“As the drought got worse, the women lost some income. But insurance offset that almost shilling for shilling,” said Carter, who directs the UC Davis Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risks and Resilience, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The World Bank estimates that climate change could force 100 million people worldwide into extreme poverty by 2030. The Samburu, who already live on less a dollar a day, exemplify the problem. Four severe droughts have hit the horn of Africa in just the last two decades. With no safety net to protect them when they lose animals, families cut spending on food and can become trapped in poverty for generations, Carter said.
“This makes it hard for children to grow up well-nourished,” he said. “If they have the opportunity to go to school, it’s hard for them to learn. It’s a recurring cycle of poor parents and poor children.”
Women and children hardest hit
The Samburu have a strict patriarchal culture. Only the men travel with the herds and make decisions. They commonly have more than one wife. Income usually is not distributed equally among them.
Women like Nonkunta Lekupanae are left behind in the village with little or no way to earn money or feed their children.
Lekupanae spoke under an acacia tree in a large area fenced in by brush, called a “boma.” Goats, sheep and other livestock roam inside. It also holds a few small huts where families live. It’s reachable only on foot and several dozen miles away from the nearest village. “I had a lot of animals in the past,” she said, “but the drought killed them all, cows, goats and even donkeys. It has made us poor.”
Like other women in her situation, Lekupanae turns to menial labor or sells what little she has during drought.
“We have to collect aloe vera plants or sell our goats. It can cost a third of what I make selling aloe vera to buy one package of maize flour,” Lekupanae said, adding that her seven children have gone without food during drought.
Need for women to build assets
Tom Lenaruti, a field coordinator for the Boma Project, said Samburu women who have lost everything need more than a handout. They need a stable source of income and a way to save for future droughts so they can rebuild what they’ve lost.
The Boma Project gives women money, training and mentoring to start their own small businesses, either buying and selling livestock or setting up kiosks to sell such items as sugar and tea. Three women who trust one another team up to run an enterprise. Their business groups prevent husbands from deciding how income is spent.