Community empowerment in Narok

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Maison Ole Sasai, the Narok County Official who has opened up his farm to pastoralists interested in growing crops
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By Beth Ngugi beth@hortinews.co.ke

Unemployment is one major issue facing a lot of people in Kenya. Majority of those affected are running to the cities in search of white collar jobs and other menial jobs to cater for their livelihoods.

Unknown to many people searching for opportunities in urban centers, rural areas have been known to be good sources of income generating initiatives. Nevertheless, many people especially the young ones do not want to get their hands dirty.

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Maison Ole Sasai, a Maasai community leader, in Narok County realized that there was a huge gap of joblessness. He felt the need to empower the community around him and provide them with a source of living.

Instead of handing them money on a silver platter, he decided to partner with skilled farmers, by providing his land for farming and financingall the farm expenses. In return, the farmers would prepare the land and plant at no cost.  The catch is, after harvesting and selling the produce he shares the profits with the farmers equally after deducting the expenses.

Currently, his major crop is tomatoes but he has diversified to other crops like capsicum, corn flower, French beans, bananas, pineapples (on trial), avocadoes among others.

“There are people looking for jobs. I’m giving them an opportunity and all they have to offer is their labor. It benefits both ways;they fend for their families and I venture into what I have always wanted, agribusiness,”Sasai notes.

Sasai began this project with only an acre of land. Gradually, it has grown to 70 acres in which 20 acres are designated for farming. This growth has been attributed to the profits he has been making.

He first realized the partnership idea from one of his friends and decided to give it a trial. He believes that for one to be successful, he/she has to take risks. So far, this philosophy has turned out to be true.

“During one season, I can harvest up to 10 tons of tomatoes in a four acre piece of land. Roughly, I can make a profit of about 200,000-300,000 shillings per acre which I share with the farmers.” Sasai says.

He adds that in a region where people are traditionally nomadic, he does not have to go through the hustle of finding farmers to till the farm. His good will has spread across the community and farmers come to him for partnership.

 “At the moment, my farm is hosting five sets of farmers. Each set has four people working on four acres of land each.” Sasai explains.

In addition to his success, Sasai is bringing in other Maasai’s into farming to replicate it on their farms. The Maasai community is known to be livestock keepers. They own huge chunk of lands whose returns is often very minimal as the grazing pastures have continued to worsen due to the changing climatic conditions.

He, wants to change the mindset among his people too. He states that their farms are characterized with good soil for farming and it is a high time they utilized their resources.

“I’m happy that the neighbors are embracing this project. Although it’s still new, I’m certain that it will break even and they’ll start making profits. I have introduced them to good propagators to ensure they plant quality seedlings,” he says.

Sasai, who is also the chief of staff for the Narok County government, delightfully says that thanks to this project he can venture to other jobs. This is because the project requires no supervision for the reason that the stakes are on the farmers’ that he has partnered with. He terms it as a win-win situation.

During a visit at his farm we met PatrickNjiru, one of the farmers in the partnership, irrigating crops on his assigned portion of land. He terms the partnership as beneficial to them saying they now make something good out of their lives.

“I used to sell charcoal for a living. On a good month, I would make about 10,000-20,000 shillings. Today, I earn about 300,000-400,000 shillings in six months,” Njiru notes.

He further states that for the partnership to work,the farmers have to look for colleagues they can co-exist with. Failure to, it would cause crisis among them something that would affect their productivity.

Jeremiah Tumanga is another farmer working with Sasai. He compares his previous work of herding cattle to farming and terms the latter to be more profitable and meaningful. He says that he would make about five hundred shillings a day while herding cattle. He now makes about 300,000 shillings after every harvest.

“In every group of people, it never lacks some crooked ones. Farmers are no exception. However, for the cases we are unable to handle among ourselves, we seek Sasai’s intervention for further course of action,” Tumanga says.

Sasai mentions co-existence of the farmers as a major deterrent. He says that upon earning the money, some farmers are no longer loyal to their jobs. Others venture into their own businesses while others just waste their money away. He has been lucky this has not been the case with his partner farmers

During rainy season the markets are usually flooded with produce and the prices goes down resulting to diminished profits as well. Sasai hopes to have customers who can get into some form of contract for a continuous supply. This will ensure a consistent market for his produce and it will motivate his partners.

“In a few years’ time, I want to expand and be a big producer. My hope is that the government and other potential investors get us a market especially for value addition.

Sasai is also an inspiration to his daughters who have also ventured into farming even though they recently graduated from university.His advice to the young people is that, combining of agribusiness with university skills would enable self-employment, earn them good money and avert the pressure of seeking to work for other people.

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