Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 18, Part 2 - Interview with William, a Small Farmer

William Oluoch is a 22 year old farmer in Bondo District. It wasn't overtly said in our interview, but he is an orphan, likely due to AIDS. He supports his wife, Jane, his four children (the oldest is in 2nd grade), and his five siblings (7th grade, 8th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, and a high school graduate), a total of eleven people. He's even put three of his siblings through high school, which is very expensive. He built his current home when he was 18. Much of the focus of our interview was on ox-plowing because he is very skilled in this dying art, and he learned it at such a young age.

William with his wife and children.

The interview was conducted in Luo, through a translator.

William farms four to five acres, growing predominantly maize, beans, and sorghum. He has 18 cows, of which 5 are female and the rest are male. He says, "I plow with the cattle so I can produce food and don't have to buy it."

JR: Do you ever have to go to the store to feed your family?

WO: In a good season, I grow enough and even enough to get a surplus to sell, so I can use the income for something else.

JR: How did you learn how to plow with an ox team?

WO: I used to accompany my parents to plow, so I observed them and learned how to do it.

JR: How old were you when you did that?

WO: Around 10.

JR: How many cows does it take to pull a plow?

WO: I use six.

JR: How long does it take to plow an acre?

WO: It takes four days.

JR: Have you ever done plowing a different way, like with a tractor?

WO: I have used a tractor.

JR: What do you think are the advantages of using your ox team?

WO: First of all, I have control when I'm working with the oxen. I can plow as I want. I can go deeper, or shallower, or evade obstacles. But with a tractor, I have no control. Someone comes and drives it all around. The tractor takes the very deep soil so the fertility is lost because the top soil is put too deep, so a place plowed by tractor tends to lose fertility quicker.

JR: How did you learn that?

WO: I learned that by observation. For example, if a field is continuously plowed with a tractor for two years, and another field is continuously plowed by oxen for two years, on the third year, you notice the crop on the tractor dug field will grow shorter and with less vitality while the one on the ox plowed field will grow consistent.

JR: How many years have you been the lead farmer on your land?

WO: Since I was 17 years old.

JR: Do you grow any other crops, like kale or cabbage? Or are there any wild or semi-wild crops that are included in your family's diet?

WO: There are other supporting crops I grow. Cowpeas, both for the leaves and for the beans. We also grow groundnuts and sesame.

JR: Do you sell any of those or just eat them?

WO: I sometimes sell groundnuts and sesame.

JR: How does your family earn money other than selling crops?

WO: There are two main ways I get supplemental income. One, I sometimes go to the lake and do a little fish trade. Second, I am a cattle trader. So I can get an animal from one of the villages and sell it at the market for a profit.

JR: Are your cows the local breed or grade or crosses, and why do you choose that breed?

WO: They are local. I got the locals because I don't have the capacity to upkeep a grade animal so it's manageable with the locals. I know how to take care of them. It's expensive to deal with the grade animals.

JR: Are you the primary caretaker of your animals or do other members of the family help?

WO: They help. My wife, especially when I am gone to do small business. My siblings and children also help.

JR: Can you tell me about your sheep and goats? How many of each do you have?

WO: 35 goats and 30 sheep.

JR: Are they to sell for income, or to feed your family, or both?

WO: The small animals I mainly use for income. I built this house using sheep and goats. I made the roof by selling goats and I used the money from selling sheep to buy the timber and to pay for the labor. I also use the money to help build rental properties. You see, there are already two buildings there. I have five units and all of them are occupied.


William's house

William with a baby

William lets the animals out of their shed.

JR: Do you ever leave any of your land fallow?

WO: I do. And I rotate where I grow my crops. When I leave a field fallow, I bring the farmyard manure to it. The field where I am growing crops this year was fallow last season.

JR: How long do you leave a field fallow?

WO: One year when I supplement with farmyard manure.

JR: Do you feel it maintains the fertility sufficiently.

WO: I get good results from that and the soil structure has improved. So the next time I introduce farmyard manure and it's plowed again together, you get better soil mix.

JR: Do you allow the animals to graze on the fallow land?

WO: Yes. When I've left it they can graze?

JR: Do you let them graze in a field after the harvest?

WO: Yes.

JR: Does your land provide enough pasture for your animals to graze or do you need more land for grazing?

WO: That alone is not enough so the cattle have to seek other pastures.

JR: Where do you take them?

WO: There is a few communal grazing spots still left but that is also not enough. I supplement with deals with other landowners, so I could plow for someone and they let my animals graze in a field, or I can pay someone. Some form of exchange.

JR: Does your family get milk from your animals?

WO: When they have calved, I also get milk.

JR: How much milk does each cow give each day?

WO: Because they are locals, the milk production is not super high. I get an average of one and a half liters to two liters per day.

JR: How does your family use the milk?

WO: I use the milk to make tea and also to cook vegetables, like mitoo. At that rate, I am able to get a surplus that I sell. If I sell one liter per day, I earn 900 shillings per month. I also use the surplus milk to make sour milk and then that process also leads to the production of ghee.

JR: Let's talk about hunting. How frequently do you go hunting?

WO: Three times a week.

JR: Who goes with you?

WO: We usually form a hunting pack with other members of the village.

JR: How many hunting dogs do you have?

WO: I go with four and the rest stay at home to guard the home.

JR: Can you tell me how you catch and kill an animal?

WO: When we go, we use the dogs. And usually I restrain one or two dogs, and two other dogs are left to ransack the bushes. When the animal is started and they start chasing it, I can control the ones I have in my hand. The restrained dogs are only released when the animal is in sight. Usually the dogs bring the animal down but we can also club the animal down. We don't use firearms but we use handheld weapons and clubs or a spear or a machete.

William and some of his dogs.

JR: Do you catch an animal every time?

WO: Sometimes we come back emptyhanded, but sometimes we get something. It's not a guarantee that you'll come back with a kill.

JR: How do the hunters distribute the meat among themselves?

WO: Usually when we make the kill, there is kind of some hunting rule. The minimal division is among three people. Let's say I kill the animal, and there is a second assistant, and there is a third. And it can extend to another fourth if it seems one of my friends in the pack will go home empty handed. But usually it relates to how the animal was brought down. Maybe my dogs brought the animal down, or I clubbed it. So there is usually three tiers to the contribution. The biggest contributor to the kill, and a second, and a third, and it can go to a fourth or a fifth depending on how the hunt is going.

JR: How often does your family eat meat from hunting?

WO: In a week, you could say something like two meals. In a meal, it could begin from about eight meals. It's not that we can do it every day.

JR: Have you ever purchased chemical fertilizer from the store?

WO: Yes.

JR: Do you think it works well?

WO: You can see some one-time results from using the chemical fertilizers. I prefer using the farmyard manure because when I use the chemical fertilizers, the land is spoiled so if you use it then you'll always have to use it.

JR: Under what circumstances would you buy it?

WO: I used it when I was farming a land that was really infertile so I put the fertilizer in each hole when the seed was going in.

JR: Was that a one-time event or is this a regular thing you do?

WO: I did it that one time, but the rest of the time I use farmyard manure.

JR: Do you ever notice pests or diseases harming your crops?

WO: There is diseases. An example is the stem borer that affects the maize. You just see the symptoms of the maize wilting and drying.

JR: How commonly is that a problem around here?

WO: It's a problem in the area. In a field, you usually see signs of that.

JR: Do you have a method of dealing with that?

WO: There is a spray that can be used on the maize.

JR: Do you know the name of it?

WO: No. It's at the local agro-vet shop.

JR: Do you use it?

WO: I haven't used it but I saw someone use it.

JR: Have you heard anything about GMOs?

WO: No.

JR: Do you do any form of water harvesting?

WO: I have plastic jerrycans [20 liter containers] that I store water in and a few 200 liter drums.

JR: How do you think the government or NGOs best help farmers like you in this area?

WO: One way is for NGOs or government to facilitate cooperative working or working in groups and the other way is I also see is some kind of marketing thing. We can grow a crop but once it's there we have a problem selling it. Some farmers have done a system where they grow and when the things are ready, they are helped to sell it. But I haven't been a beneficiary.

We ended with a quick discussion about credit. The banks here require you to have half the amount you want to borrow in your bank account. So if you want to borrow 100,000 shillings, you must have an account with 50,000 shillings first. William is saving his money to be able to take a loan, but wishes he could get credit easier. He wants to build a small slaughterhouse so he can open up a butcher shop.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 18, Part 1 - Interview with Florence Ogendi, a Small Farmer

Florence Ogendi is a Luo woman living in Bondo District, Kenya. She is the mother of seven grown children, two men and five women. The youngest is Ruth, age 27. As women in her area are called "Mama" plus the name of their firstborn, she is called "Mama Peter." I met her because I was visiting her second child, Malaki Obado, and his wife Amy. Since Florence is a talented farmer, they suggested I interview her - and I did.


Florence farms 4 acres and has done so for the last 40 years. I began by asking if she has noticed any changes in the climate over the years. Yes, she replied.

JR: What's changed?

FO: When I first came here, the land was very fertile and I could harvest a lot of beans, a lot of maize, a lot of millet. And these times, we have the rain failure, so this always leads to poor harvesting.

JR: The rain, or the fertility of the soil?

FO: The fertility has gone, and the rain also.

JR: Both.

FO: The rain is not [inaudible]. When I was here, by this time [late February] you would have planted the first crops.

JR: Cuz the rain would have come already?

FO: Mmm, earlier in February. By this time it is now ending February and there is no rain at all. So it will force us to plant in March, and by then we cannot plant some of our traditional seeds. There are some which needs to be planted earlier. In February.

JR: Can you name which plants those are?

FO: Sorghum. There is a certain type of sorghum planted earlier, but it grows and you can harvest a lot of stalks if it is planted earlier. But if it is planted later, then it will not even mature. It takes a long time.

JR: Do you know when the rains began shifting the time when they came?

FO: It's about five years ago.

JR: When did you notice that the fertility of the land began to fail.

FO: The fertility of the land, about twelve years back.

JR: When you grow your crops, do you rotate which crop grows in each place?

FO: Yes.

JR: Do you have a traditional rotation that you do?

FO: That one is not traditional. You can just plant millet, or plant sorghum, you plant maize. But the rotation came about when there was knowledge from the Agriculture Department that we should rotate to get more good harvest.

JR: What else did the Agriculture Department tell you?

FO: Planting with farmyard manure instead of fertilizer from the shop.

JR: They recommended that?

FO: Mmm.

JR: Do you remember when they told you that?

FO: That was, when was that? Four years ago. One of the officers told me that it's better to use these ones.

JR: So you use manure?

FO: So I use the farmyard manure for my fertilizer.

Then I asked which crops she grows. Florence told me she grows maize, sorghum, beans, mung beans, kale, pumpkins, cowpeas, cassava, sesame seeds, and sweet potatoes. She also grows a local vegetable called akeyo. She does not grow cabbage.

I asked Florence how much of the year the food she grows lasts her family. She replied that before, when the soil was fertile, she never needed to buy food because she grew enough, and she even had enough to sell. Instead of selling it, she would give the food as payment to those who helped her weed the garden. But now, her family does run out of food during the year and they need to buy food from the market.

Next, we discussed her cows.

JR: How many cattle do you have?

FO: We have ten.

JR: And four are milking cows?

FO: No, there are six milking cows. There is one who is going to give birth for the first time. That black one.

JR: So there are six cows that provide milk?

FO: Six female cows.

JR: And four male?

FO: Now there are four male for the plowing and then the younger ones are coming up here. So right now there are more than ten.

JR: What will you do with the young cows? Will you keep them or sell them?

FO: Some I will sell, but some can go to the plowing if they are big enough. If they are strong.

JR: Have you always used an ox team to plow?

FO: No, sometimes I go for a tractor. Even the last season I plowed with a tractor.

JR: So you have to rent it?

FO: Yes, you just pay for them to work.

JR: If you were to sell one of the calves, how much money - is it a good source of income?

FO: That one there could go for 8,000 [US$97]. The white one. And even that brown one. It ranges from six [$73] to eight and then you can go to fifteen [$182]. That big one was bought at 15,000 and this one was bought at fifteen.

JR: Are these ones local breeds?

FO: These ones are local, but this one here is crossed.

JR: Do you know what it's crossed with? A grade [exotic breed] animal?

FO: A grade animal. My in-law had some grade animals down there so I took it here and it was served [mated]. And even the black one, the one I was saying was going to give birth for the first time is crossed. And this one here is crossed. And even that one, this is the mother, so it has some crosses inside.

JR: Do you notice a difference between the ones that are crossed and the native breeds?

FO: The ones we have crossed, in milking they give us more milk than the local animals.

JR: How much milk do you get from a local cow?

FO: The local breeds you can get a liter, sometimes a liter and a half.

JR: In a day? In a milking?

FO: Let me say three liters a day. So in the evening and the morning. But the crossed you can get even seven liters in a day sometimes, or six.

JR: And the crossed animals, if you were to sell them or buy them, would they cost more?

FO: Yes, they cost more.

JR: How much more?

FO: This one was 19,000 [US$230]. I bought it from a friend.

JR: Is there any difference in how they need to be maintained or cared for?

FO: Yes, there is a difference. You know they should be given some supplement [extra food, often purchased, high calorie foods like corn and molasses], they should not just go grazing in the field. They should get something extra for them to give us extra milk. So you can get some more grass for them, they eat at home after coming in from the field, and even before going out.

JR: How about water? How do they compare with your other animals?

FO: They drink a lot of water, and they need some water at home. Even before they go [inaudible]. So even if I give them here, I am just starving them. They should get more water than the local ones.

JR: How about with diseases?

FO: Diseases, these ones now, they have become resistant to diseases, but when they were young I used to treat them a lot.

JR: With medicine?

FO: Mmm, with medicine. These ones, we go and clean, you know they spray the ticks and they hardly fall sick.

JR: Which, for you, is better? To have the animal that provides more milk but needs a little more care? Or the animal that provides less milk but needs less care?

FO: The animal that provides less milk and less care. Because they are disease resistant, and you can use them for plowing. You can take them to the market and they can easily be bought there. But the grade one, if you take them to the market, they don't like them. There are special people who like them, who will come for them or go for them. But if you go to the market, they just tell you the same price as the local one. They won't give you the money for them, as if you've taken a local one. I can remember one day my brother-in-law took his grade goats to the market and they didn't buy them. There were four of them and they just came back. And they were just - they wanted to pay even less than what they paid for the local one. I don't know why. So they came back and he slaughtered them one by one and ate them...

JR: Do you ever eat your own cows? Is there ever an occasion when you would slaughter one and eat it?

FO: Yes, there was an occasion, when Amy got married [to her son Malaki in 2005] and her parents were around and we have so many visitors, we slaughtered a bull. So people got to eat and roast and fry and be happy.

JR: So, I noticed, you have some of the crosses but you don't have any 100%.

FO: No, I don't have any 100%, but my brother-in-law down there has grade animals. He is called James.

JR: How do you feel about the grade animals? Why did you choose not to get any?

FO: I didn't want them because I didn't have somebody to look after them.

JR: They take that much care?

FO: Yes, they take much care and then you should have somebody who knows the diseases. You know, James is a retired veterinary officer and his two sons are also veterinary officers.

JR: So he can do that?

FO: They can do it easily. They can detect whether a cow is sick but if I am here, I can't detect, and I was going to school by then so nobody to take care of them. That's why I decided to have the local ones. You can tell [her hired help] go and look after them and they drink, they eat, and come and sleep.

JR: Let me ask about that. Is it the case that the grade animals fall sick more frequently, or do they also get different diseases than local animals that might be unfamiliar to you?

FO: I think the local animals have become resistant to tick-borne diseases. So you can go to the market and find some who have not even been sprayed for I don't know how long and they are just alive with their ticks. But these ones, only one tick can kill them. They become sick.

JR: How do you manage the cows? What's a normal day for the cows? They start off here in the morning and do they go somewhere to graze?

FO: They go outside to graze. On my own land around here.

JR: Who takes care of them?

FO: The herdsman, my employee.

JR: How is he compensated? With a salary?

FO: He is given a salary, housing, food, and the rest.

JR: Does he care for any animals besides the cows?

FO: I have sheep.

JR: How many sheep?

FO: There used to be many but they have really gone down. The number has gone down. They have been dying, I don't know. But now there are 17.

JR: How do you use them? Are they for wool, or milk, or meat?

FO: The sheep, I use them for meat and sometimes I sell them. If I need money, I take one to the market. Sell one and take the money and use it.

JR: Do you have goats as well?

FO: I used to have goats but the bees killed them.

JR: The what? The bees killed them?

FO: Mmm. They were tied around there. [Indicates the area where there are many beehives] My husband took them there, I don't know why he took them to the apiary. And I think they knocked one of the boxes down. So the bees came out in numbers and they killed them. And they were tied so they couldn't run. They were crying, crying, and now the bees were all over the compound so we just went inside and locked ourselves. Because the bees were trying to enter the house.

JR: That sounds horrible. What year was that?

FO: That one was just two years ago.

JR: Would you consider getting more goats?

FO: Yes. Even right now I have two there.

JR: Are your goats the local breeds or grade?

FO: The local breeds.

JR: Are they used for meat?

FO: Yes, they are used for meat.

JR: Do you ever sell them? I mean, when you have more.

FO: Yeah, if you have an extra, you can sell.

JR: What would be an occasion when you would slaughter a goat or a sheep?

FO: It might be you have more than ten visitors and you think of buying meat but it looks more expensive, then you will slaughter a goat. Or if you have some visitors who are the in-laws here, you can slaughter something for them. You respect them.

JR: Are there any holidays you would slaughter a goat for?

FO: Holidays, yes. During Christmas I slaughter one sheep.

JR: How many chickens do you have?

FO: The young chicks, I think about 40 and the layers, 10 or 12.

At this point, I asked how many eggs her chickens lay. Like everyone else I asked in Kenya, she had no idea. Kenyans all told me they lay an egg a day. There's no way they lay that much. The industrial breeds kept in confinement operations in the U.S. lay that much, or even up to eight eggs a week. Other breeds take at least a day off each week.

JR: Do you ever eat your chickens?

FO: Yes, I can slaughter a chicken any time. If I want to eat a chicken, I can slaughter it, or if I have a visitor, I can slaughter one.

JR: If you were to eat chicken, what would be more common: to slaughter one or to purchase meat?

FO: To slaughter one. Especially if you are going to spend nothing. If you go to buy, you need to pay something, but if you slaughter, that is your own thing. You don't need to pay.

JR: So the other day when we had chicken stew, it was - you slaughtered one?

FO: Yes, I slaughtered one. [laughs]

Umm, my bad. As I asked her these questions, I realized that she had probably slaughtered the chicken in honor of my visit - and then I didn't even eat any!

JR: Milk is an important part of the diet here, right?

FO: Yes.

JR: Can you tell me how you use it?

FO: Milk is important for making tea. We use it for cooking vegetables. There are traditional vegetables, especially the one we call mitoo. It is rather bitter so you can cook it and keep on pouring milk. And you don't eat it the same day you cook it. So it can go for about three days and then you begin to eat it. During those three days, you can just warm them with the milk and then let it stay and after three days or four, you can eat it. It can even go after four days and then it becomes richer, because there is now a lot of milk in it, a lot of cream in there, so we eat it that way.

JR: Do people just ever drink a glass of milk?

FO: You know, a long time ago, there was a lot of milk and it was in excess, then sometimes after milking they could pour them in their gourds where they use the sour milk, they keep the sour milk. And then the remainder they could just dig a hole and bury their milk. Because there was a lot of milk in every home. Because you know a long time ago, they used to keep a lot of cows.

So there was a lot of cows around. So every home had some and very many. So they could not cope with the milk. Because there was nobody to buy and it was too much for them to consume. So they were just throwing some away. And they had a lot of ghee. Their traditional vegetable was full of ghee. After getting the cream from the milk they just put that on the vegetable. And they say they were stronger when they were using the ghee instead of the fats we get from the store. The cooking oil, the cooking fats.

JR: Why do people have fewer cows now?

FO: You know, because of where to graze them. People have become many, and the land is getting smaller. Some have been sold. So if you have very many cows, you don't have where to graze them.

JR: Can you tell me, how many years ago was it when people began to have fewer cows and there was less milk?

FO: Even 20 years ago, let me say.

JR: So let's go back to talking about the vegetables. You began farming 40 years ago. At that time, did you purchase fertilizer from the store?

FO: No. Me, I've just been using the farmyard manure. By then, you know, the soil was fertile so I didn't need to add more. So now the fertility has gone is when I'm using the farmyard manure.

JR: Did you ever purchase chemical fertilizer?

FO: Me, I've never used it. I've never bought it.

JR: Do your neighbors, do you think?

FO: No.

JR: Why have you never used it?

FO: The fertilizer, you know, those use it it say that when you buy it, because you know, you will use it per hole when you are planting. But they say that it will spoil the soil instead of enriching it.

JR: When did you begin using the manure, or did you always?

FO: Four years ago.

JR: Have you noticed any changes since you began using it?

FO: Yes, there is change. Nowadays there is [inaudible] weed, which used to grow there. [Inaudible] weed is a parasite for these cereals. But now they don't grow there.

JR: So the problem came or the problem went away?

FO: The problem went away. The [inaudible] weed is not there and even if you see it there, it doesn't affect the plant as it did when there was no manure.

JR: Have you ever purchased any other chemicals, like a pesticide or an herbicide, from the store?

FO: Yes, sometimes I buy to kill the fleas where the small animals sleep.

Next, I asked about intercropping. She told me she intercrops her cereals with beans or cowpeas. She said you can also intercrop maize and sesame.

JR: Do you always intercrop?

FO: With beans, I always do it. Because beans grow shorter then after a few months you remove them and leave the crops alone.

JR: When do you plant during the year?

FO: The first planting should begin around February, mid-February when there is rain. But when there is no rain, then we go by the rain. When the rain falls, we plant. But the planting should begin in February, March, and part of April. But April is sometimes late.

JR: When do you harvest?

FO: In August. We begin harvesting in late July and August.

JR: For the maize?

FO: For the maize. There's some fast maturing - they mature fast.

JR: Do you plant different varieties of maize?

FO: Yes.

JR: How many?

FO: About two. We have a yellow maize and then there's white.

JR: Do you save your seeds or do you purchase them?

FO: I used to save some seeds from my produce but recently I've been buying new seeds from the Agro-Vet.

JR: Which brand do you buy?

FO: Duma 43. [A hybrid variety from Seed Co]

JR: Are there differences other than color between the yellow and the white maize? Like does one mature faster.

FO: The Duma I plant matures faster and it withstands drought. So even if there's drought you can still get something from it.

JR: What are the advantages to the other one?

FO: The yellow one? The yellow one also matures fast and is drought resistant. But our ordinary white, the ones we used to plant. These days you plant it, it can't reproduce. You get very little. I don't know why, they are now immune to our soil or what has happened. They don't do well. The traditional seeds, the ones I used to save. They don't do well these days so these days I don't even save them.

JR: And then you harvest around July and August. What do you do then, store the maize?

FO: We dry them and store them. You can use a little ash. The ash will harden the seeds so that the bugs don't destroy them. So we can keep them in our stores, the one you saw there. But when you feel that then you should take them out in the sun again, you can take them.

That is fascinating! They used to use ash to keep the bugs off of their corn in Mexico too. Where I visited in Chiapas, the people had stopped using ash because they felt it was too dirty, and they preferred to use the same lime that they used to make tortillas. But recently, the bugs started attacking the corn anyway and people had massive losses to their crops post-harvest.

JR: When do you plant again?

FO: That is in September. That is when the short rains come. And we harvest in December.

JR: So it sounds like there's the most food during those rainy seasons? When is there the least food?

FO: The long rains, the ones we are going to plant now gives us more than the one we plant in September. Because sometimes there's no rain at all. But we just try in case there is rain, we can harvest. If there is no rain, it's OK because we harvested in the long rains.

JR: During which months of the year are you most likely to need to buy food from the store?

FO: In case the short rains fail, you can begin buying from December up til the next harvest is August. But if we get something from the short rain, then it is just May, June, and July that we need to buy.

At that point we wrapped up, and we were soon interrupted by Uncle James, who was dropping by. He wanted to be interviewed too, so I spoke to him for a little bit. I'll be posting about that later.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 16, Part 2 - Thirsty Animals

During my time in Bondo, again and again I saw the impacts of the dry season - and not just among humans. Here are some photos I snapped of animals finding food and water anywhere they could.

The dry season isn't only hard on the people - it's hard on the animals too. Any time we humans did the laundry or dishes or anything else involving water, the critters were right there, eager for a drink.

Turkeys doing the dishes

As Rose does the dishes, the chickens help themselves to the dishwater

Bees taking a drink in the chicks' waterer

Goats get into Amy's laundry water

Amy chases them away

Goats come back...

... and help themselves

The goats in particular made trouble because when it's dry like this, owners can no longer tie goats up and expect them to find food where they are. Instead, they just let the goats go free to find food where they can. Some goats found Malaki's mom's sweet potatoes and ate them all up, in fact. And one day while I was using the toilet i.e. hole in the ground, I heard something behind me and it was a goat, eating through the bush that is supposed to be there to give you privacy in the loo!

Here are some goats we found on the loose as we walked through the village:

As Malaki cleared the bush for the area where he will build his home, the goats flocked to the delicious green leaves they could now reach, which were unattainable before.

What must be said here is that these are - with the possible exception of those turkeys - all local breeds of animals that can survive in this dry environment with water and food scarcity. For people who have fancy exotic breeds of livestock (like German Alpine dairy goats or Friesian cows, for example), they must not only fetch water for their household needs but also fetch it for their animals. The critters in these photos are fairly good at scrounging up what they need to survive without requiring a human to see to their every need. As Sidney (the Maasai man I spoke to) said, the exotic breeds are capable of producing more milk or growing faster to produce beef, but only with a lot of effort and perhaps expenditure and risk from a human caring for them. That said, Amy also noted that she thinks people might get better results from the local breeds if they do put a little bit more effort into their care. Not as much as is required for, say, a Jersey cow, but a little more than the care the local breeds of animals are given now.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 11, Part 4 - Interview with a Maasai Man, Part 3

This post covers the last 20 minutes of my conversation with Sidney, a Maasai man who was kind enough to speak to me at his home in Kajiado, Kenya. Previous parts of this interview can be read here and here.

Sidney with two Maasai women and me. The women dressed me up like a proper Maasai.

In this section, we were wrapping up a discussion of the Maasai diet. He had just described the historic Maasai diet, and I asked him about something he'd mentioned, that farmers now barter with the Maasai, trading perhaps butter for maize. I asked if maize was historically part of the diet.

To put his answer in context, in recent decades, Maasai land changed from communal ownership to individual landholdings that could be sold. Once some Maasai began selling land to people of other tribes, suddenly the Maasai found themselves living alongside sedentary farmers.

It had to get in because when we started getting these other communities coming on board [inaudible] then ugali [corn porridge] was the first foreign food that came to us. [inaudible]

JR: Do you know when that began?

SQ: I remember in school, we were told, when Kajiado started opening up, just after Independence [1963], that is when we started consuming it in a big way. We had been forced by circumstances earlier, during droughts, to take the yellow maize [U.S. food aid]. When we lost - like in 1961, when we had the worst drought in Kenya, Maasais lost most of their livestock, that was the time when -

JR: Was it foreign aid?

SQ: That was American aid. It was the Kennedy era. Kennedy airlift to Kenya. The relief airlift to Kenya. The American food came.

JR: You noted it was yellow. Kenyans don't eat yellow maize?

SQ: They don't eat yellow maize. These days they don't bring yellow maize. And when it has come, like last year when it came, people rejected it. There was a whole major demonstration. We don't want, first of all, we don't want yellow maize. Second of all, we don't want GMO maize. There's a big debate even up til now about allowing GM maize to come into this country. And Kenyans have a big, big beef with the U.S., saying that, "Why are they bringing us GMO food? We don't need it."

JR: So you don't want GMOs?

SQ: Oh no we don't want GMO food.

JR: Why not?

SQ: I mean, surely what we are seeing in this country is that our local seeds are just being messed up. And why do we need to lose our indigenous seed maize and other seeds to take Bt cotton and others when we can still do ours naturally, we can still do ours organically. Why do we need to accept that? And of course, I know this is debate by AGRA [the Gates funded group Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa], that oh, GMO food is going to eradicate food shortages and that's a load of bull.

Because what you need to do in this country, what we need to do in this country, is just to adopt the right technology. Israel has done it! Israel is a much smaller country. Many areas that are dry - I've been there! Why are they able to do drip irrigation on a very big scale, they are feeding themselves and exporting.

This country [Kenya] - they claim 50% of this country is arable but they are only looking at from the situation of highlands and water masses all over. But we do have water masses that are not helping us in any way. Lake Victoria is bigger than the size of Israel - plenty of fresh water! They're not making use of it.

A note on this. Before Kenya was an independent nation, Egypt and Sudan signed a deal dividing up all of the water from the Nile between them. Because the Nile originates from Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, and from another tributary in Ethiopia, all of those four nations are denied any water from the Nile's tributaries.

Naivasha, plenty of fresh water, but who's making use of that? The flower farmers who are foreigners! The local communities are not even accessing fish. Fisherfolk are no longer earning a living from Lake Naivasha. Because they cannot access the lake for one. Secondly, the lake is polluted because of all those flower farms that are taking water and getting their stuff out. The pesticides go back into the lake. So, like last year, lots of fish died. And the government had to suspend any fishing. Unfortunately, because of the corruption in this country, if our government today would just ban any direct intake of water from Lake Naivasha, and ensure that there was proper disposal of any water that has been used with those chemicals, but who cares? Who's doing it?

The impact of the land changes - land use in Kajiado. As we go back to Nairobi, we are going back together, I will show you. All those houses you see, the greenhouses you see, they are flower farms there. They don't have a proper disposal system. The stuff just goes directly into the ranchland. There's a river that used to flow at a place you passed called Isinya. It's no longer flowing, because these guys decided to uptake the water. There are several boreholes along the riverbed. That river is now dry. It's not flowing. And at the end of it all -

Here are photos of what he's talking about:

Isinya "River"

Isinya "River"

Maasai Flower Farm, an enormous operation near Kitengela, on the road from Nairobi to Kajiado

Same flower farm, zoomed out

Sidney then talked about how the livestock are exposed to the pesticides coming from the flower farms.

Of course it affects your cows. Once, they take all the contaminated water, with all those pesticides. How many have died? We've lost several! I know an old man who lost 60 cows at one go. They took the water from there, with all those chemicals, and they just died.

JR: I saw that river, and it was dry. Was that formerly a source of water for cattle that is now unavailable?

SQ: It is unavailable. Because they are sharing that water with the flower farms and -

JR: And the flowers are for export?

SQ: And the flowers are for export. There is also horticulture, food for export.

JR: Who owns the flower farms?

SQ: They are owned by the big men in this country. By the former president, by the current Minister of Internal Security [George Saitoti], most of these ministers own those farms.

JR: So the former president is Moi? And he owns a lot?

SQ: Moi owns a lot! I'll show you a whole big range of area where he's doing that and he's also doing wildlife farming.

JR: Wildlife farming? What's that?

SQ: What he's doing is that he's keeping some ostriches that are eaten. Some crocodiles are eaten. Yeah. There is a restaurant. And it is illegal according to our Wildlife Act - that's my area, I am a specialist there. Kenya, we are not allowed by the law to game farm. You're only allowed to keep for purposes of photographing. We don't allow sport hunting like you do in the U.S. We don't allow any consumptive use. We can only allow, as per the law, cropping, for scientific reasons. Cropping, or culling, for scientific reasons.

JR: So that's when there's too many of an animal, more than the land can support, so some are killed?

SQ: Yes, but because that encouraged, we did do a pilot for some time, it encouraged poaching. It encouraged sport hunting, so that was also banned. So only the Kenya Wildlife Service is authorized by the law to do that. And in most cases these days, they don't cull. They translocate...

JR: Let me ask about the wildlife and the cattle and the goats. Do Maasai, as pastoralists, have to deal with the animals?

SQ: It has been a very challenging one, because for one - I and Josphat were involved in reviewing the Wildlife Act recently. That is Josphat Ngonyo. We were appointed by the President to go around the country and get views from Kenyans. That was 2005, 2006, all the way up to 2007. And we came up with brand new laws that would ensure that the communities who host wildlife benefit from these wildlife. That they are compensated for loss of their livestock, crops, and consoled for the loss of life because many people are killed. But unfortunately for us in this country, because we have a strong pro-hunting lobby, beginning from your country as well -

JR: From the U.S.?

SQ: From the U.S. Safari Club International. Those guys just want to kill for the sake of it. They are big in South Africa, they came here, they sponsored a lot of members of Parliament, they went to South Africa, they came back, they shot down our bill in Parliament. Right now they are trying to shoot it down because we went and regrouped and came up with a new one. The government has taken up that one...

The biggest challenge we face right now is compensation. Is not a guarantee. If you lose a loved one, you are not guaranteed that you'll get any compensation or consolation. But I would say we've lobbied strongly for loss of life to be moved from when we were paying people 30,000 shillings, I do not know how many dollars it is [US$360] - peanuts - to 200,000 Kenyan shillings now [$2400]. But the Kenyans we met in the country were like minimum we want one million shillings [$12,000] for loss of life. And for permanent disability because surely once you have those kinds of impairments for life, you'll never be anything else... so that one and loss of life, the same.

JR: Which animals are most dangerous to your cattle?

SQ: Well, the most dangerous to the cattle, the lion first. And then we have the leopard. And for our goats and sheep, the cheetah. And the wild dogs. Terrible.

JR: How about for humans?

SQ: For humans, the elephant in areas like the Mara and Amboseli where elephants are many. The rhino and the buffalo. And those ones, like the buffalo, are mostly in the areas where we do some horticultural farming. You know, they like bush, dense areas, where there is water nearby. So people get that problem. Then also of late, the other worrying one are the different snakes. Very dangerous ones. They keep on attacking people. This is mostly in very hot areas like where we are going. There's a hill and there are very many stones.

JR: Like the cobra, the black mamba?

SQ: Yes, here we have the cobra, the black mamba. And the one that is very dangerous to our goats and sheep is the python. That one has actually swallowed a lot of goats.

JR: Full grown goats?

SQ: Yes, they will swallow a whole goat. Big ones... But they are not very prone here. But there are some areas, particularly in the north of Kenya. Northeastern. That is where they have those problems. But in terms of snake bites, there are not as many here as in the coast.

JR: How would you protect your cattle?

SQ: I'll tell you unless it is a young kid attending the livestock, if it is a full grown man with the livestock, it is difficult for the lions to attack.

JR: Why?

SQ: They know we kill them.

JR: So they are afraid.

SQ: They are afraid of Maasais. I mean, there was this ritual killing of the lions. Every other year, warriors would go hunting the lion. And it was part of moranism, part of warriorhood. And unless you kill a lion, you're not man enough. So we have had that.

JR: When did that end?

SQ: That has not ended officially, but it has been reduced, because the KWS [Kenya Wildlife Service] has become very tough... But they still do it in far flung areas... But generally, I would say in 90% of Maasai land, it's not happening. The government is now there. The KWS is there.

JR: In the U.S. we've heard quite a bit about drought conditions in the Horn of Africa, mostly impacting the Somalis. Has that impacted the Maasai?

SQ: Oh yes. Drought has affected us many times. Let me just put it this way. Why does drought affect us more than others? It does because for one, we are so much dependent on our livestock and we haven't yet adopted agricultural farming. So when you lose your cows, you lose your means of livelihood. Because you are dependent on livestock even for you to be able to access services.

A traditional Maasai man would have to sell a goat or a cow or some to buy food because we don't grow any food. Everything you buy! So when drought affects us, when drought hits us here and you lose your livestock, you now, just, you have nothing. Because you didn't have some acres of maize that you could have harvested and stored and then when you don't have livestock at least you have food. But here, you're dependent on these livestock. So livestock takes care of medical bills, takes care of other needs. So when you don't have that, poverty.

But in areas where they do agricultural farming and some areas neighboring us here where they do agro-pastoralism, like in Machakos further in, you know them, they can adapt. Because they lose this, but during the year they have the a piece of land under crop and they preserve the crop, the excess they sell, so they still have some money. But us, just like the Somalis, we are all pastoralism, we do not engage in agricultural production.

And then the worst of it all, even other than agricultural production, we are also not involved in other economic activities. We are not involved in business, for example. Maasais are very poor when it comes to business. The only business they excel is the trade of livestock. That, they are number one. They actually - this Kajiado area we are talking about - takes care of the needs of 80% of the beef needs and meat needs of Nairobi. It's here. We have the biggest slaughterhouse... Which we have been campaigning for a long time and now the government has agreed to put up a tannery. So all the hides and skins that the slaughterhouse handles every day will be processed right there, value added.

JR: When you have a cattle ready for slaughter, do you take it to the slaughterhouse yourself and then receive the meat, or do you sell it to a company as a live animal and the company has it slaughtered and markets the meat?

SQ: There are two ways. Somebody who is not in that trade would just go to the market and sell a live cow. Get your money and that's the end of the story. But there are also those who are brokers, who come in and buy from you, get them slaughtered, put them into trucks, and take them into Nairobi to butcheries. Then there are those who come to buy at the slaughterhouse...

At this point, Sidney and I had sat talking for a full hour. Then, a few things happened. A few Maasai women, Sidney's neighbors, were passing by and they spotted a mzungu [white person] - me! So they stopped in to see if the mzungu would like to buy any beautiful Maasai handicrafts. Such as, for example, this lovely belt:

I bought a few items - although not the belt - and then asked them to pose for a photo.

The other thing that happened was that our tea arrived. I swear, Kenyans might love tea even more than the British do. So my driver, who had been wandering around for the last hour, joined us and all three of us had tea together.

Kenya Diaries: Day 11, Part 3 - Interview with a Maasai Man, Part 2

I spent the eleventh day of my trip with a Maasai family in the town of Kajiado (or just outside it perhaps) in Rift Valley Province. First, I met with a Maasai man named Sidney and we spoke for about an hour before heading out to see his uncle, who lives in a traditional Maasai home. This is the second part of our conversation, transcribed below. In it he speaks about the climate crisis, changes in the breeds kept by the Maasai, and about the Maasai diet.

Sidney began by talking about the climate crisis, which he had hinted at before.

Now, something else that has created a big problem in the last 10 years is that the climate pendulum shifted. Just took a drastic turn.

JR: Since 2002?

SQ: Yes. And a cycle of - a vicious cycle of drought. 2002 itself. We experienced a bad drought the year 2000 all the way up to 2002. Then it rained 2002. Heavy rains. Brought us serious problems. Floods came in. Flash floods came in. Invasive plants came in. And in fact, a very big area you'll see of where we are going - there is an area that is no longer usable for grazing because an invasive weed came in. And covered the entire area so there is no grass. And it has come in and it has flooded an area. They tried getting rid of it but it keeps on coming back. That is now wasteland. Unless there's a way of completely destroying it without destroying the grass and other plants that are there, that land is no longer useful. And this came with the heavy rains that we had.

We've also experienced some livestock diseases that were not there before. Some of the diseases that were totally eradicated by the government years ago came back. Rinderpest was eradicated in Kenya. Completely. There were cases of rinderpest in Tanzania even up til now. But with the rains and with people crossing because when it was dry they went to Tanzania because it was green then, and when it rained they came back, so rinderpest reappeared.

Then a disease that our elders say they experienced 50 years ago came back. Something called blue tongue. Blue tongue affects sheep. You know they just swollen, swollen, and then they pass and they die. That was a very strange one because the younger Kenyans had never seen that before. That came back the year 2003. We experienced a lot of deaths of our sheep. They were just dying in the hundreds. Some people were just totally wiped out. Families lost - first of all, in the drought they lost their livestock. Then the few that remained, and particularly the cows and the sheep, wiped out by rinderpest and by blue tongue.

JR: In a typical year, in the past, did most people purchase medicines for their cows?

SQ: They still do. But the difference is ten years ago - or slightly more than ten years ago - the Government of Kenya's Veterinary Extension Service collapsed. The government used to provide medicine. They used to do campaigns. They would vaccinate animals against blah blah blah. Every year. Countrywide exercise.

And the government also provided cattle dips, where you take your animals and you dip them. And they would also provide the drugs that are needed.

JR: What does the dip do? How does it protect the cattle?

SQ: What happens is that the dip is like say for example a very simple pool. It goes in, there's the water, and the medicine has already been put in there. It gets in, gets wet, and when it comes out it has already been cleaned. All the ticks and stuff out, and it gets protection for another seven days, then you take them back. Every seven days we used to do that...

So the government used to provide that, free of charge. They'd give you the medicine, they'd get you the vets who'd come. Every other time they used to be out there in the field with the people. The minute they notice an outbreak or the minute they suspect there's a disease that could be dangerous to everyone, they would vaccinate, they would isolate, and the Veterinary Department was very effective.

But unfortunately, the last years of the Moi regime [Kenya's second president, whose decades of power ended in 2007], the institution started collapsing. The Ministry of Livestock was [inaudible], the management became poor and services just deteriorated. And then, the unfortunate thing is that some of the people who were in charge of those deals - in every area there was a community committee - the people would elect a people to manage on their behalf, the facilities. But when the people realized that the government officers started stealing, privatizing, slowly then some people decided to individualize public property. So today as I speak, in this town we used to have two cattle dips. They are now private.

JR: So you must pay to use them?

SQ: Yes. One of them was just the other day demolished and they've come up with a housing estate. We have absolutely nowhere now to go for such service.

What is happening now, we'll be forced to buy small pumps, hand pumps. So can you imagine, if you have about 50 cows, you're going to do that physically yourself. Pump, wash them weekly... So you're not going to give them the attention that they'd get in a dip where they'd just go in and come out cleanly done. The challenge first of all with the pump is that you don't have water. Water is a challenge. So if you don't have piped water, it means going to a river, it means going to get the water. Bring it, imagine the time lost - the women are the ones who do this business, getting the water. Go get the water, bring, and now start. Then at the end of it all, they still need water for the house, for their domestic needs. So it has destabilized some people.

But I have seen some groups in other parts of Kajiado where neighbors have come together and have said, "Fine... Let us raise funds." And they do that themselves. Then they just say, OK, we have land here, somebody decides if there is no public land they donate a small piece of land. They put up a cattle dip which is now a communal [dip] but each one of you has a share, you are a stakeholder. So at the end of the year you know, you have to do A, B, C, D. So there is money you need to put in there because you need an attendant to take care of it. So, that is at a community level with no government input.

JR: You said you've changed the breed of cattle over the years. When did that happen?

SQ: Yes. Actually, I'd give it about 20 years. From 1990 - slightly more - from 1990, we started adopting other breeds.

JR: What was your old breed?

SQ: Our old breed was Zebu cow. And then we saw some few of our Maasai leaders started bringing in other breeds. They started bringing in the Boran... they started bringing the Sahiwal, then they started bringing another bigger one called the Simintal. Simintal is actually not a Kenyan breed. Sahiwal and Boran are similar, but Sahiwal has more milk. Boran is really for beef.

Then, Simintal is a breed that came from southern Africa, but it is an exotic breed. But of course, after being in Africa for so long, it has adapted to the environment and actually it is a hearty animal.

Once we interbreeded them with our Zebu, we now have a much better breed. And also we have some other exotic breeds, we have Jerseys, we have Guernseys. The first breed of course does not do very well. But once it has gotten a local Zebu or a Boran [i.e. mated with and produced offspring], then the second, third generations is okay. Because it has adapted. And there are quite a number of those.

JR: When you say the new ones are better, better in which ways? More milk, more beef?

SQ: Just more milk and that. But then there's a lot - they are so tender. The new breeds, when they come in, there's a lot that needs to be done for them to survive. Particularly the exotic breeds. The Borans are fine, and the Simintals are fine because the conditions in southern Africa and some of those arid areas are also dry. And they graze - open grazing. But these are the ones that you guys have on the other side [i.e. European breeds]. Those ones can't do it, can't make it here.

JR: What harms them?

SQ: Actually, the difficulties are for one, we do not have good management. Because, for one, you can't just let them graze. You need to confine them. Confining means having a nice, nicely constructed structure for them, feeds for them -

JR: So you bring the feed to them? Like zero grazing [the Kenyan term for livestock confinement]?

SQ: Yes. Proper zero grazing. Here I don't see how I can do that because I am challenged in terms of water. I have piped water but it hardly comes. So I end up getting a tanker to bring water from far [inaudible]. So that alone destabilizes you because - actually the expenditure to maintain one is not more than the income you're going to get.

JR: Which breeds require zero grazing?

SQ: I'm talking about the Jerseys, the Guernseys, there are several. Then there's the - what are they called - there's this big animal.

JR: Not the Holstein?

SQ: Yes. Holstein. They require zero grazing and they require good management. The way we do our animals, you just let them graze, you don't bother, you don't even clean up where they sleep and stuff, but those ones [exotic breeds] need a hygienic place, nice room temperature, clean environment.

JR: Do they get sick?

SQ: Yeah they do get sick. Like one of the diseases that is very common here is the Foot and Mouth. And it could be confined there, but maybe somebody might make a mistake you know, like one of your workers. They just go out, they come in, they don't clean up before they get into where the animals are and carry on that stuff.

JR: Does it ever cross into wild animals here?

SQ: Yeah. It does. The biggest challenge here is the wildebeest.

JR: So even if the cows don't have it, they can get it from a sick wildebeest?

SQ: Yes.

JR: So, the traditional breeds, the Zebu, Simintal, Boran, do they suffer from these diseases too?

SQ: They do but they are heartier. So the mortality rate is not as high as those exotic breeds.

JR: So would it be correct to say that the exotic breeds, when managed properly, give you high production, but they are higher risk? And they are more expensive to maintain?

SQ: Oh yes. You can say that, precisely, yes.

JR: Do you know which is more profitable?

SQ: Actually, realistically, the local breeds are good. In terms of quick returns, if you are specifically doing commercial ranching, it's very profitable.

JR: To use local breeds?

SQ: Yes. Particularly the bigger breeds, the Boran and the Sahiwal. They give you good money... Let's just look at the steers. If you just keep the steers, fatten them, and take them to the market at the right time, there's good money. Because there isn't much in terms of investment, other than making sure they get regular vaccination... there is pasture for them. You also give them supplements in terms of buying hay and molasses and stuff, so that they can gain weight, and make sure that they have water very often, every day, there's water. And they are taken care of, you know, the person taking care of does not allow them to go areas where there's contamination, where you get plastic papers and stuff. You get your money. And it is less stressful...

As opposed to these exotic animals that you must do a lot for. They must not miss water. They must not be exposed to any sort of scarcity or shortage of food. They must be maintained well. So there's big investment there. But I've seen, of course, people managing them at a very low level. But of course the returns are not as high.

I have a neighbor, somewhere here, he keeps a few of those. But they are always stressed because every morning in town there, they go to the market to collect some garbage, to collect peels of cabbage and potatoes and stuff. All that, because they don't have enough pasture because their land is small. He is always looking for food for the cows and he spends literally the entire day, because once in the morning, you go, you come back at lunch time and now you're busy in the home doing your other things. Please. That is actually expensive at the end of the day.

JR: What kind of cows do you have?

SQ: I have Zebus. But they've been improved. Plus a few Sahiwals and a few Borans.

JR: By improved you mean mixed with other breeds?

SQ: Yes. They are mixed with the Simintal and the Sahiwal. It makes them bigger.

JR: Are yours for meat, milk, or both?

SQ: Both. I keep a small herd. I keep a herd of about 50. [Recall that earlier in the interview he said in the past even a poor man would have 100 cows.] And they moved just recently [to a place with pasture and water].

JR: Do you have goats?

SQ: Yes, about 100.

JR: For meat?

SQ: Yes, just for meat because I don't keep the ones for milk. These are just traditional breeds.

JR: What's the typical Maasai diet?

SQ: Maasai diet. Things have changed a bit but -

JR: Can you tell me about the past?

SQ: In the past it was purely milk and meat.

JR: Meat from cows and goats?

SQ: Yes.

JR: And milk from cows?

SQ: Yes.

JR: Goats too?

SQ: Goats would only become useful in a dry period when the cows are very dry, they are not producing, but milk from the goats is still available.

JR: In the past, was meat a common meal or just for special occasions?

SQ: Meat, of course, there would be special occasions - for a ceremony or what - but then there would be specific activities. For example, if your wife is pregnant, you have to slaughter occasionally to ensure that she is well fed. And of course, as a family, you'd also slaughter a goat once in a while. Slaughtering a cow would be a major occasion. A wedding, something like that, or a major traditional activity. But cows would never really be sold unless there was need.

JR: So if your herd is too large, you sell a cow?

SQ: Then you sell a cow. And that just changed over the years because in the past, there was this business of wanting to appear to be wealthy with so many cows. And they're not really, as far as your level is concerned, nothing is getting improved, because you have the animals, fine, but you're still off to this poor way of living.

JR: Was blood part of the diet?

SQ: Yeah.

JR: Can you describe that to me?

SQ: Yeah. Blood would be used in many ways.

JR: How do you obtain it?

SQ: Two ways. First, when you are slaughtering. The minute you slaughter a goat or a cow, you make sure that you let the blood run off into a container and keep it. Then add some little salt so that it doesn't clot. Then after that, there's some parts of the body that would be put aside together with the fat of the stomach. You remove all that fat. Then it's cooked, cooked for some time. Then when it's almost ready, you put the blood. Then you stir it until it is well cooked. Then you remove it. And eat that.

That's a special delicacy. In fact it's called munono. Munono is a special meal. It's blood, fatty meat, and some steak. That's a special meal for young mothers because it gives you blood and it makes you strong. And elderly. And, of course, for the morans [warriors], it is a special meal, the warriors. It is the first meal you take. Because you slaughter, take the blood, cook it, eat it. Then later on you take different parts of the goat or the cow and they'll be eaten slowly over time.

Then, we had of course, ways of preserving our meat. So we slaughter a cow like that, it's in a big group, and once you've had your fill, you now cut pieces, and then dry them. And you can eat that meat over a period of time. And it's ready to eat. It's been dried out there so you really don't want to go into the business of cooking. You just cut a piece, or if you want to prepare with a little bit of stew or put it in warm water and add whatever else, but Maasais really don't - they even up til now, they'd rather not cook that.

JR: How was the animal hide used?

SQ: There's always been a market for hides and skins, so the bigger proportion's always been sold. Of course, they have to remain some for the bed, some would remain for the belts, for shoes. But most of it would go into the tanneries. People used to come and buy in bulk and then sell in Nairobi.

JR: What about the second way to obtain blood?

SQ: The other one is normally from a bull, a strong bull. And that is basically for ceremonies, for the ritual of passage. When the young men get initiated to become warriors they slaughter two bulls. The two bulls are chased by the young men, held by the young men, then a marksman, somebody who is really good with the arrows, shoots at the artery. It doesn't die, of course. It's an art, because if you hit the wrong one it will die. But you hit the right one, and then they would twist the head like this and make sure that they would drain off the blood, put it in a container. And after that it would be used. That one would be drunk raw, directly hot by the warriors as it is on the spot and by their fathers...

But blood was never really a daily diet as such. It was special. But of course, when you slaughter a goat or anything, you have to do that. It's a delicious meal. I wish I knew you were coming or else I would have organized -

JR: I'm a vegetarian.

SQ: Oh, I see. So of course, meat is a big part of the diet but milk is the main one. Like it or not, on the homestead [inaudible]. Before the British came to corrupt us with their ways of tea, it was always milk for us.

JR: Was it fresh out of the cow?

SQ: Yeah, fresh out of the cow! You didn't even waste your time boiling it. Direct!

JR: Was it ever consumed curdled or soured?

SQ: Yeah, we had of course, take it fresh, or let it sour. You could also - there were many things that we were doing. We would make ghee. There were two ways of doing that. First you can get the fresh milk, put it in a gourd, then shake it, shake it several times, let it rest a bit, shake it again, then you remove the top layer and now you keep it. Then after about a week, it was boiled. Then the particles come out, and what remains there is left to cool and then you have that.

Eventually, when the British guys started talking of milk diseases and what and people encouraged to boil their milk, that changed. Now we started taking the cream. After you boiled your milk and it has settled, when it has cooled, you start removing the cream, and you continue doing that for a couple of days or maybe a week or so. If you have lots of milk, a week is enough. And you cook the same, then you have your ghee.

We never went to the next level of doing cheese and doing yogurt and other things, but we always had our sour milk, which was special for young kids. That was special for them. Any time they come out from school, they take that. And the older men, the respected friend of yours, will keep a whole container of it for your age-mate, the men you were circumcised together, you are bonded, you went through moranism together. You keep a special container for such kind of a special friend. And in the household, people take it, but it will not be a very serious thing as such.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 11, Part 2 - Interview with a Maasai Man, Part 1

I spent the eleventh day of my trip with a Maasai family in the town of Kajiado (or just outside it perhaps) in Rift Valley Province. First, I met with a Maasai man named Sidney and we spoke for about an hour before heading out to see his uncle, who lives in a traditional Maasai home.

I was fortunate enough to meet an incredibly knowledgeable Maasai man named Sidney Quntai. On our way to Kajiado to meet him, I was not sure what to expect. Would we find him out in the bush with a bunch of cattle, wearing a shuka (traditional Maasai clothing)? As it turned out, he was at a small restaurant and he was wearing a very nice suit.

I began the conversation, noting that I was interested in pastoralism because, as pastoralists make up 25% of Kenya's population, understanding food sovereignty for Kenya had to mean also understanding food sovereignty for Kenya's pastoralists.

Sidney began, saying that pastoralists not only make up 25% of the population, they also occupy 80% of Kenya's land and they have within that land most of Kenya's natural resources. I asked him to name some of those resources. He replied:

First of all, I'll begin with the wildlife resource. Ninety percent of wildlife in Kenya is on pastoral land. And actually, very specifically, eighty percent of that eighty percent is Maasai land. Within Maasai land we have Masai Mara National Park, we have Amboseli, we have Nairobi National Park... we have Samburu, we have, actually, most of those parks. And wildlife is actually found here.

And Magadi soda ash is actually mined here... We also have limestone, we have precious stones and semi-precious stones. We have rubies, we have gold, we have tanzanite, several of these. And recently, they discovered deposits of natural gas.

Sidney's cell phone rang, so we took a brief break. When we began talking again, he said:

Affluent Kenyans are buying land, particularly this Kajiado county, and settling here. The biggest problem pastoralism faces in Kenya and particularly in Maasai land... is the introduction of other land uses that are not compatible with our system of pastoralism.

From Nairobi you saw areas that used to be open not just a few years ago have now adopted different things. Housing estates, poultry farming, particularly flower farming is what is our biggest challenge. We do not have the land that was open anymore. Today, myself, my livestock are not even here. And they had to go through a built up area in Nairobi because they went through Kitengela area which is now closing because of houses and schools and other infrastructure coming up so we no longer have that area that we used to call our dry grazing area and our wet grazing area.

So pastoralism is no longer in a sense as we understand it because now, due to that, due to the frequent droughts, due to the serious pollution, we are now facing serious challenges on accessing pasture. That has forced us to reduce our numbers, numbers of our livestock. We no longer have such large herds because we cannot afford to have them because there is not enough space for them to graze.

This is true. As we drove from Nairobi, we passed an area called Kitengela that serves (or perhaps more accurately, served) as a wildlife migration corridor between Nairobi National Park and Amboseli and Maasai Mara. But now it's full of factory poultry farms and enormous flower operations.

I asked Sidney, in the past, how many cows and goats would a typical Maasai man have? He answered:

A poor man in our society would have at least 100 cows and about 200 goats and sheep. And, of course, land was still communal then, so there was enough space. And, for example, in a bad spell we would take our animals as far as Tanzania, which is like 100 km from here, or even take to Nairobi beyond, take to Namanga, take to Magadi, take to Amboseli, land was still open.

JR: So, throughout the year, the pastoralists move with their animals?

SQ: Exactly. And you know, some particular areas were specifically left for dry season pasture. And other areas were for wet season. So we never had a problem because we knew, that part of the county, when it is dry here, we can access the pasture on the other side. The few months we be there, it would have rained on this side. At least, the weather pattern was reliable. It was consistent.

JR: So you always had a place to graze.

SQ: We always had a place to graze.

JR: What would be a normal cycle for a year? Where would you start and when would you move the cattle?

SQ: Actually, our cattle would start moving around August because that is when it will be dry, beginning to be dry. September, October would be bad months.

JR: Where would you take them?

SQ: During those bad months, because of the weather pattern and because of the geographical areas within the same Maasai land, some areas used to have at least rains that were heavier and therefore they would at least retain most of the pasture. But in a place like this, it rains in a short while it is green, but because of the humidity here, because this area is semi-arid, it will dry up earlier. But we have highlands, Maasais of Magadi, that area would receive heavy rains and therefore the pasture would last for long. So we would take the cattle there, and when it became dry, we would start moving now. When the rain was reliable, we would begin to have our rains by the end of October. So November, December, generally would be perfect. It would be green and plenty of pasture, plenty of water, and plenty of milk of course. And that is the time when we would generally offload some of our cattle because they would have multiplied. We would sell them for meat.

Sometimes we also do barter, like exchange with agrarian people and get some food. Get some maize and get some beans and stuff like that. But then that changed. Now we just sell you livestock and go to a market and buy stuff. But in the past it was an exchange. That changed from the 70s. From the 70s it changed because land now in Maasai land started getting privatized, from communal to individual holdings.

From the late 70s now others began to buy land from us. So people coming in would start practicing some form of agriculture. And in the process, you know, even cultural shock people would go through because they would come in the different cultures. And people who were very coercive... and they were used to doing things in a traditional way would find themselves with strangers and also started eroding our cultural values. And the thing that went and is getting out mostly is the speech. The spoken Maasai language.

JR: And that's Maa?

SQ: That's Maa. So we find that people today cannot converse. Those who can are not articulate. We still have the traditional way of doing things, people are still doing that even within the midst of others.

As I'm sure you've noticed, the Maasai culture and livelihood is under several threats - urban sprawl and development, the climate crisis, and increased privatization of land. Once land changes from communal to individual private holdings, that allows individuals to sell land that was once held communally. But that impacts the entire community, not just the individual who made the choice to sell.

At this point, I asked Sidney where the Maasai live when they move with their cattle. He answered:

You live in the neighborhoods there. You live in the homes that you find. In areas where there's no population, you just build. You build a house.

JR: How do you build it? Out of what materials?

SQ: First and foremost you use sticks. Just... as support, and you can carve them. And you use cow dung from your cows, then plaster it with the cow dung. And if you don't have much cow dung you can use soil. So you just do that.

JR: Do you return to the same home you built the next year?

SQ: Depending on whether or not you'll be back that direction because there are various areas. What you do if you get back in that area is you remold your house. Having been left for a whole year... You just recement it, replaster it with the mud, and you get in.

JR: Is it typically men or women or both who build the houses?

SQ: Women. It's a women affair. Women are the ones who build.

JR: When you move with your cows, the whole family goes?

SQ: Yes, you move the family. But in instances where there's kids in school, those kids will be left in the neighborhood where there's a school, because boarding schools are few and far apart.

Not everybody will move. A few remain, particularly near a school. And the ones who remain are just the old ladies, the grandmothers.

JR: And they watch the children?

SQ: They watch the children. They take care of them, and the parents move. Sometimes, because of our tradition where you have a man who is - most of the people are polygamous - now things have changed - one wife will remain with the children and you move with the younger one. The older women will be left, they will not be subjected to these long treks. But then the younger ones with younger kids who are still, maybe, suckling and stuff would move with the husband.

I felt like an idiot to forget about polygamy. Of course, it made so much sense that if a man has several wives, one can accompany him as he travels and another can stay home with the kids. So I asked for more information about polygamy, since of course that is not something we in the U.S. know very much about:

JR: So in the past, men would have more than one wife?

SQ: Yes. Oh yes. Even now, even the traditional Maasai - not the contemporary one - they are still polygamous. They still marry more than one wife.

JR: How does that work? I've heard that it depends on wealth. That once a man can support another wife he can take another one.

SQ: Yes. Yeah, because it's a matter of provision for basic needs and wealth determines. Because if you don't have wealth, if you are a poor man, you cannot even support the needs of one wife, then you really do not have the capacity to take up another one.

JR: How many wives could a very wealthy man afford to have?

SQ: Many. I know, for example, we have a minister who had 20 wives. So many kids. In fact, in the local primary school, the preschool, 90% of the kids were his kids. It's all a matter of how endowed you are.

JR: Do they continue polygamy? Or do they feel any pressure to stop?

SQ: Oh yes. Because the way life, the shape it has taken, the economy of this country is not doing well, inflation is very high. It is expensive now. And you see, the government - last two years ago, three years ago - had a new policy on education. A new child, children's act, so now it is compulsory for you to take your children to school. In the past it wasn't.

Now it is compulsory so the more kids you have, the more stress it's gonna be for you because primary education [grades 1-8] is free but there are hidden charges in schools, some of these things for development and stuff like that. Then when they go to secondary school [high school], secondary school is expensive. So imagine if you have ten kids joining high school and you have to take care. Pay the school tuition, pay boarding, everything. Because of that alone, common sense detects that you don't get many kids because you can't afford them.

But for those who have, there again, the other bigger one, other than that, is pressure on land. That is the biggest pressure that most - my uncle - I'll give an example of my uncle - and I wish we could find him because that is the only place - it's not far from here - where you'll actually see a traditional Maasai boma, because the rest of the places around here all are built - this stuff.

I asked him to spell boma, which means a Maasai family compound, but this time he gave me the word manyatta, which seems to mean the same thing. He defined it as a homestead. Sidney continued:

My uncle - I have two uncles - one is nearer to the road so he's easy to see. He's the chairman - he was the chairman of a communal land. He was a chairman, eventually there was so much pressure for people to get their individual holdings, their individual pieces of land. On average, they got about 200 each, 200 acres each. He got more because he was the chairman...

JR: How many acres do you need per cow?

SQ: It is very tricky now because it depends on the breed. Because generally we no longer have the traditional Zebu breeds. So you are looking at something like 5 acres each. So the more you have and the less land area - it doesn't work out. So, this old man has, like 29 children. And out of that he has 20 sons. So where is he going to take all these 20 guys? Each one is now over 18. They are adults. They need land. So when you look at that scenario - and he's lucky because he has 1000 acres himself - at least they'll get land. But a neighbor of his has about 10 sons and his parcel of land is only about 50 acres. Because the rest is a big, big, big hill with limestone in it. What is he going to do? So those are the challenges and the realities the people are facing now.

And it's like - eventually it's going to be like the way it's been in the rest of Kenya. For example, in Central Province, among the Kikuyu people, when they realized they didn't have much land, now they started migrating. They are the people who are buying land here. They are buying land all over. And because of that we had problems after the elections of 2007, the communities where these guys now migrated to demanded that they go back to their home district. And then clashes [inaudible]. So pressure for land is enormous. It is enormous.

And that is why people are now thinking that we need to actually plan our family or maybe I don't need to have a large family. For one, even providing the basic needs is a challenge.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 11 - Intro to Pastoralism and Maasai Culture

I spent the eleventh day of my trip with a Maasai family in the town of Kajiado (or just outside it perhaps) in Rift Valley Province. Because many in the U.S. are unfamiliar with pastoralism, this diary is a brief introduction to pastoralism and Maasai culture.

A quarter of Kenya's population are pastoralists:

A pastoralist society is a society in which the primary means of subsistence is domesticated livestock. It is often the case that, like hunter-gatherers, pastoralists are nomadic, moving seasonally in search of fresh pastures and water for their animals.

Pastoralist tribes in Kenya include the Maasai, Samburu, Somali, Pokot, Turkana, and Orma. Together, Kenya's pastoralists occupy 80% of the nation's land. According to one estimate, there are over 25 million pastoralists in the Horn of Africa: 7.5 million in Kenya, 7.1 million Ethiopia, 4.8 million in Somalia, 4.7 million in Sudan, 1 million each in Uganda and Eritrea, and 100,000 in Djibouti.

Here is another bit I found useful about pastoralism:

Again, pastoralism is most often an adaptation to semi-arid open country in which farming cannot be easily sustained without importing irrigation water from great distances. This means that Pastoralism is the most efficient way of using resources in dryland and marginal areas. Pastoralists are often better off than settled farmers during normal times. They can move their animals to follow the rains or take them to established seasonal grazing areas. Nevertheless, they are often the first victims of prolonged environmental stress, such as drought. (emphasis added)

Consequently, pastoralism is usually the optimal subsistence pattern in arid and semi-arid areas because it allows considerable independence from any particular local environment. When there is a drought, pastoralists disperse their herds or move them to new areas. Farmers rarely have these options. They suffer crop failure and starvation in the same situation. A pastoral subsistence pattern reduces the risk when there is an irregular climatic pattern. This is especially true of nomadic pastoralism. (Source)

The Maasai are not entirely nomadic. That is, they have established homes where their families live throughout the year. However, when necessary, during dry parts of the year, they move with their livestock to areas where there is sufficient food and water. Because they are traditionally polygynous, one or more wives might stay behind with young children and other wives accompany the man and the livestock.

The Maasai speak a Nilotic language called Maa. A Maasai family lives in a compound known as a manyatta. I visited Letuya Tawuo, a man in his late 60s (he wasn't sure of his exact age), who has five wives. Here's a photo of the outside of his manyatta:

The fence is constructed of thorny branches. Here's a photo inside the compound:

All of the livestock that was able to travel were elsewhere, gone to an area with more water. There were two calves who looked like they were in bad shape. At the time of my visit, the animals only got water every other day. Local livestock breeds can survive these conditions even if they don't enjoy them. Exotic (often European) breeds introduced to Kenya might be able to grow quicker or produce more milk, but they cannot withstand such long periods of time without water.

The Inkajijik (maasai word for a house) are loaf-shaped and made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow's urine. Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. Warriors are in charge security while boys are responsible for herding livestock. During the drought season, both warriors and boys assume the responsibility for herding livestock. The elders are directors and advisors for day-to-day activities. Every morning before livestock leave to graze, an elder who is the head of the inkang sits on his chair and announces the schedule for everyone to follow.

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who lived under a communal land management system. The movement of livestock is based on seasonal rotation. Contrary to many claims made by outsiders, particularly the Hardinian school of thought, this communal land management system allows us to utilize resources in a sustainable manner. Each section manages its own territory. Under normal conditions, reserve pastures are fallowed and guarded by the warriors. However, if the dry season becomes especially harsh, sections boundaries are ignored and people graze animals throughout the land until the rainy season arrives. According to Maasai traditional land agreement, no one should be denied access to natural resources such as water and land. (Source)

Here is a photo of Letuya standing outside one of the homes in his manyatta:

The home was small but cool even during the middle of the day. It contained a bed, an area for cooking with a vent to allow the smoke out, a few benches, and some space for storage. There is a stool near the fire that is reserved for the owner of the home - in this case, Letuya's wife Noormejooli. As I was a guest in her home, I should have brought her a gift of sugar. I asked what I should do since I hadn't brought any sugar, and was told I should give her some money to buy sugar. My translator recommended 200 shilings ($2.40) but when I gave that to her, she insisted she needed 500 ($6).

Letuya sat on the bed as we spoke. Neither of the couple spoke English so a young Maasai man named Maya translated for us.

Letuya sitting on the bed

I wished I could ask Noormejooli questions about how she felt being one of five wives or how she felt women's rights fared in Maasai culture, but there was no way to do so with her husband sitting there with us and with a man as our translator.

The mainstay of a Maasai diet are animal products from their cows and goats, although nowadays they sometimes eat plant-based foods as well. But that's a relatively recent development.

When Maasai children are young, they are greeted by adults touching their heads instead of with a handshake. Children become adults when they are circumcised, and this traditionally happens shortly after puberty. Nowadays, there is a lot of pressure to stop female circumcision, but male circumcision continues. You can read more about the ceremony here. A group of boys that are circumcised together are "age mates." Once circumcised, they become morans, or warriors.

(A note about circumcision: male circumcision is the coming of age ritual for many Kenyan ethnic groups. I asked a Kikuyu man about this and he said his son will be circumcised soon, at age 14. He said that if his son isn't circumcised, he will "get it rough" from the other boys in high school.)

There's an awful lot to be said about threats to traditional Maasai culture, both from pressure to "modernize" as well as from problems like the climate crisis and from housing and industrial developments encroaching on their grazing lands. I'll get into that in the next post.