First Person

Texas ranchers, East Africa herders share the same struggles with drought

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Kerarsa Jilo has lost nearly all of his livestock to drought in Ethiopia. Photo by Eva-Lotta Jansson
Kerarsa Jilo has lost nearly all of his livestock to drought in Ethiopia. Photo by Eva-Lotta Jansson

Parched pastures. Skyrocketing hay prices. Cattle migration. Relief efforts. All of this was in a New York Times story on Tuesday. I could have been reading about the fate of herders in East Africa where a severe drought and food crisis is affecting more than 13 million people.

But this story is much closer to home. It’s happening right here in Texas, where the state is staggering under the worst one-year drought in its history.

The words of Texas ranchers here sound eerily like their fellow herders in in southern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and Somalia.

“I went through every bit of my savings for the last five years,” Robert R. Roller, a 65-year-old rancher in Yorktown, Texas, told the New York Times. “If I had a family to feed, there wouldn’t be a cow in this place. I couldn’t afford it.”

Kerarsa Jilo knows all about that. He’s a father of four children living in the Dillo District of southern Ethiopia’s Borena Zone where drought has killed hundreds of thousands of the animals on which herding families like Jilo’s depend for food and income.

“We’ve suffered a lot,” he told me in October under a burning sun. “We lost all our livestock, all our cattle. Our children are suffering. Our cattle have no grass to eat.”

Jilo’s herd  of 40 cows had dwindled to one, plus three small calves. The loss has been devastating.

“I feel like I am not existing anymore,” Jilo said. The small amount of money he had saved was quickly gone—and so, now, are his dreams for his children. He had hoped to send them to school, something he never had the advantage of himself.

“Cattle are like life,” said Jilo. “I should have killed myself, but for the life of my daughters I have to live.”

In Texas, the drought has hammered the state with $5.2 billion in agricultural losses. The price of hay has exploded as its production has dropped by half. And ranchers are selling off their herds.

“We’ve seen many producers sell out everything because there was no hay, no pasture,” Todd Staples, the state’s commissioner of agriculture, told the Times. “Many of them have vanished. Literally, gone up in dust.”

Here, as a nation, we have the resources to help people make it through tough times, starting with the goodwill of farmers in Indiana who donated truckloads of hay to help some of the Texas ranchers—not unlike the way herding families in Ethiopia pool their resources to help their poorest neighbors when they have lost their assets.

But the wild card in this for all of us, Americans and East Africans alike, is which way the weather will swing next. And the frightening truth—the truth that binds us all as one—is that it’s out of our control. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+