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A Dry Christmas

By Adlai Amor
December 2009

Christmas at the Kipchebor village in the Kericho district of western Kenya used to be marked by heavy rains.

“Today, Christmas is usually dry,” said 53-year-old farmer Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei. “The dry season is hotter to the extent that now all the grass dries up. This was not the case before, when the grass would remain green even during the dry season.”

As a result, Nelly's few cows produce less milk. The dry soil also leaves her 3-hectare (7.5- acre) farm, planted in maize and tea, vulnerable to erosion when the rains eventually come. During periods of drought, women spend more time and walk longer distances to fetch water not only for their families but also for their cattle.

“Our lands do not produce as much as before,” Damaris said, blaming drastic changes in rainfall. The family farm supplements the salary of her husband, a civil servant. Fortunately, nearly an acre of Damaris’ farm is devoted to an indigenous tree nursery which generates enough income to send two of her five children to college.

In her spare time, Damaris volunteers as a community organizer for the Forest Action Network. This nongovernmental organization works throughout Kenya to conserve its forests.

“To convince my neighbors to plant more trees, I once pledged 200 seedlings to my church but the pastor announced that I am giving away 2,000 seedlings,” she said. “I believed that was the word of God so I gave away 2,000 seedlings. A few days later, someone came to my nursery to buy 50,000 shillings ($662) worth of trees. That's not bad for a 16,000 shilling ($212) investment.”

As Damaris talks to other women around her district to convince them to plant more trees, they tell her stories of how the changing climate have affected them. Many of the local insects that were part of their diet are now extinct, forcing them to be completely dependent on what they can grow.

More pests attack their crops and they have to use pesticides now. This not only affects their environment but adds to their production costs. As temperatures become warmer, malaria is now common in Kericho and other highland districts of Kenya. Thirty years ago, the cool weather of the highlands kept the incidence of malaria low if not non-existent. Now it is common to hear of deaths from malaria. In fact, one of Damaris’ daughters died of malaria.

“These changes in our local environment and climate have led to a situation in which food scarcity and poverty has become the order of each year,” she said.

Kenyan scientists attest to what Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei and her fellow farmers are experiencing. They conclude that climate change is indeed taking its toll on Kenya's vulnerable communities.

Christmas in Kericho district will continue to be dry.

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