Mr. Anthony Kandili is a proud Maasai farmer, married and the father of three children. Recently, he joined fellow community members on a learning tour of farms in the area surrounding his village in southern Kenya. The field visit was organized by Noomayianat Community Development Organization (NCDO), one of Vibrant Village Foundation’s local partners in Kenya. The purpose of the tour was to expose farmers to new farming techniques and new crops that could improve their own production and livelihoods.
Mr. Kandili comes from a Maasai pastoralist community, living on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the Kimana area of Loitokitok, where climate change is no longer an abstract notion, but a stark reality. Effects of climate change have forced the Maasai to switch to large-scale subsistence crops farming as an alternative way to access food for survival and to earn a livelihood. Prior to the farm tour, he had never set foot out of the Kimana area. Mr. Kandili looked forward to visiting other areas of Kenya that were practicing similar and more successful farming techniques.
Mr. Kandili was awestruck to see pineapples growing on a farm in Rumuruti, and was quick to catch on to the idea. Immediately following the learning tour, he planted pineapple suckers he had bought from the farm. Now, barely one month after the trip, two of his pineapple suckers have already developed small fruits.
“I am a big fan of pineapple, but I never knew that pineapple farming could be replicated in Kimana,” Mr. Kandili explained. He had invited members of NCDO to visit his small farm to witness the miracle of the moment.
He says, “The Bible verse states: ‘My people perish due to lack of knowledge’ [Kweli biblia inasema watu wangu wanapotea kwa kukosa elimu]. To me this is a miracle. I have tried several times to plant the top part of pineapple fruits without success, not knowing that it is the suckers that are to be planted.”
Jokingly, Mr. Kandili said he is proud to have his name listed in the Guinness book of World Records as the first Maasai farmer ever to produce pineapple fruit in Loitokitok!
“Now that I am sure that pineapple farming can be applicable to our climate, I am planning to purchase more suckers,” Mr. Kandili says. “Though I can’t just stop being a pastoralist, I have decided to take up crop farming seriously as a business.”
Nkoyoyo Monglya and Lilian Muriet Leshan are mothers who struggle to feed, clothe and educate their children in a traditional tribal society where women have little political or social power, and education is undervalued. Still, these two women hope that by sending their children to school, and encouraging other women in their village in Southern Kenya to educate their children as well, the lives of all villagers will improve and their community will grow stronger.
With this desire, they and other women who are participating in the Sustained Agribusiness for Healthier Livelihoods Project are motivated to learn more effective agricultural practices so they can earn enough money to pay for their children’s education and improve health and economic conditions for themselves and their children.
The two-year project is helping 81 Maasai tribeswomen, identified as “the most vulnerable and needy women,” to learn sustainable agricultural methods, explains Daniel Nyagwara, who heads the project with funding from Portland-based Vibrant Village Foundation’s $82,260 grant. The women are being supported with borehole wells, tools and equipment, seeds and fertilizers.
“I hope to grow beans, maize and some vegetables,” says Nkoyoyo, who has five children, three of whom are in school. “When I get produce in excess of my needs, I will sell to the market and gain some money for paying school fees and other needs.”
Lilian is married with three children, two of whom attend a nearby private school. Through the Sustained Agribusiness for Healthier Livelihoods Project, she hopes to become a serious farmer. She wants to grow vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, beans and maize. When she has a good harvest, she plans to sell her surplus at the market to make extra income for buying things she can’t grow on the farm. She also hopes to raise cows of a higher grade to increase milk production.
The 81 women live in three villages in Rombo, a small township with fewer than 5,000 people. Rombo is located in the Rift Valley, just north of the border with Tanzania and within the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. Traditionally, the Maasai people have been herders. But years of drought and being pushed off their historical land — first by British colonialists so settlers could build ranches, and continuing in the 20th century by the Kenyan government to create wildlife reserves and national parks — have forced many tribal members to adapt to new lifestyles.
Some men continue to raise cattle or other livestock, and some have left the rural villages to work low-skilled jobs in cities. A few men have taken responsibility for earning money for their households, but most are idle, lacking skills to farm or do any other kind of income-generating activity, Daniel says. Women are expected to raise food and sell any surplus. Some also sell traditional medicine or items such as minerals, embroidery work or dairy products. What money these women earn becomes the property of their husbands, who often use most of it to buy food, drink or other pleasures for themselves, leaving their wives to feed children and maintain the household with what is left over, he adds.
Nkoyoyo is concerned that many community members, especially men and to some extent women, do not value education as a vehicle to create a brighter future for their community. She hopes this mentality can be changed through awareness as well as increasing the number of schools so that as many children as possible can access education from primary through secondary levels.
According to Daniel, studies conducted among communities in the developing world show that women with higher levels of education are more likely to have cleaner households and they and their children are less likely to suffer from diseases, including HIV/AIDs.
In their patriarchal society, Maasai women don’t own land. If a woman’s husband dies, the widow can claim ownership of any acquired or inherited property such as land or livestock only if she has a young son or sons who will assume ownership when they come of age.
“This can make a woman very desperate. Upon the death of her husband, she may be either fought or even chased away by the next of kin to posses any wealth that her husband left behind, which she definitely contributed to making,” Daniel adds. “It will be her in-laws who will dictate what she owns and what she does not own. I know of many women who have been denied their matrimonial wealth, sent away or killed by their kinsmen just to access and acquire their late husband’s wealth.”
Despite these challenges, Nkoyoyo and Lilian both like their community.
“The families are at peace, and there is no crime,” Lilian points out. But she works hard to ensure her children get an education. In addition to her household chores, Lilian prepares tea and snacks, which she sells daily to farmers, casual laborers and to men who are traveling. This helps her pay private school fees, feed her family and buy other basic needs. She says she started this small business because, when she was first married, her husband “did not care to provide for me. My children and I suffered. They were going to a public school where the level of education was too low.”
Lilian advises other women of her community to “struggle, even though all things work against them.” And, she believes Maasai men should be empowered to actively participate in helping their wives take care of their household responsibilities — such as finding food, educating their children, building a house and farming — all duties women are currently expected to handle by themselves.
“These women truly have needs,” Daniel says, referring to all the women in the Sustained Agribusiness for Healthier Livelihoods Project. “We may not be able to find solutions to all of them, but we can put our best foot forward, give our best talents, efforts, skills, knowledge and resources to at least change the life of a child, a girl, a widow and women generally in these villages.”
Nkoyoyo adds, “With this project, I hope that there will be a change, and this change — though coming through agriculture — will encompass all the women in the community to make a step ahead socially and economically."
Salvador Domingo Lopez appears through the mist on the back of a motorbike driven by his nephew Lalo. As the bike pulls to a stop he jumps off to greet Karen, Vibrant Village's grant partner and the director of the Mixteca Speciality Coffee project. He has the energy of someone half his age and a smile that spreads across his whole face, his deep wrinkles belying his many years working outside. At 73, Don Salvador still thrives in his life and his work and is busily, yet unassumingly inspiring others.
Don Salvador, was the first to join the Speciality Coffee project when they began working with people from his village, Paz y Progreso in the Mixtec Highlands of Oaxaca. He had been cultivating and growing coffee all his life, making a humble living to provide for his wife and 5 children. His house was built with money made from coffee growing and he ensured that all his children were able to go to school. The Mixtec Highlands have a wet and rainy climate, so much so that the inhabitants of the region are called the People of the Rain. This, and the altitude, makes the Mixtec Highlands the perfect region for growing coffee. However, Don Salvador, by his own admission, never knew the potential of growing Specialty coffee, he simply grew what was available to him.
That was until he eagerly started attending the free workshops offered by the Mixteca Specialty Coffee Project (known as Chu'un café maa va'a nuu Ñuu Savi in the local language) and building on his already vast knowledge of coffee growing. Soon he began to see that he could make quality coffee, to take pride in and ultimately sell with much greater profit.
It wasn’t long before Don Salvador started implementing all his learning from the workshops and achieving high quality coffee. All his hard work, resulted in him winning 1st prize in the first ever Speciality Coffee Award event in the region, organised by the Mixteca Specialty Coffee Project, and judged by experts in the field. He was overcome by emotion when accepting his prize, exclaiming that he felt blessed and fortunate to still be able to learn how to produce Specialty coffee and then adding that learning to produce quality coffee was a chance for the whole region and all the coffee producers to live better lives.
Don Salvador’s humble nature means that he is rather unaware of the inspiration he offers to others. His success was shared on the community radio in his area and he received calls from people in other villages wanting to learn how to produce Specialty coffee; resulting in new coffee growers attending the project’s workshops.
More importantly however, is Lalo, his nephew. Lalo is 21, an age when many young men from the Mixteca leave their communities for larger Mexican cities or to head for the US in search of work because their villages hold nothing for them. This outmigration has affected the region heavily, destroying the fiber of communities, leaving grandparents behind with young children and spouses without their partners for years. Lalo, however, inspired by his great uncle with whom his bond is strong and clear for all to see, now sees the possibility for a future right where he is, making a good income from Specialty coffee.
Lalo and Don Salvador attend the workshops together, always arriving together on the motorbike. While Lalo drives the bike, Don Salvador leads the way towards a brighter future.