team will continue to monitor Kavisi and Mwiti along with the many others like them, whose hardiness and adaptability are enabling their owners to rebuild their lives.