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Securing Maasai Organic Food System for health and food security

Creating a secure and sustainable Maasai organic food system through action learning and indigenous Knowledge

Photo of Michael Tiampati
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya (PDNK)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.pdnkenya.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Nairobi

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Kenya

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Narok and Kajiado Counties are located in Southern Kenya bordering Tanzania and constitute a total area of 39, 242 KM2

What country is your selected Place located in?

Kenya

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

This area forms one of the most researched yet there are no clear community rooted interventions that address the challenges of reduced land/space, degradation, loss of habitat, over exploitation of drought reserves and grass banks. I was born and brought up in the Narok area where the project will be implemented . I have undergone all the traditional and cultural ceremonies from boyhood to elderhood and therefore am deeply rooted in the area because my family, clan and section is found in this place. I have a first hand experience of the challenges confronting the Maasai pastoralists in this area as I have lost livestock to droughts and diseases as a consequence of reduced land, degradation, climate change and loss of habitat. I have also participated in making the long and arduous trek with the family herd to Lake Manyara in Tanzania to escape the vagaries of droughts. I have also participated in community deliberations to decide the number of families and herds that we shall accommodate from Tanzania in the spirit of reciprocity. This place is the remaining part of Narok where crop agriculture is not feasible and therefore provide an ideal setting to demonstrate that by revitalizing the traditional and emergent knowledge in livestock management, security of genetic resources, ecological health and regeneration of the land in an ecosystem approach is key to protecting and propagating the Maasai organic food system that has ensured their nutritional value and ensured the survival of a wide array of fauna and flora in these lands for centuries. This will be key in maintaining nutritional integrity, the balance of nature and providing a solution to the myriad health, ecological, production and nutritional integrity of not only the Maasai but also the more than 8 million pastoralists in Kenya.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The main residents of Kajiado and Narok Counties are Maasai who are pastoralists that have maintained most of their cultures despite the proximity to the city of Nairobi and interactions with modernity, western tourists, missionaries and education. The Maasai traditional diet consist mainly of meat, milk and blood but they have in recent years embraced other foods such as cereals and vegetables to complement the livestock products. Some Maasai have also adopted large scale crop production i.e. barley, wheat and corn which is often practiced by people from other communities. This has had some negative effects such as chemical sprays polluting water sources and introduction of chemical fertiliser which has led to degradation of the this sensitive soils. In other areas some individuals had pushed for individual land parcels as provided for in law. The area, within where the project will be undertake had historically been recognized as the interface between the dry season and wet season grazing ecosystems that have ensured the existence of an extraordinary number and diversity of animal and plant species across Maasai lands in both Kenya and Tanzania. This landscape is characterised by an array of such plant species as oloirien (Olea europaea ssp. Africana), olkiloriti (Acacia nilotica), oleleshua (Tarchonanthus camphoratus) and olmisigiyioi (Rhus natalensis), and perennial grass species which are most suitable for milk production. Among the common wildlife species are: lions, giraffes, leopards, buffaloes, elephants, antelopes, wildebeests and birds. Upon the sub-division of the land into individual parcels in the early 1980s, most of the individual title owners started to fencing off their land parcels to keep wildlife, people and neighbours’ livestock at bay. Some fenced off corridors were essential for the movement of livestock and wildlife as well as access to common resources like salt licks, water sources and strategic grazing areas. Within five years of the sub-division and fencing off, the area had undergone more extensive modification and degradation than at any other time in history. Livestock numbers decreased by about 60%, wild animals especially large game moved to other areas. An upsurge in population also increased the demand for natural resources including land for agricultural intensification to compensate for diminishing livestock. This pressure was further compounded by human-wildlife conflicts that ensued when wild animals, especially elephants, destroyed crops and structures as they retraced their traditional migratory routes through fenced landscapes. Cases of people being attacked by elephants, lions, leopards and buffalo increased as competition for diminishing resources intensified. This forced them to breakdown the fences and recommonise the land, restore traditional governance which has ensured gradual regeneration to the initial state before fragmentation thanks to Maasai experiential/action learning strategy.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

2275705

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The current arid and semi arid lands in Kenya's South Rift is characterized by lowlands and highlands that facilitate cyclical mobility of people, livestock and wildlife from dry to wet season grazing as part of utilization of dry land resources and ecological management strategies. The Maasai diet consists mainly of milk, meat, blood, wild fruits, herbs, berries and are now adapting cereals and vegetables. The community are pastoralists and rely on trading with livestock and livestock products such as hides, skins, milk. goats, sheep and cattle. The Maasai form the cultural symbol of Kenya and Tanzania they have maintained their cultural identity in terms of language, traditions, cultures and ceremonies. Maasai tangible expressions is used to market Kenya as culturally rich and conservation conscious country owing to pastoralists ecological knowledge and practices that entertain co-existence with wildlife. More than 90% of wildlife are within pastoralist areas, Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara National Reserve and Hells Gate National Park are all within the focus area of this action. Despite the attachment to their cultures and traditions, the Maasai have embraced mobile telephone and transistor radios which are responsive to their needs and aspirations. These two technologies have made it easier to share information and undertake management of their livestock make payments and purchases through M-Pesa mobile telephone banking and receiving government information through vernacular radio stations. The national policies have for a long time not appreciated pastoralism as a social, cultural, ecological, economic preoccupation. From the turn of the last century the Maasai lost more than half of their land to the settler community and this land did not revert to the Maasai after independence. For a long time, the Maasai have been pushing for benefit sharing from exploitation of their culture and land for wildlife conservation and tourism and us of their culture to market Kenya as a culture that embraces protection of nature. Though the current Kenyan constitution recognises pastoralism, culture and environmental protection and the commons. However, the Maasai are yet to benefit from this because part of the community land law is yet to be fully implemented. However, some Maasai communal lands have been concerted to wildlife conservancies to earn from wildlife tourism. A few Maasai women are also earning from beadwork sold to tourists. Due to diminishing land and degradation as a result of climate change and demographic changes, there is need for innovative approaches in ensuring ecological health, production and livelihood and tangible and intangible cultural identity and expressions.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The aim of a secure and sustainable Maasai organic food system through action learning and indigenous Knowledge shall be realized through securing the genetic resources of Maasai livestock which are adapted to the arid and semi arid ecosystem, important plant species that are also adapted to the arid lands ecosystem. A rich repository of knowledge accumulated over time through action and experiential learning on the arid ecology shall also be collected and documented as part of securing this critical indigenous knowledge. As part of protecting the source of Maasai food systems, the initiative will also undertake practical interventions such as crossing of breeds i.e Zebu, Boran and Sahiwal to optimise production, reduce herd size due to shrinkage of land, enhance resilience to diseases, droughts and mobility, increase market prices, regeneration of degraded lands, reseeding important plant and grass species. The project shall also embark on growing Maasai love grass, Fox tail grass and Boma Rhodes grass and storage to complement the utilization of grass banks or drought reserves in hard times. This project will also harvest the grass seeds and distributed them to the communities for replication. In addition, the action shall seek to sink boreholes and construct water pans to form a sustainable source of water for the activities of the project such as grass growing and for the livestock. The project shall also seek the documentation of the Maasai organic food system and registration and protection through the Culture Policy provisions. The action shall also strengthen the social relationships and networks that are significant factors in the survival of the family and their herd during times of drought and disease through reciprocity. Mobility is another strategy to secure the pillars of Maasai organic food system which consists of an optimum use of the land resources including animals and plants without jeopardizing their longer-term sustainability. This maintenance of an optimal balance between pastures, wildlife, livestock and people in a highly uncertain and variable environment to meet both their immediate and future pastoralist food needs is a critical objective of this initiative.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By providing home grown practical, culturally sensitive and ecologically appropriate interventions that enable pastoralist Maasai to maintain organic food system, a social, economic and ecological equilibrium within acceptable limits which characterizes their livelihood, production and ecological management system. The project will use the strategies that have evolved over time to enable them to adapt to, rather than change or damage, the environment in which they live by employing deeply ingrained knowledge and actions to maintain an optimal balance between nature, pastures, livestock and people. The project shall build on the existing Maasai food system that has been achieved through raising different species and breeds of livestock to make optimum use of different ecological niches, especially during the dry season when resources are scarce. This careful genetic arithmetic has produced indigenous breeds that are better able to make optimal use of scarce resources, and are more resistant to drought and disease that are common in the arid lands. This intervention will enable the Maasai to secure their food system and enable them to control access to water and to manage pasture and mineral use, particularly in the dry season and to ensure that neighbors facing dire circumstances are accommodated and accorded full access to the necessary resources for their herds in the spirit of RECIPROCITY. It will also protect mobility which is essential in tracking fresh pastures, preempting overgrazing and degradation and evading disease, conflict or drought conditions. The project will also help manage the age-sex composition of livestock herds and allocation of different rights of use over different animals to meet the nutritional needs of the family and community while ensuring the integrity of the land and resources.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The Maasai organic food system that is produced by transhumance pastoralism while confronted with the myriad challenges arising from shrinking space, burgeoning population, degradation and climate change. The main social-cultural and economic preoccupation of this arid and semi arid lands community is a constant balancing act that requires families to increase herd sizes and thereby maximize the returns from livestock in good years to generate a surplus for the inevitable bad years that are mainly as a result of drought, famine, epidemic diseases among others. These returns are not simply the accumulation of livestock, but also the relationships and social networks that are significant factors in the survival of the family, the community and their herd during times of drought, disease or raiding. The strategy consists of an optimum use of arid and semi arid lands land and resources including animals and plants without jeopardizing their longer-term sustainability. This maintenance of an optimal balance between pastures, wildlife, livestock and people in a highly uncertain and variable environment to meet both their immediate and future livelihood needs is a critical objective of Maasai pastoralism that is defined as Eramatare. Eramatare is a combination of complex social, economic and environmental strategies that enable pastoral Maasai to maintain a social, economic and ecological equilibrium within acceptable limits which characterizes their livelihood, production and ecological management system. The Eramatare concept that is applied by Maasai pastoralists of Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania has made them very careful environmental vanguards and managers who have evolved a range of strategies to enable them to adapt to, rather than change or damage, the environment in which they live by employing deeply ingrained strategies to maintain an optimal balance between nature, pastures, livestock and people. Eramatare which can be best defined as the pulsating rhythm of the arid and semi arid ecosystems, has been achieved through raising different species and breeds of livestock to make optimum use of different ecological niches, especially during the dry season when resources are scarce. This careful genetic arithmetic has produced indigenous breeds that are better able to make optimal use of scarce resources, and are more resistant to drought and disease that are common in Narok and Kajiado counties. The holistic eramatare concept has further enabled the Maasai to control access to water and to manage pasture and mineral use, particularly in the dry season and to ensure that neighbors facing dire circumstances are accommodated and accorded full access to the necessary resources for their herds in the spirit of reciprocity. One of the key aspects of eramatare based food system, production and ecological management is mobility which is essential in tracking fresh pastures, preempting overgrazing and degradation as well as evading disease, conflict or drought conditions. Another key aspect of eramatare is the management of the age-sex composition of livestock herds and allocation of different rights of use over different animals to meet the day-to-day needs of the family while ensuring the future viability of the entire herd and family. Additionally, ERAMATARE inculcates the practice of herd splitting as a strategy to prevent degradation through over-grazing and exposure to disease and other risks. Herd splitting is therefore an integral part of spreading risks based on the realities of epidemic diseases that occasionally strike the Maasai rangelands. ERAMATARE also involves investing in fertile females for purposes of building up herd sizes as an insurance against drought, disease and raiding. This is done through exhaustive analysis of and selection of animals based on their reproductive, production and also genetic potential to withstand such shocks as droughts, famines and diseases. Another integral aspect of eramatare is the loaning of excess animals to family and friends to help them rebuild their herds and develop social relations as a form of social capital as a hedge against drought and other risks. This also allows families to maintain a functional balance between herd and family size. The approach shall be hinged om the traditional Maasai management that is based on participatory discussions and decision making and utilise the action/experiential learning approaches as well as the existing indigenous knowledge that has sustained the Maasai organic food system for centuries. This food system has sustained the community health that has prevented them from the vagaries of changing food culture that is attributable to the rising health problems that is a crisis in Kenya. Pastoralists have to a large extent escaped the allure of fast foods and unhealthy feeding habits thereby staying clear of some diseases that come as a result of poor health. Cases of cancers, hypertension and diabetes that are currently afflicting the nation. This project will provide an approach that could be emulated elsewhere to not only secure the organic food systems of Kenya's Maasai but also other communities and save the country the excessive cost of food based health challenges. It will also be central to safeguard the ecological health of the arid and semi arid lands ecosystems which is critical in addressing climate change. Also the action shall be important in contributing to the Kenyan GDP by enhanced trade among the Maasai and the entire country.

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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