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Water stations, making charcoal, land management, and more

David Mutua/CARE

David Mutua/CARE

Building resilience in Kenya’s dry Mandera County

Mandera County is an arid region in northeast Kenya bordering Ethiopia and Somalia where residents regularly battle the effects of drought, overgrazing, and COVID-19, as well as a ubiquitous invasive plant species.

Because these and other challenges make pastoral and agricultural livelihoods difficult, a regional partnership between CARE, World Vision, and the Danish Refugee Council has helped people find solutions. Funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, the Building Opportunities for Resilience in the Horn of Africa (BORESHA) project seeks to strengthen markets and trade, develop business skills, and improve natural resource management.

Some of those solutions include solar-powered wells and water pumps, controlled grazing, informational radio broadcasts, hygiene supplies, and even beekeeping.

‘Mathenge’ – plant goes from annoyance to asset

Prosopis Juliflora, called “Mathenge” by locals, was imported from South America in the 1970s with the best of intentions. It was hoped that the plant would aid honey production, provide shade, serve as a windbreaker, provide firewood, and building supplies. Instead, the thorny shrub – which requires little water – has taken over, bringing about unintended consequences.

The thorns prick the hooves of cows and donkeys, and when the plant’s green pods are eaten raw, it can be fatal for livestock. It has also consumed farmlands.


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Many have experienced Mathenge’s damage first-hand, having lost farm animals to the plant. In this arid region, where 72 percent of people survive on breeding livestock, any cattle loss has a major impact on families.

Mathenge can’t be easily gotten rid of, either, so CARE and its partners set about finding ways to use it, turning it into both cooking fuel and animal feed.

“From the Prosopis shrub, we would collect the pods, dry and grind them together with grass on the grinder, mix the mixture with water and then proceed to make feed which can be stored and given to the animals,” Mohamed Sheihk Hosman tells us. “Since the Mathenge shrub survives even during drought, this ensures that weak, frail, and milk-producing cattle do not have to travel long distances to graze.”

Abdullah Hussein, a member of Neboi Prosopis Charcoal Making Group, shows a chunk of charcoal made from the Prosopis shrub. (David Mutua/CARE)

Abdullah Hussain is a member of a group that uses Prosopis to make charcoal and explains how the plant becomes fuel.

“We chop down the Prosopis shrub and then make charcoal out of it,” she says. “The charcoal is then ground into a powder and mixed with water. The final mix is then passed through a charcoal briquette machine. The briquette is then dried and used in cooking. The briquettes burn slow with less smoke, and, unlike normal charcoal, they cook many meals.”

Abdullah prefers using the briquettes because her grandchildren can focus on their studies instead of collecting firewood. Community members are also passing their knowledge to neighbors in the region.

“The Prosopis pods have high protein and mineral content that is good for the livestock,” says Salim Abdi, Kenya BORESHA Program Coordinator for CARE International. “The charcoal briquettes have higher cooking efficiency than normal charcoal. We promote the use of the Prosopis shrub to make the briquette as it will spare the indigenous trees from extinction and help manage the shrub’s spread.”

The next step is to commercialize the production of both animal feed and briquettes so group members can start earning additional income.

Combating overgrazing through better land management

Another common issue in the Mandera Triangle is the overgrazing of pastureland, a common and unfortunate pitfall due to arid conditions, frequent droughts, and scarce vegetation. Allowing animals to graze on every available green patch during the rainy season means it is scarce – and animals starve – during the dry season.

A member of Eymole Rangeland Management Committee clears shrubs and twigs from one of the group’s livestock enclosures. Rangeland management ensures there's pasture for cattle when regular pastures are depleted or decimated by drought.

In response, BORESHA instituted a program of rangeland management, to preserve sections of pasture and allow them to regenerate so they are kept in reserve. CARE, its partners, and local government officials trained community members from 21 villages on pastoral best practices. Topics included building fences, clearing weeds, and rejuvenating unproductive land by planting grass and trees.

The project also went a step further. “After the training, 100 people were hired to work on building the enclosures,” says Aden Ibrahim, chair of the Natural Resource Management group in Eymole, a sub-county on the Kenya/Ethiopia border. “After 30 days, we received Kes. 21,500 ($192.57) and this improved our living standards. My cattle have benefitted from having these enclosures.”

The Eymole Rangeland Management committee, like others similar committees in the region, is an inclusive group with men, women, and young people participating. This group has trained other community members to practice what it has learned. (David Mutua/CARE)

Beyond rangeland management, the community also received training on beekeeping and harvesting and has established several beehives that have been colonized by multiple swarms.

Clean water powered by the sun

On sunny days, temperatures in the Mandera Triangle regularly hit 95F, and sometimes go even higher, while frequent droughts have made water more difficult to find. A survey from February 2021 found that only 49.3% of households reported accessing water from safe, improved, or semi-improved water points.

“To fetch rainwater we had to cut across the Mathenge shrub which surrounded it,” says Fatuma Abdi, a 52-year-old mother of six in Ashabito. “This was dangerous because wild animals like snakes hid in there and would attack us.”

Worse, during times of drought, local rainwater ponds dry up, forcing people to either travel long distances or pay exorbitant prices to vendors with tanks.

Health is also an issue. “Since our animals could only drink water from the same place we fetch, we would end up getting sick from the contaminated water,” Fatuma adds. “Malaria was quite prevalent, as well as water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhea which affected our children.”

Fatuma Mohamed, Safia Abdi, and Khadija Ahmed access fresh water in Ashabito. Prior to the establishment of this water point, the community would have no other option than a pan also used by animals, exposing them to diseases like typhoid and cholera. (David Mutua/CARE)

In response, CARE and its partners have constructed 11 water access points in the Mandera triangle, with underground tanks and solar-powered pumps. In neighboring Somalia, four additional water points were repaired and equipped with pumps. In total, these water access points directly serve more than 125,614 people across the three countries.

“By taking advantage of the always available, clean, renewable energy from the sun, the pump draws water from the borehole to the tap, ensuring clean water supply throughout the year to the community,” says Salim Abdullahi, a coordinator for CARE International. “At the same time, water access points for people [and] animals were constructed in separate places to ensure that there is no contamination.”

Fatuma Mohamed sells vegetables at her kiosk in Ashabito. Thanks to newly accessible water, Fatuma was able to start a kitchen garden which feeds her family and provides her with a surplus to sell. (David Mutua/CARE)

“Since the clean water access point is closer and consistent, we now have more time to do more for our personal development,” says Fatuma, who now sells produce from the farm she was able to start thanks to the new water source. “We can now engage in farming alongside cattle rearing.”

Battling COVID-19 through information and hygiene

When COVID-19 emerged in Kenya, in March 2020, many people moved to rural areas like Mandera and inadvertently spread the virus to places where healthcare services are sparse. Government officials responded with travel restrictions and lockdowns.

The lockdowns and subsequent school closures affected the economy as well as the social fabric. “Since the children were at home, many of them turned to vices to pass time,” says Khaltuma Abdirahman, headteacher at Mandera Township Primary School. “Some turned to drugs and engaged in illegal activities. Some girls were married off and others got pregnant.”

At the start of the COVID outbreak, BORESHA had contingency funds available, and put those to use in a public information campaign. They purchased airtime on a DAWA FM, a local radio station, and, together with the health department of the Mandera County Government, shared basic, yet vital, information about the virus and how to prevent its spread.

Heikal Suleiman, DAWA FM station manager, broadcasts informative messages about COVID-19 prevention. The station has coverage and listeners in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. (David Mutua/CARE)

“Since our transmission radius covers 140 square kilometers and we are close to the border, we can disseminate information not only in Mandera [Kenya] but also Somalia and Ethiopia,” says Haqil Suleiman, station manager. “This ensured that the prevention messages reached communities on the border who regularly cross over. The conversations and interactions between the community and County Health workers via our station were so engaging that many times they would go beyond time.”

Safiya Mohid washes her hands outside Mandera Township Primary School. CARE distributed 18 handwashing stations to the school to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading. (David Mutua/CARE)

Phased in-person school sessions resumed in late 2020 as case numbers dropped, but with strict adherence to prevention guidelines. In response, CARE and its partners set up school handwashing stations and distributed handwashing kits, which reduced the spread of other diseases – not just COVID. Beyond the schools, the program also distributed hygiene kits to internally displaced people.

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