Kajire Community Human-Elephant Coexistence Hub

Text by International Intern, Ester Eriksson

The Elephants & Bees Project is always growing. It now has a greater variety of projects started in different areas of human-elephant conflict and sustainable development, with more farmers getting involved in the beehive fence program and using other tools to reduce conflict with elephants. The most recent development has been the Kajire Community Human-Elephant Coexistence Hub.

E&B started with just a small pilot project in Kajire Community, followed by construction of a few full beehive fences in the farms closest to the village centre.  Initially the Kajire community representatives admirably raised funds for a few initial beehive fences, under the name Kajire Beehive Fence Project. In 2018 they approached STE to collaborate, and since then, we have supported Kajire in constructing more fences there, despite the distance from the centre. In total we have around 50 farms protected by our beehive fences, across the 3 villages of Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kajire containing over 650 beehives. It is a wonderful testimony to the success of the project that it is so sought after in villages around.

In 2019, Dr Lucy King was the recipient of a Magic Grant from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, and with this generosity the team were able to construct a new hub and beehive fence project office in Kajire. The E&B team have our own research center and honey processing room in Mwakoma Village, an additional beehive fence office in Mwambiti Village, and to assist in making our projects as participatory as possible, one was needed in Kajire Village, as well. On November 10th, we organised a ceremony for the official opening of this much anticipated office that was built with labour from the community, and it was a wonderful event.

STE’s Operations Manager for Tsavo, Ewan Brennan, and Kajire community officer Jones hanging up the sign for the brand new Kajire Community Human-Elephant Coexistence Hub. Photo: Robyn Brown

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A large group of farmers had been invited, including all those with constructed beehive fences. Community officer Jones held a speech welcoming everyone, and both him and other community representatives stressed the importance of shared ownership. A sentence that was repeated over and over again was

What belongs to everyone, belongs to no one.”

This was not to imply that no one had any rights to use the hub, but rather that it is shared equally, and that despite only a handful of farmers currently having functional fences, the office and future developments are not gatekeepers or exclusive to a small number of people. It was wonderful hearing the agreement between the villagers, and the commitment to make this project accessible and implemented for the community together – pamoja! It is so important for us and for the engaged farmers to be conscious of inclusivity, and to include and invite everyone into the benefits of nature-based solutions. With time, more and more farmers will be able to join the project and The Hub, and in the meantime the benefits must be presented in a way that shows their positive impact for everyone.

Speech by Jones to introduce the hub and the hopes and aims for its use. Photo: Robyn Brown

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Dr Lucy King gave an inspiring and encouraging speech about the hopes and aims for this hub. The word “hub” is intentional, to encompass not only what feels like serious meetings and business activities, but to also provide a space for informal gatherings and communal sharing of ideas and partaking in initiatives. The Hub has three rooms and a shaded outdoor space. One office room for meetings and desk work related to the fence maintenance and planning, one storage room for beehives, and one honey processing room that also functions as a community kitchen for shared events. Dr Lucy emphasized that this is not STE’s property, but belongs to the Kajire farmers, and our wish is for them to utilize it with creativity and collaboration – to bring ideas of alternative livelihoods, like enterprise star-ups, to life. A space where village meetings, womens enterprise activities, and constructive conversations about the shared future for the community can be held.

STE’s Derick Wanjala talking about the beehive project. The turnout was great, and would have been even greater if we did not decide to adhere to a conservative maximum limit for Covid-19 reasons. The audience was a mix of farmers, teachers, community members and elders, and STE representatives. Photo: Robyn Brown

 

Not only was shared ownership an important part of the opening discussion, but conversations about the two-pronged challenges of HEC and climate change were had, and engagement was high. Villagers raised concerns about the management and structure of the office as a business and community hub, and it was agreed that a firm management protocol should be established. This includes things like how to manage and log the use of the hub, who has access to the set of keys, how to ensure equal opportunity to use the space, etc.

Although many more meetings are needed to see to all these aspects of the smooth running of the hub, all attendees were in good spirits, excited to self-govern this space and work in union. At the end of the ceremony, the ribbon was cut and we all enjoyed a lovely pilau lunch in the sun.

A village representative and Dr Lucy King joyfully cutting the ribbon to officially open the hub. Photo: Robyn Brown

Conservation projects are multi-disciplinary and require a lot of thought. This does not mean organisations must or even should be the main decision-making party. Making local people the main participatory agents in this work is the most effective and sustainable way to achieve harmony between humans and wildlife, and we all look forward to seeing the Kajire community hub grow this new limb of the E&B project.

Here’s to spreading the message of and tools for elephant coexistence far and wide!

 

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The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

 

 

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