Like an archeologist of the lost harvest, Elizabeth Wambui digs through the dusty soil for the remnants of her crops. Here are the dead stalks of corn. Here are the dead potato vines. Here are the dead beans, the dead peas, the dead sorghum.
They germinated, then shrivelled and turned lifeless. In her one-hectare plot, only the thorns and cactuses are still alive. She owns a sheep, but there is not enough grass to sustain it. Her husband had to drive it away in search of food.
"I came here with a lot of hope," she says. "I hoped to plant crops and have a little income. Now I'm just praying for rain. I've lost two seasons. Even if the rains come, I don't know if I can afford the seeds to plant again."
This region in the shadow of Mount Kenya was among the most fertile in the land until Kenya was hit by a lethal combination of drought and political violence. Now the country is facing its most disastrous food emergency in more than a decade, with cattle dying, rivers disappearing, food prices soaring, children hungry and malnutrition rising.
It's part of a much broader crisis across East Africa and the Horn of Africa, where 24 million people are lacking basic food or are dependent on relief supplies. Somalia is perhaps the worst hit, with fully half of its population now relying on emergency aid. In Kenya, 80 per cent of wells have dried up in some regions, and half of the livestock are expected to die. And in Ethiopia, nearly 14 million people are dependent on food aid this year, the highest number in years.
Climate change is believed to be at the heart of it. Droughts and floods are happening at nearly the same time. Even as relief workers struggle with the water shortages, they must also prepare for heavy rains and flooding that are likely to hit Kenya within a month.
"The situation is desperate," says Josephine Muli, a field officer in central Kenya for the World Food Program, a United Nations relief agency.
"We've had two years of drought - four consecutive seasons - and the crops are dried up. It's not only farmers affected, it's pastoralists, it's everybody, all livelihoods. Even rivers that are traditional sources of irrigation are drying up, and they never dried up before."
On the slopes of Mount Kenya, the Masai herdsmen are watching their cattle die. These forested hills are their traditional refuge, their last hope when drought hits. They brought their cattle here from more than 150 kilometres away, a migration that took a month, because they had no rain in their home region for the past year. Now the cattle are dying here, too.
Six months ago, John Lenyarwa and his relatives left home with 600 cows. Today only 200 are still alive. Almost all of his calves and young cows are dead. The hills around his camp are littered with the corpses of dead cows. He expects the rest to die, too.
"Every day they die," he says. "We have no hope. If there is no rain by the end of September, we will have nothing."
He left 800 sheep at his home region, but only 50 have survived. If he had left the cows at home, he says, they would all be dead by now. "We couldn't just sit and watch them die. We had to do something. So we took them here. Now we are watching them die."
He walks to a year-old cow, one of the few younger ones still alive. But it is too weak to stand up. The herdsmen lift up the cow by its tail and ears, and it staggers off in search of food. "This one is going to die like the rest," he says.
He remembers three droughts in the past eight years, but this is the worst of them. In the last drought, he brought his cows to Mount Kenya, and the rains came within three months. Now it is six months without rain.
Many of the cows are dying of diseases that they caught during their long migration, when they had no access to treatment. The depleted pastures and the freezing cold, on the slopes of Mount Kenya, have weakened their defences and left them vulnerable to pneumonia and exhaustion. Their ribs and other bones are etched against their skin.
The Masai are eating just one meal a day, a maize cake in the evening when their children return from the cow herds. They cannot sell their cattle because they are too painfully thin to fetch a price at the market. Sometimes they eat the corpses of the newly dead cows, using medicinal twigs from local trees to disinfect the rotting meat.
Across Kenya, many pastoralists have brought their cattle into the big cities, hoping to find patches of grass in schoolyards or ditches. Some 80,000 cows have been herded into Nairobi, a teeming city of four million people. One afternoon this week, a herd of cows crossed a busy Nairobi street, blocking the traffic, while a man leaped from a bus to kick wildly at the animals to move them away.