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Surviving Drought through Small Businesses

According to Reuters some 23 million people are in need of food aid in East Africa because of severe drought.  Last month the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development asked the international community for aid to feed 6.2 million people affected by the drought.  In Kenya, hundreds of thousands of cattle and goats have died and wildlife is beginning to perish. The effects of the drought are also being felt in Somalia and parts of Tanzania.  Drought is not unknown to the region, but experts suggest that droughts are occurring more frequently—every two to three years instead of every ten years, as was the pattern in the past.  But drought does not have to mean disaster.   The Boma Fund, an Aid for Africa member working in Northern Kenya, an area severely affected by the drought, finds that the small businesses supported by Boma Fund grants are providing a buffer.  Boma Director Kathleen Colson reports that although the drought has killed 90 percent of the goats and cows in the region, the owners of the business start ups have been able to buy food at wholesale prices and, for the first time, basic staples such as tea, rice, and ground corn are available in the villages at affordable prices. She also reports that even with the demise of the livestock industry—the main source of income in the local economy—money coming into the area from individuals living on pensions or from those who work in industries unaffected by the drought are helping to sustain the new businesses. Droughts will continue to occur throughout Africa and the world.  But survival depends on people having the means to purchase the food they need. Sustaining small businesses in rural areas seems to be one way to do that.