Supporting Local Communities
Report written by international intern Alexa Piggott
The ongoing threats to global biodiversity and arguably the complete loss of habitats untouched by man means that conservation must focus its attention on wildlife outside protected areas. In Kenya, much of the areas that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are found are outside national parks. Therefore, the species is increasingly in competition and conflict with humans for natural resources. To conserve wildlife beyond these boundaries it is important for conservation action to integrate local communities by engaging and supporting the people living along these bordering lands. Projects aimed to reduce wildlife conflict and provide an alternative income stream in place of poaching and clear cutting are starting solutions. This integrative conservation strategy is practiced at the Elephants and Bees project and is what drew me to work here as an intern. Since joining the team in late May I have been able to experience first-hand the success of a community based conservation project that works to improve the coexistence of people and nature.
The Elephants and Bees Research Camp recently invited Hadithi CBO to hold a workshop at the centre to support the women of Mwakoma village in Sagalla. The Taita people of Sagalla are mostly subsistence farmers, living on the front line of human-elephant conflict. Growing crops is tough in a semi-arid, nutrient depleted environment. These farmers often have little to no source of income but must continue to work hard on their farms to provide enough food for their families. Conflict with elephants can have a huge impact on a farmers livelihood by destroying or eating crops and even knocking down homes. Installing beehive fences to deter elephants is just one of the innovative ways the Elephant and Bees Project helps the community to reduce conflict with crop raiding elephants and also provide an additional source of income for the farmers. The Hadithi workshop now presents another option for these families.
Hadithi CBO is an umbrella organisation representing 32 women’s groups with the goal to improve the lives of people living in south-eastern Kenya. Through support and promotion of local skills, they help develop creative, environmentally sustainable ways for women to make a living. Hadithi in Kisawhili means “a story”. With every product sold the Hadithi CBO shares the story of the woman who made it.
The first workshop held at the Elephants and Bees centre was focused on basket weaving, a traditional skill in Taita culture that is passed down through generations. Baskets were originally made from Baobab (Adansonia spp.) or false Baobab (Sterculia africana) fibres. Another alternative source are fibres from sisal plants (Agarve sisalana). As a natural product which thrives in tropical climates, sisal grows well in south-eastern Kenya’s hot, arid environment, without the use of chemical fertilizers. With the collaboration of Wildlife Works, Hadithi CBO helps provide access to the materials and the market for these women to make and sell their baskets.
The word spread around Mwakoma village and we ended up having a great turnout, with 28 women from our local community attending the first meeting.
This workshop introduced the idea behind Hadithi Crafts, describing how it all works and presenting the potentially life changing possibilities it could make for these women, encouraging them to start their own weaving group. There was lots of interest and questions asked, a main concern was how do they reach a main market? Hadithi CBO have this all worked out. They provide training and guidance to help the women build the capacity, improve sales and learn a business strategy. They also connect these women to the market, and unsurprisingly, the demand is high.
There was a lot excitement about the prospects of making an income, by the end of the first workshop the women came together to start up their own group. A chair person, assistant chair, secretary, assistant secretary and a treasurer were chosen to represent the Mwakoma women’s basket weaving group.
A few days ago we hosted another workshop at the research camp. During this session, the women were trained on creating a basket base and walls, allowing them to practice making their first sisal baskets. They received pointers on their techniques and shared ideas for different patterns and colour schemes. We are all very excited here at the Elephants and Bees Camp and continue to root for our local women. These ladies will soon be well on their way to starting their very own profitable sisal basket business!