Talking not fighting

Land is in short supply in Tanzania. Settlements continue to grow; the smallholders have little land and the Maasai and their herds are increasingly reaching their limits. The result is armed conflict.

Peter Lüthi, Communication

Pastoralists are often marginalised by the authorities and are treated with suspicion by the general public. Although the Maasai accept their treatment with pride and continue to live separately with their animals, matters are coming to a head, partly as a result of climate change. For example, the Maasai lost huge numbers of cattle in the Mvomero District during the extreme drought of 2015/16 and so they allowed the surviving cattle to eat the maize growing in the fields of smallholders. This outraged the farmers because they too are struggling with the effects of reduced rainfall and declining harvests. In addition, the land available to the farmers is dwindling. The competition between pastoralists and farmers frequently leads to armed conflict and often deaths.

Adapting the Maasai traditions

In 2016, the Maasai in Vianzi sought advice from the nearby organic training centre run by “Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania” (SAT). The Maasai felt compelled to depart from tradition and store hay for use during future droughts. They also wanted to strengthen their independence and grow maize and vegetables for their own use. These were revolutionary ideas for the Maasai and they found a willing ear at SAT. Co-directors, Janet Maro and Alex Wostry offered the Maasai a basic training course in ecological arable and vegetable cultivation on the proviso that women were also allowed to attend the course as the promotion of women is a SAT priority. For the Maasai, the bar was set high but they agreed.

  • Mutual trust is the basis of the cooperation: SAT director Janet Maro visiting the Maasai in Nameloki.
  • Notable innovation: Pastoralists learned how to make hay and so overcome the shortage of cattle feed during dry spells.
  • For the Maasai men, there is nothing more important than the wellbeing of their livestock.

Respect and trust

“Essential to any cooperation with the Maasai are respect and an in-depth knowledge of their culture,” says Janet Maro. A sentiment shared by Soviaki Letoga Kinyoz, President of the Maasai group Mafanikio: “The people from SAT are the only ones with a genuine interest in us”. According to Maro, it was important that the Maasai leaders were on board and this in itself was not an easy task – for outsiders, they were not an easy group to identify. “I was lucky,” she says with a smile. For years, she had been in close regular contact with one of the Maasai. “It was not until the start of our project that I realised that he was the head of the Maasai community in the entire region”.

Give and take

Eventually, the smallholders and the local Maasai group agreed to take a risk and under the auspices of SAT, set up a discussion group. They came to realise that each side had resources that the other lacked. The pastoralists had surplus dung, which the farmers were keen to use as manure. Similarly, after the farmers had processed their sunflower seeds and maize, they were left with plant residues that were a valuable source of feed for the Maasai cattle. This enabled both sides to profit from the trade and make a promising start to resolving the conflicts.

Earnings increase their standing in the community

The participation of the Maasai women in the project has allowed them to generate new sources of income, which strengthens their position in what is a strictly patriarchal society. For example, the women were shown how to set up a non-interest-bearing savings and loan system as an alternative to a bank. They were also trained in how to improve the marketing of their milk products and their handmade jewellery.