Climate change behind pastoralists, farmers’ clashes

Climate change is responsible for the clashes that have being witnessed in the Tana Delta in Kenya, more clashes are expected, analysts say.

The agricultural land, according to studies been conducted by the University of Nairobi, has been drying up and becoming less arable for agriculture. Most of the less arable land is being used for pastoralism.

Herders and farmers have, as a result, been fighting for the scarce resources in the vast Tana Delta area of Kenya. Grassroots government officials have also played a role as they continuously politicize the situation and instigate the violence, Prof Shem Wandiga from the University of Nairobi Institute of Climate change said during an interview at the University Premises.

“What we are witnessing is real. Climate change is here with us and there are consequences if nothing is done early enough. We should not give up. The situation in the Tana Delta where people such as farmers and herders are fighting over scarce fertile land for both their livestock and crops,” said the Professor who is currently the acting director of the Institute of Climate Change.

He adds a major problem is that many herders moved into people’s farms and their livestock fed on the crops which were almost being harvested. Attacks between both sides began as a result and that was the root cause of the violence.

“It was further complicated by government officials who took sides in the conflict.” added Prof Wandiga.

A Kenyan intelligence report from the country’s main intelligence agency, National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) also says that grassroots government officials in the area are responsible for the violence. It also recommends that some senior politicians in the delta be investigated by the police.

The intelligence report further warns that the government ignored repeated warnings by the spy agency on predicted violence in the area.

“Between 50 and 100 people have been killed since the clashes began last year and the toll could be higher considering the politicization of the issue by politicians,’ said Eric Kiraithe, a Kenya Police Spokesman.

During a trip to Tana Delta this year, grassroots government officials and some leading politicians declined and interview. Most were accused of the violence which grabbed international media attention since the post-election violence hit the country five years ago.

“The violence was caused by conflicts related to land and land use. People whose farms had their crops fail also stole food that was about to be harvested from the land of people’ whose farms did better,’ added Kiraithe.

Prof Wandiga warns that more of such incidences may happen as climate change continues to be felt.

“A change of just one degree will bring serious consequences. Droughts may worsen, and they may become more frequent in some parts of Kenya, even an occurrence of twice a year, based on analysis done by our University a few years ago,” said Prof Wandiga.

He adds that also a major cause of conflict in the Delta is the shortage of water.

“Many herders moved their cattle into farms, where not only did the animals feed on the crops but drank water from the water pans owned by the farmers. It created revenge attacks,’ Prof Wandiga said.

The Tana Delta has a diverse landscape since it covers a huge area in Kenya of 16,012 square Kilometers. It also has diverse climate and arability of land also varies. Only 3,822 square kilometers is arable land spread differently geographically. Its most well known land feature is the Tana River which drains it banks into the Indian Ocean. The length of the River is about 270.

“I witnessed a lot of conflict and we do not know what next. Many of my neighbors have been displaced and their land illegally taken over by the violent hooligans. I am lucky but I cannot predict,” said Mohamed Ali, an inhabitant of the area who lives on hi one acre farm in Tana Delta.