Excellent Development's former Programmes Officer, Orlando Avis (pictured third from top right), shares his experience of attending a sustainable agriculture workshop with the Agro-pastoral community in Lekurruki conservancy.

The communities I work with in Lekurruki often experience raids on their livestock. As I sat in the van with community members, I could actually hear what was happening at a raid that just broke out, with rapid fire discussions in Maa (spoken in parts of Kenya and Tanzania) dissecting sparse information on patchy phone calls.

13 of us crammed in the matatu (a Kenyan minibus taxi) speeding along the Mombasa highway to our first field visit to demo plots in Makueni County with our partners Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF). The concern regarding the conflict was real, many in the vehicle from the Lekurruki communities would have been caught in the cross fire, while herds of goats and cattle, their wealth, could have been disappearing in a moment. This cold fact, along with severe reoccurring droughts, gave rise to a desire to diversify income in this previously pastoral Maasai community.

Traditionally Maasai deal exclusively in cattle; they have travelled from their homes to learn skills needed in dryland agriculture. The programme is built on farmer to farmer knowledge exchange. We met each morning for theory sessions. The trainers encouraged lively debate amongst participants, and more technical components were punctuated with team building exercises. It was no shopping list of facts. The participants created knowledge trees finding their own solutions to problems they raised and theory was rooted in practice as we bundled into the matatu and headed off to the field after morning lessons.

The field visits are always fascinating. Local farmers taught us how to terrace land, with gun sticks and spirit levels. Community leaders demonstrated how to establish tree nurseries and make plant tea compost. Special interest is given to the animal husbandry component.

"I came back from Ukambani a different me, imagine - you can plant animal foods! So when your animals get sick you can easily feed using the planted fodder rather than going long distance to look for something to feed it."

Kataka Mantuge, a Sieku community board chairman.

Kataka Mantuge, a Sieku community board chair, said "I came back from Ukambani a different me, imagine - you can plant animal foods! So when your animals get sick you can easily feed them using the planted fodder rather than going a long distance to look for something to feed it.”

Saaloi Nole Liba, chair of local women’s groups found the soil science components most interesting: "I never thought soil can be sick,” she says “I only know of animals getting sick but not soil."

The participants sat together on the last day planning dissemination of knowledge to the rest of their community and incorporation of it into existing efforts before climbing back into the matatu. Prior to departure the minibus fell into silent prayer for safety on the long road ahead. I waved as they disappeared down the dusty road armed with new knowledge to help bring food security and prosperity to their home in Laikipia.

Please consider making a donation today to enable more pastoralist communities to extend the network of sand dams in the Northern Rangelands, providing their families, neighbours and livestock with clean water for life.

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