Faced with new global challenges, Maasai cattle herders turn to innovative solutions.

BY DEEPA SHANKARAN

 
When the rains didn’t come to the village of Sikirar this year, Samson Morompi starting sending his cows to school.

After months of drought, Maasai farmers in central Kenya were watching their cows die by the hundreds. Morompi saw the crisis creeping south toward his village; his cows stopped producing milk.

“We depend entirely on these animals,” he said. “If they are not strong, we all become desperate.”

As one of the few formally educated men in Sikirar, and a primary school teacher by profession, Morompi was elected to find a solution. He turned to Sikirar Primary School, the one source for clean water in the community, with an innovative idea.

The school was built in partnership with WE Villages and equipped with a borehole connection for clean water. Morompi marched across the dry pastures, following the hum of a generator pumping water to the tank. He knocked on the headmaster’s door and proposed a plan.

A few days later, students peered through classroom windows at the spectacle unfolding in the neighbouring field. A long rubber pipe snaked from the school’s water tower toward a row of black truck tires sawn in half. As Morompi fed a stream of fresh water into these makeshift troughs, hundreds of thirsty cows charged onto the grounds. But order would prevail under his watch.

“There are so many, they cannot drink all at once,” he said simply. “They take water in turns.”

Morompi had already mobilized a number of community members to take shifts managing the system. Every week day was assigned to a different person. Beginning at dawn, they would greet the farmers arriving with their herds, and have them sign an account book and pay their due.
 

 
“The most important leader here is the treasurer,” said Morompi, adding that the water was not meant to be a handout, but rather a sustainable solution. Each farmer would pay 350 Kenyan Shillings (USD $3.50) per week to have their cows, goats and sheep come to Sikirar Primary to drink. The funds would cover the additional fuel needed for the school’s generator and keep the project going throughout the drought.

Since he launched the initiative in mid-December, Morompi has seen a big change in the health of the community’s herds.

“They have become stronger. Our wives are now saying that they get milk—however little—from the cows,” he said. “If the animals become healthy, our families also become healthy.”

This success prompted him to look for longer term solutions to the drought. He is currently in talks with local leaders to create a permanent trough and pump with government funding. He’s also looking to neighbouring tribes that have adapted traditional livelihoods in the face of new global challenges—planting crops that require less water, or reducing the size of their herds to cope with shrinking pastures. Morompi knows that his community will continue to create their own solutions, working in partnership with WE.

“We are grateful for the WE community,” he said. “With good mobilization, our Maasai will be able to embrace the change.”