To strengthen resilience in the Horn of Africa against natural hazards like drought, which can lead to cattle losses and increased food insecurity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting pastoralists in northeastern Kenya's Mandera County to grow pasture for livestock.
"Like any other crop, pasture can be grown, nurtured and stored for use in times of need, allowing for a great rate of recovery of degraded land when rested," said Paul Opio, FAO livestock and pastoralism expert.
Composed of arid and semi-arid areas, Mandera County forms part of a cross-border region between Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia where pastoralist communities are highly vulnerable to recurrent droughts that degrade rangelands and reduce access to traditional grazing areas.
In Mandera, hands-on learning methods for producing, managing and utilizing fodder are taught in a 'school without walls,' where groups of 20 to 30 men, women and youth learn through experiential and participatory sessions.
Not initially part of community decision-making, the vice-chair of one group pointed out that breaking traditional barriers have benefited women and youth.
For pastoralist families, food security is improved and incomes are higher -- Khalif Ibrahim Barrow, FAO/IGAD Partnership Programme
"Women are able to produce, store and sell hay bales and are, therefore, no longer dependent on men for most of their upkeep," explained Shanqaray Hassan Mohamed.
As part of a partnership programme on drought resilience, FAO, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and others have formed a total of ten Agro Pastoral Field Schools (APFS) across five project sites.
At the field schools, participants study each stage of feed production and preservation from preparing the land to planting seeds and whether to water by rain or irrigation - right up to harvesting, and preserving and storing pasture seeds and hay bales.
The learning cycle takes four months to complete and is offered twice a year, matching the rainy seasons. Farmers are also taught the best ways to remove invasive weeds, notably "Prosopis spp," which is accelerating the rate of degradation of rangeland ecosystems.
The field schools use comparative experimentation as a key learning method. For example, participants observe how two similarly planted plots treated in different ways develop over various stages. They also analyze and discuss innovative problem-solving techniques and explore new methods to improve breeding and animal husbandry practices.
"As a result of the APFS, we are seeing improved pasture availability and restoration of degraded lands, while livestock body conditions have improved and mortality has been reduced," Khalif Ibrahim Barrow, focal point for the Mandera County FAO/IGAD Partnership Programme, summed up the schools' benefits.
"For pastoralist families, food security is improved and incomes are higher," he added, concluding: "In short, communities have become a lot more resilient."