Hello to our friends and supporters,
Welcome to the first entry of our new and regular blogging feature! Every month we will take the previous months’ report from our Project Coordinator, Lanoi Charity, and add photos then expand on the key events and features so our community of supporters can keep up to date with the happenings at Oltumo Maasai Project, in Maasai Mara, Kenya. We hope you enjoy!
Growing Fresh Vegetables in the Community Gardens
Currently, beyond the well, the most productive and ongoing initiatives at Oltumo are the community gardens and our demonstration gardens, made possible by our bore well and rain water collection tanks.
Agriculture is a part of history for most cultures, whereas the semi-nomadic and pastoral life of the Maasai meant that growing food for sustenance was never a concept. Agriculture, beyond herding cattle, is nowhere in Maasai culture, and so starting gardens meant starting with the basics. This also meant not getting too technical and letting them as a community decide on the plots and who gets them, but with our assistance and management.
Our project began with the completion of the borehole well in December, 2014 (that is the 10,000L water tank on the pumphouse roof in the photo below). It was not until a few months later, after building soil and planning for rainwater and grey water irrigation, that we began to grow some simple vegetables. These original gardens have become the demonstration gardens (seen above), where more advanced techniques of growing organic and healthy food in a more Permaculture-influenced way takes place. There is a huge variety of vegetables, as well as fruit trees, vines, legume shrubs, with medicinal plants incorporated throughout.
The community gardens are composed of over 20 plots, each assigned to one woman and her family from the Maasai Mara. These plots range in size from 12x12 to 15x15 feet. They are placed within the fenced 1 acre Oltumo land, and located between 200+ feet of swales which were dug 2 years ago and regularly maintained. These swales (ditches on contour, no slope) act as erosion catchment, capturing organic matter while allowing water to soak into the landscape and recharge the water table. They can be seen as the dark green lines of growth running across the site.
How it happened: The women dug their garden areas, mixed in several wheelbarrows of manure, weeded, and weeded some more, then gathered mulch to protect the soil. It is worth mentioning that mulch is VERY hard to come by, as the livestock eat almost everything and whatever remains goes to the wild animals. Leaves can be found in the sand-riverbanks, but most often grass from the Oltumo site is chopped and used as mulch.
Then, the beds are seeded and watered, and the women must maintain them as they grow or face losing their plot to another eager community member. It’s a serious consequence, but one decided upon by the Maasai community and the Kenyan Board of Oltumo.
The Problem and Solution process at Oltumo
Back to the demonstration garden, there is an interesting story here that evolved last month...
The Problem: The local children who come to Oltumo for water (or just something to do), were stealing vegetables from the community gardens, and the women were getting very upset. The community wanted to ban children from the site, and so they tried this for about a month. Our staff allowed it and the board in Canada agreed that the local community should decide, even though it felt it a bit harsh to us. We had known of them stealing fruit from the kitchen in the past, and had to bad certain ones for periods of time... this was always very sad and unfortunate to have to do, but did highlight the need for more food security and diversity for the Maasai, especially the children!
The Solution: Our employees at Oltumo, Charity and George, asked the women with gardens if they could make the Oltumo demonstration garden a place for the children to work in and then take food from with permission. The women agreed!
This is a fantastic solution which provides training, motivation, support, nutrition, and purpose for the children. It also helps motivate and guide our staff, as we often grow more than we need, but have no direct plan as of yet of what to do with the excess produce. Now, instead of just giving it to whoever asks or comes for water, we can focus on feeding the children and do our best to transfer knowledge at the same time.
More updates on this are to come in future blogs.
Ongoing Projects at Oltumo
Beadwork: An important project that Oltumo is supporting is a beadwork initiative started by the women. A volunteer at a nearby school supported by “Global Playgrounds” met our staff and then asked about purchasing some jewellery from the women.
The money the women earned from this project has gone to their children’s school fees, food, and to registering their group as a self-help group.
Once they are established and have a framework for how they will conduct their beadwork and manage the group, Oltumo will work with and support them in finding markets, improving/modifying products to suit new markets, purchasing in bulk, financial advice and training, etc.
Borehole Well: The Oltumo site charges families who come for water 100 shillings a month (about 1 dollar Canadian). This money is collected and saved for any future repairs or maintenance which will be used to keep the well operational for the site and the community for years to come.
Bee Keeping: The last main project to mention this month is beekeeping. This has been a slow project to get going, despite having a fully functional top-bar beehive at Oltumo for over 2 years (which was built by a volunteer). Another hive was built by the women but never fully completed or put in place. The women have recently built another wooden frame for a hive using the techniques that they know, but are yet to finish it.
A few major challenges have slowed this project down; appropriate materials and/or skills, adequate location for hives (no big trees), ongoing education, and protection from wild and human threats. The women have incredible building skills, but can they overcome the obstacles to create a light-weight, safe, precise and durable beehive? How can modern materials and the skills to build with them be learned by the Maasai, and if so is it the best option to pay for manufactured and unnatural goods when there are other more culturally appropriate ways? It’s been a puzzle that we are working hard on and will be expanded on in the coming blogs.
Thank you for supporting us and following our blog. We would love to hear from with with any comments, questions, or ideas!
We look forward to sharing new happenings, inspiration and challenges with you next month!
New photos are being posted regularly on our Facebook page if you want to follow our progress! @OltumoMassaiProject
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