Exploring Sustainable Livelihoods in Laikipia (Kenya)
Elin Lindhagen, Director, PRI-Kenya
Some members of the women’s group
Since it started in 2013, the Laikipia Permaculture Project in Kenya has rapidly grown with the help of the inexhaustible passion of Joseph Lentunyoi, founder and manager of the project. From the first women’s group, Nabulu, which approached the newly established Laikipia Permaculture Centre, wanting help and advice on how to grow their aloe, combat pests, improve productivity and also diversify, three women’s groups are now part of the project making it a total of 229 women. A fourth group is about to join, which will bring the total beneficiaries to around 300.
When the women’s groups approached Laikipia Permaculture Centre (LPC), their production of Aloe secundiflora that they have been focusing on for the last five years was in near complete devastation, with aloes being trampled by free ranging cows and goats and the roots of the plants attacked by a pest, causing it to rot. Large parts of their aloe plantations had been rendered unusable leaving the women feeling helpless.
Greeted with singing and dancing
Fencing of the aloe farm
Aloes with net and pan for water harvesting
Aloe grown under shade of trees do significantly better
With the help and partnership of the ethical cosmetics company LUSH and their charitable arm the SLUSH fund, PRI-Kenya, in partnership with LPC, have been able to complete a pilot project with the women’s groups. This pilot project focused on fencing the aloe farms of the women and providing them with training in basic Permaculture and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The farms are now starting to show improvement in production and pests are controlled. Needless to say, the women are more than pleased! We have also already done some test batches, exporting aloe leaves to LUSH and they have already made some fantastic soap out of it.
The sap is extracted from the aloe leaf and is used for soaps and shampoos
When I met with the women’s groups in February this year, they were excited about the future and full of ideas and inspiration. They would like to see this project creating stable livelihoods for themselves and their families, and they would like to see how the men could be brought into the fold so that everyone in the community feels involved. This way, they feel, the project also has a greater potential to create true gender equality. If it only involves the women, they sensed that the project may run the risk of alienating the men. We discussed with the women various ideas for rolling out the project and drafted these into a project plan, ensuring that their voices are heard at all stages and that they feel ownership over the process. The chairladies of each group have been brought into the board of the newly formed Laikipia Permaculture Project (LPP) — a project in partnership with PRI-Kenya. This way, we try to ensure that the women feel completely involved in decision-making at all times.
LPC design draft
The author’s daughter, Senna (right) discusses the design with Joy (left)
With its central hub at the Laikipia Permaculture Centre, the project aims to work with the women’s groups to turn their farms into productive, abundant permaculture farms, where Aloe secundiflora will grow together with other useful and beneficial plants such as moringa and artemisia, producing most, if not all, of the needs for natural and organic soap-making as well as food and medicine for the women and their communities. Beekeeping using traditional hanging bee-hives will be integrated into the systems to add the benefits of pollination, honey and bees wax production as well as protection from elephants. Though it may seem a David and Goliath type of situation, bees are actually the most efficient way of keeping elephants at bay. Just the sound of bees will make an elephant turn around and walk the other way! For one of the women’s groups who are suffering encroachment from wild elephants in the area, a live fence including hanging bee-hives will hopefully be the solution.
Traditional bee hives at the homestead of one of the Naatum members
The flowers of the aloes are great for bees
We also hope that the project can, through permaculture techniques, help to address some of the serious land degradation in the area. Laikipia North, where the project is located, is classified as semi arid. Most of the communities are Maasai and Samburu and traditionally pastoralists. In these communities, very little food production is happening locally — communities instead focus on pastoralism, which due to the increasing lack of land, is putting enormous stress on the environment. The area has little rainfall and has suffered severe degradation, erosion of top-soil and huge gulleys have been created. The women we work with walk a minimum of five kilometers to get to a food market and often spend days without eating a proper meal. Land is communal in these areas and the land that the women farm was granted to them from the men and the chief in the area.
Enormous erosion gulleys — these could be prevented with swales and trees.
Sodom apple grows naturally on the farm and can be used for pest control
In the future we hope to see these women’s groups producing their own natural and organic soap and selling it locally and nationally as well as exporting aloe to LUSH, thus providing them with a stable income. We hope to see their land regenerated using permaculture techniques and local food production flourishing — helping to address the problems of food security and malnutrition. We also think that there are a number of unexplored products in the area — for example the cactus Opuntia, or prickly pear.
Opuntia fruit — very nutritious.
In Mexican folk medicine this fruit has been used to treat numerous maladies such as wounds and inflammations of the digestive and urinary tracts. The fruit can also be used to make juices, jellies or even as a hair conditioner. In Mexico the leaves of the Opuntia, there known as nopales, are also eaten either chopped up in tacos or grilled whole as a vegan alternative to steak. The leaves can also be dried and eaten as a sort of cacti type of jerky. In short, the possibilities are endless, and currently Opuntia is considered a pest in Laikipia. We hope to turn ‘pests’ into possibilities….
Raised and mulched beds for vegetables
Inside the shade house
Water is collected off the rock and directed into a tank
The rock water catchment tank provides water for the whole community
Before the tap was fixed the women had to collect water from the top of the tank
A dam is planned for this area
Checking out the rabbits
River at bottom of the LPC project site