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Aug 19, 2019

Enhancing Sustainable Livelihoods Through Permaculture in the Arid Plains of Laikipia

Laikipia Permaculture Centre (LPC) sits at the heart of Maasailand, a herding community living in the northern arid and semi-arid parts of Laikipia County. Located on a 4-acre piece of land in Nturukuma, 13 km north of Nanyuki town, LPC works as a social enterprise focused on empowering the surrounding pastoralist Maasai community- which has long been marginalized- to develop sustainable agricultural practices aimed at enabling them diversify their sources of livelihoods while making them food secure. 

The centre works with women groups through a participatory approach that also helps the communities amplify their voices.  It offers training on permaculture, thereby giving people the opportunity to be educated on the techniques of growing and producing food out of the resources that are available locally.

LPC makes use of indigenous plants such as Aloe secundiflora and Opuntia stricta, which are spread all over Laikipia Plains and are normally regarded as either waste or nuisance. The opuntia species is a kind of cactus that spreads on land and is harmful to animals. Before LPC came in, this plant could destroy grazing fields: the key source of livelihoods for this pastoral community. Through LPC’s use of innovative technologies, its fruits are now used to make juice, jam, yoghurt and even wine. The plant is highly nutritive- it is rich in vitamins and antioxidants which boost immunity and helps prevent non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes. 

Aloe secundiflora, an evergreen, succulent, perennial plant with a dense rosette of spear-shaped leaves is widespread in the open grasslands of Laikipia North. Ordinarily, it is used by the surrounding communities to treat wounds and to deworm animals and humans.  It is also used for making wine. This variety of aloe is now being exploited to produce soap, shower gel, cosmetics and aloe juice among other products.  Cactus waste is used to produce biogas.

The women groups major on products from these plants because it gives them access to a common market. The training they receive from PLC has enabled them commercialise their products and access markets locally and internationally. They have expanded their markets and currently export Aloe to Japan, the United Kingdom and Canada. They also provide consultancy services to similar groups and communities from other counties such as Isiolo, Tharaka Nithi and West Pokot.

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In the face of changing climatic conditions and the need to adopt modern lifestyles, clinging to the traditional nomadic way of living  is no longer tenable for the Maasai people, which is why the centre runs permaculture courses to educate local farmers on sustainable farming methods, water conservation, techniques of growing trees as well as the use of grey water for irrigation purposes. The communities are also encouraged to plant indigenous trees to reduce soil erosion. They also plant nitrogen-fixing varieties of plants to help fix soil fertility. The women groups are also into bee-keeping, organic farming and rearing of goats.

At the permaculture centre, there is a food forest, an organic restaurant and a campsite. Locals are trained on how their lives intersect with those of fellow human beings and animals and how this impacts the environment. They have diversified their sources of income without losing their connection to pastoralism. No material goes to waste here. For example, by-products of honey are used to make soap and wax while animal waste is used to produce biogas that powers the energy needs of the community.

LPC joined us one and a half years ago and since then, the enterprise been supported in building long-term partnerships focusing on sustainable demand for their products. They are currently being assisted in web development to come up with an online e-commerce platform geared towards attracting tourists, given that some of their customers are foreign and they are also operating in a tourism area.

Out of the total amount the women make annually in terms of profits, 10 percent goes towards supporting girlchild education in the area while the rest is divided among them as dividends, something that has greatly improved their living standards and has also challenged their male counterparts.

By Vincent Ogaya

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