From a distance, hundreds of livestock raising the dust head to a drying water-pan where it’s a scramble for the strong with the emaciated ones collapsing by the sides. On the vast bare land, skeletons of livestock can be spotted littered all over as vultures dive for the fresh ones. Past the stinking and rotting carcasses, a lone Maasai boy dressed in the traditional red shuka drives another herd of livestock towards the drying water pan. He stops briefly under a shrub of tree to shelter from the scorching sun that is getting hotter by the minute. Some herders leave weak animals on the paths and within minutes, the hovering vultures surround them
Tens of manyatta stick out in the area and semi-naked children with houseflies around their eyes and mouths play outside. The man of the house sits under a shrub, his hand on his chin as his two wives drag out carcasses of three goats from the shed. But as one leaves the dry area of Narasha in Naivasha for Oltoroto village in Narok North, the situation changes gradually.
The road is deplorable, but the green vegetation breathes fresh air to the surrounding. Rickety Lorries drive through the road, their bellies filled with fresh potatoes and vegetables. Deeper into Oltoroto village, there are acres of land teeming with vegetables, maize a and potatoes. The cold breeze is a welcome break from the harsh sun of Narasha.
The cows here are huge and healthy. Their calves are so well-fed that they jump up and down. A stream of clean water flows downhill, where the dairy cows quench their thirst. In one of the modern houses, a smartly dressed woman emerges and heads to the farm where she harvests some kales and onions before returning to the house to start preparing a meal for her family.
These residents at the Naivasha-Narok border have embraced technology and modern farming methods after kicking out the traditional way of life where they reared cows, which were often decimated by harsh weather and disease. Now they are serious dairy farmers.
The group has gone ahead to produce vegetables for export and is involved in the production of biogas (using cow dung) in conjunction with Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). Farmers from Oltoroto village are enjoying the fruits of their efforts while their brothers in the neighborhood embark on the annual taxing nomadic exercise of searching for pasture.
The farmers’ livelihood has changed for the better. For example, Shadrack Kamaamia who has benefited from the project says life has become easier, manageable and cheaper since they adopted modern farming. “From the dairy farming we are getting biogas, organic manure and we are growing several varieties of crops which have a ready market,” he says.
Kamaamia has seen great changes. Before, he got just 100 liters of milk from his 30 cows. Now, he gets 60 liters from his two dairy cows. “We didn’t know that we have the potential to produce high quality vegetables and milk. After seeing our success, many more farmers want to join the programme.”
Margaret Nkasooni wonders why the project didn’t come earlier. For years, Nkasooni and other women spent long hours looking for firewood but with biogas, that part of their life is in the past. The modern farming technology has uplifted their lives and they comfortably get their daily bread and educate their children.
“My daughter is now in university and I comfortably pay her fees. With a ready market for our produce, this is the best thing that happened to us,” she says. it the touch of a button, Nkasooni prepares a meal as well as entertain her guests at the same time. Cooking has never been more fun, she says.
According to WWF’s Nancy Njenga, the organization is working with the pastoralists to improve their livelihoods. Over the years and with increasing population, land available to the pastoralists has diminished. “At first some members of the community were reluctant to change from herding to dairy farming but this has changed and we can see the fruits,” says Njenga adding that the families involved in the project are also growing fruits, producing biogas, bee-keeping and exporting various varieties of vegetables.
The fund has also decided to empower them by enabling the pastoralists take their children to school as the Government had “forgotten them for long”.
Although the project is a success, the dilapidated roads in Narok North constituency have greatly hampered the farmers’ march to financial freedom. The situation becomes worse during the rainy season paralyzing transport and seeing farm produce rotting in farms. “Majority of the vegetables consumed in Nairobi come from this area but the poor road network is a big problem,” sums up one of the truck drivers, Peter Nguro.