New jobs help Kenyans to fight hunger, food shortages

14 May 2012

The people of Namelok in Kenya's Amboseli region have had to learn to adapt to change. They are ethnic Maasai and traditionally keep livestock, but successive droughts have decimated many of their animals, so they broke with tradition and now cultivate tomatoes, maize and beans.

To hear their story in person, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark visited the area ahead of the launch of the Africa Human Development Report on 15 May. "I think across Africa a big answer to fighting hunger and food shortages is empowering women farmers," Helen Clark said after meeting the women.

43-year-old Motialo Kiserian earned a living trading goats at the local market after her husband left her with four children to feed. But the income is unreliable and realistically she can only earn around 50 dollars a month. Now, she and the other members of her women's group have leased 2 acres of land with the help of a small local charity, and they've already had one successful harvest, which earned them around 500 dollars -- given to the women in the group who needed the money most.

"We would like to farm more arable land and do this on a bigger scale," says Motialo. "And we want to learn better agricultural practices, so that we can become a society that can sustain itself."

The women's farm lies at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the natural springs that water it are fed by the mountain's glaciers. That water doesn't just support the region's farmers but also a biodiverse ecosystem including the elephants that attract visitors from all over the world to the nearby Amboseli Park. Tourism is a major earner of foreign exchange for Kenya and the community has recognised that conservation can also bring economic benefits.

The Satao Elerai Conservacy is a 65,000 acre wildlife corridor that has been set aside by the community to protect the environment, and provide an income from tourism. A luxury camp built in the Conservancy pays dividends to the Maasai landowners, and the money has sunk a much-needed borehole and is building a school.

That's not all, explains Elerai Conservation Secretary Jonah Marapash, who comes from a village near the camp. "People get employment," says Marapash, "they get fuel to run this generator whereby people will get water, in addition to that we are getting a lot of revenue, whereby we facilitate bursaries, we facilitate even emergencies if someone want medical, and other related assistance required by the community."

"We're in an area with incredible conservation values," Helen Clark noted while she was visiting the Conservancy, "but it's also an area where people have lived for millennia. So the trick is to find a way that the people can live, that human development can go ahead, while the nature is also protected. And I think that this village is very committed to finding that way."

The ultimate aim is for communities like this one to be able to capitalise on their resources better, so that in times of drought they have other sources of income and don't have sell their land and livelihood -- and so that they can be successful farmers, whatever the weather.