Navigating drought in the highlands and plains of Loita Forest

A landscape view of parts of Loita forest. Loita Forest, or Naimina Enkiyio, meaning the Forest of the Lost Child, is situated in the south-west part of the country, directly adjacent to the plains of the Masai Mara, and the Great Rift Valley, Kenya. I live in Loita Forest and we consider Loita to be very sacred, and it is where many of the blessings and our initiation cultural practices take place. Although for a long time Loita Forest has provided a safe haven for us Maasai, in the past few years, we have been seeing the impacts of climate change manifest here in erratic rainfall patterns, and extreme cases of flooding, or extended periods of drought. HIDE Mokompo Ole Simel is a spiritual and cultural leader, a rainmaker, and chief Laibon among the maasai community, who lives in Loita Forest. He is from the Senteu family lineage, from which all the Laibons have inherited the position. As such, he is charged to protect the Forest, a position he is now grooming one of his sons for. Mokompo Ole Simel foresaw the shortage of rain, which has affected our communities in the past year. Those who sought his counsel - although he speaks in parables- were able to avoid the devastating yield of maize, which has plagued many of us. Mokompo is the guardian of Loita Forest and is strongly opposed to land demarcation, which would mean that each household gets a specific piece of land. He believes demarcation, rather than community ownership, will exacerbate the effects of climate change, as there won't be clear boundaries anymore, and people will devalue his authority. According to Mokompo, the drought is being caused by people increasingly lacking respect for the forest, and cutting down trees. HIDE Although I live on a hill top at the heart of Loita Forest, where livestock can get weeds, the landscape is not good enough to keep my livestock in proper health. My cows have grown very weak lately. This has resulted in me having to employ more herdsmen to help them graze. HIDE A young herdsmen, Ole Mpoke, is watching over cattle in a temporary shed in Loita Forest near my home. Ole Mpoke comes from the plains of Loita, in an area called Narosura. In the plains further away from the forest, like Narosura, drought is being felt more adversely. Ole Mpoke has migrated temporarily to this area with his father's cattle to seek refuge, and greener pasture. He however tells me that he has to walk the cattle much further than he used to, in the depths of the forest, to find suitable pasture this time. HIDE The drought and lack of rainfall we have experienced in this region mean our households don't have enough water. Personally, I am able to purchase water from a tanker, and to fill a tank for my home, seen in this photograph. But many women and families in the community are not able to purchase water, and rely on small natural water points in the area, which may or may not be guaranteed depending on the weather. HIDE Tuya is digging out a water hole from a dried water bed. Tuya and his family live on the plains of Loita. In this area, water is a lot more scarce. The day begins early for him, and his family, as they search for water. With a shovel in his hand, Tuya sets about digging through what was previously a water passage and river until he finds a ground with water. HIDE shopping_cart BUY After Tuya identified a water point in the river bed, Tuya's family followed along the river passage with pitchers and cattle. Cattle have to drink everyday and therefore this is a journey that Tuya and his family have to make every day. According to him, this challenge - the shortage of water during drought - is one that can be resolved by building dams to harvest the excess water received in rainy seasons. HIDE Back home my neighbour and relative Norkiremisho stands next to her cow after milking.She sells milk to earn an income. On a normal day, she would be able to produce enough to serve her home, and to have surplus milk to sell. But her cattle hasn't produced enough milk lately due to poor health, cause by drought, and she can only serve her immediate family. She now will sell at most a half cup of milk now. From being able to sell up to ten litres of milk a few years ago, Norkiremisho is now only able to sell one cup at most. She reserves the rest for her youngest children. HIDE Nasha another relative ferries firewood. Unlike Norkiremisho, Nasha hasn't been able to sell milk at all. Her cattle have migrated deeper into Loita forest for pasture, and she has been left with none to milk. As an alternative, Nasha now sells and fetches firewood from fallen trees, which she finds in the forest. HIDE Maeu, a 32 year old woman Ma woman, and now mother of three, considers her sheep her bank. Whenever there is need for money - be it school fees or a medical bill - she is able to sell cattle, and facilitate that need. This year, 3 goats and one of her sheep have succumbed to the drought, leaving her with 5, none of which are good for sale. She and her brother have made a decision to have their sheep graze together to minimize the use of resources, and avoid hiring shepherd boys to look after the latter. HIDE Maue's celebrates a bountiful produce of eggs from her chickens Maue has also been practicing growing crops such as maize for sale. However due to the lack of rainfall in the previous year, she did not harvest a good yield this year. She mad the decision to reserve some of the harvest for food at her home and sell the rest to invest in an alternative type of farming; poultry. This has helped her to feed her family and supports her in generating income when she sells the eggs. shopping_cart BUY HIDE