Turkana in northern Kenya is one of the driest regions of the East African nation. This 77,000 square kilometre county receives an average of just 200mm of rain annually, compared to a national average of 680mm. And with three consecutive rain seasons failing since 2020, many residents are now faced with food scarcity, one of the painful effects of an ongoing drought. According to Peter Eripete, Turkana County’s Head of Public Service, the effects of drought are hardest felt by the residents who are mainly pastoralists. Their reliance on livestock means that when their livestock die, their income levels fall drastically, affecting entire families’ food security. In Kangirenga Village in Katilu, an administrative Ward in southern Turkana, we found Lokutan Amaler preparing her only meal for the day - boiled maize. Food has been hard to come by for Lokutan and her family. “I had nothing to eat. All my food storage containers are empty. If I had not received this maize from a well wisher, I would not have had anything to eat today” Lokutan explained as she stirred the boiling maize in a cooking pot over a three-stone fire. Traditionally, the Turkana people have always been dependent on their livestock for sustenance. Whenever they need to buy foodstuffs or household supplies, they sell a goat or cow at the market and with the money received, make the necessary purchases. But with the shortage of rains leading to a lack of pasture, many cows, goats and even camels have died, leading to a loss of income for many across this vast county. To get out of the recurring cycle of lack of food whenever drought visits, a few people have now diversified their sources of sustenance. Lokutan has planted green grams a short walk from her home. Her garden is part of a 10-acre agriculture project initiated by Panafricaire. Eunice Eseison, who coordinates the farming project for Panafricaire says “Convincing the residents to take up farming was an uphill task. Though a few saw the sense it made, it took us very long to convince many that farming was something they could do profitably because it went against their culture”. But with time, those who enrolled in the project including Lokutan have seen the benefits after finding an alternative source of food at every harvest, and income when the excess is sold in the local market. While the work done by organizations like PanAfricaire to mitigate the effects of drought are commendable, food security still remains a concern in Turkana. Greater investments are needed to have more land under cultivation with improved farming practices that will increase productivity from the land. This will allow greater year-round harvests for Lokutan and other farmers, ensuring that they are always cushioned from the harmful effects of the drought.
On 12 May Rio Conventions Pavilion hosted its first-ever Food Day at UNCCD COP15, with representatives of international organizations, civil society and the indigenous leaders discussing the science and approaches that can help reshape our relationship with the land to secure the future of our food. We cannot achieve Land Degradation Neutrality, biodiversity or climate targets without changing the way we produce and consume food. The advantage of the current generation, stressed the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw, is that we can be the leaders of this change. Agroecological approaches that emerged from the 2021 Food Systems Summit can enhance productivity and resilience, reduce emissions and chemical inputs while also meeting people’s needs. The recently published 2nd edition of the UNCCD Global Land Outlook presents the scenarios of the future, and the “business-as-usual” scenario will lead us to the future that no-one wants. With the agricultural sector as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases, we urgently need to invest in land restoration and sustainable land management, restoring the land area five times as large as the United States if we want to secure the future of our food and the health of our planet. If we restore nature, we can provide more than one-third of climate mitigation needed to limit global warming to 1.5 °C by 2030. As the food tastes better when it is shared at a common table, so the approaches to reshaping our food systems need to be shared as well, helping us reduce environmental and humanitarian crises and create a nature-positive future. The meeting participants highlighted that powerful change can only take place when the efforts of the UN conventions for land, biodiversity and climate as well as their partner agencies are integrated, particularly in planning and reporting. In the spirit of sharing, the indigenous activists from Kenya and Chad presented the perspectives of their communities for whom land is their culture, identity and life-giving source. They stressed that securing women’s right to secure and equal access to land is a key incentive for sustainable land management, together with strong legislation adapted to the needs of ecosystems and local communities. The evidence is strong that community-led initiatives bring lasting results, improve access to livelihoods for women and youth, reduce conflict and encourage responsibility for sustainability. Stay with us for more thematic days coming up at the UNCCD COP15 Rio Convention Pavilion: https://www.unccd.int/cop15/rio-conventions-pavilion