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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Farming for the Future

A Masai Community’s Response to a Devastating Drought.

During the later part of 2009 I watched many communities in the Taveta area on the border of Tsavo West National Park crumble under the pressure of one of the worst droughts to hit the Taveta region in 30 years. Having spent over two years working with the communities of the Taveta region it was devastating to watch maize crops fail season after season, to see people become dependent on food aid, and, parents begging for schools to stay open during the holidays so that their children would receive at least one meal each day from their school. Despite the struggles facing the Taveta region as a whole during this time, one village lost almost everything.

I have walked through Saliata village at least once a month for over two years now. But when I entered the village in late in 2009, I saw shell of the once lively Masai village which is home to over 400 people. The village had changed from a bustling community with livestock grazing everywhere and children running barefoot on the orange plains of Tsavo West, to a silent village scattered with the bones of thousands of dead cows, sheep and goats. The only sound that could be heard during that time was that of the Marabou Stocks circling over the whole village. After I walked through Saliata that day I made a vow that I would never walk through that village again unless I could do something to help the people of the village to overcome or prevent the kind of devastation they were facing.

--Celebrating the completion of the farm--

A few weeks later, I received a phone call from one of the village elders from Saliata. He asked if the chairman of the village, who happened to be his son Joshua, could meet with me. Two days later Joshua and I meet in another village where I was working at the time and to my surprise he asked me if GVI could help his village. Of course I said yes! In a few days, Joshua returned with proposals for income generating projects for Saliata which would assist the village to prevent or overcome drought related problems in the future. One of the proposals was for a community run farm which would be used to grow grains and legumes that could be stored and/or sold to provide food or incomes for the community.

--Marabou Storks pick at the bones of fallen cattle--

I was so impressed with the willingness of the community of Saliata to proactively deal with the tragedy they were facing. They lost over 1000 head of cattle – their only source of income and food - during the drought but were willing to welcome a female foreigner they hardly knew into their village to help them start a project which Masai people would traditionally have frowned upon. So with the help of a fabulous group of people from Heathwood Episcopal School – we did it! In less than a week a one and half acre farm was erected in Saliata and comprehensive lessons on growing drought resistant crops were delivered to the community. Livestock are no longer the only option for the Masai of Saliata; and as such, starvation is no longer the only option if another drought hits! A big thank-you goes out to the the Heathwood group for making this project such a success.