We survived the worst drought in a generation

The Farm, Laikipia I realised the worst drought of this generation was at last over this morning when two Samburu gentlemen arrived on the farm, asking to buy rams. My nomadic neighbours sense very well when it’s time to put a tup in with the flock. In just this month a full moon and the alignment of Lokir Ai and Lakira Dorop – Jupiter and Venus – had brought six inches of downpours, equal to almost all of last year’s rain and half of the precipitation in 2021. As Mr Lemartile crouched behind my Dorper rams, happily dandling their testicles for size and girth, we caught up on gossip and

Waiting for the rain that never comes – and for the elections to be over

Kenya After two years of no rain, all colour has drained from the landscape on the farm so that by the time we boarded the bush plane to leave in the bright sun it was as if we were all snow blind. From the air the highlands were waterless and dead until we descended over Kenya’s north shore and the world went green. My late mother’s garden at the beach house swirls with bougainvillea, gardenia, frangipani and allamanda. Green ingots of baobab leaves hang wetly down over green grass and wild flowers which spill down to the high tide mark. We walk among clouds of butterflies with lilac-breasted rollers and

Everything’s burned to a crisp – and the horses are suffering

Everything is well and truly burned to a crisp, and we are piling through hundreds of pounds of hay a week. When the sun shines relentlessly and it never rains, keeping horses gets awfully expensive. The poor gee-gees themselves are bored stiff. We heave mountains of hay into the fields but they miss the ability to mooch about foraging and munching the greenery. There is no greenery. Everything is brown and white. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing the fields white before. When the grass first burned off, the paddocks went a taupe colour. But after weeks and weeks of relentless sun and no more than the odd

There are almost no animals left – but we’ve been here before

Laikipia You know things are bad when the zebras are thin. Even during most droughts, zebras are like matrons at the gym in stripey spandex stretched around plump buttocks. Pastures vanished long ago and our plains resemble Sudan’s Batn-el-Hajar – the Belly of Stones desert – so that I cannot even recall what they were like when they were last thick with green grass. The zebra foals are dying, the elephants are thin, while the buffalo disappeared a while back. The dry has killed quite mature trees which now shudder with the sound of termites and crash to the ground. To the north of us, horned skulls and dried carcasses

What’s to become of Africa’s teeming youth?

Demographers are attached to their theories. The field’s most enduring is the ‘demographic transition’, whereby modernisation inexorably lowers a society’s once-high fertility to replacement rate. Unfortunately, reality is obstreperous and doesn’t always obey the rules. The United Nations Population Division bases population projections on the assumption that all countries will eventually follow the pattern of plummeting birth rates first observed across the West. Edward Paice’s Youthquake addresses the exception so far: Africa. The continent is hardly a minor asterisk. Although for many regions demographic forecasts for this century have been ratcheting downwards, in the past 20 years the UNPD has had to revise its median-variant forecast for Africa by 2050 upwards

Iran is running out of water

It’s far from an exact science, but if you want to get a sense of where the world is heading in terms of resource scarcity then you could do worse than considering the cost of a litre of oil versus a litre of water. These days a litre oil of crude is worth around 45 US cents (33p); a litre of bottled water in the UK will generally set you back around 65p. Oil has dropped around 100 per cent since its high in 2008 while water’s value has held firm, and even risen across the Middle East and Asia. This is probably unsurprising. Right-thinking opinion now considers oil an

The many good things to come out of lockdown

Laikipia I was drinking in the fresh air on the high earth wall of my farm dam last week, when I saw a low white cloud coming straight at me from the northwest. The distances you can see up here are immense, across tawny savannah towards blue hills on the horizon, an unfenced land stretching for days and days of travel to the Ethiopian frontier. As I was standing there, filling my lungs and feeling free and happy, the white mist got ever closer and began to resemble confetti. The low, fluttering cloud was entirely silent. And then I saw it was a multitude of white butterflies, all flying on