The Maasai dare to try new things


Peter Lüthi, Biovision

The Maasai are traditionally cattle farmers, had little interest in plant production until now, and lived mostly isolated from the rest of society. This is currently changing in the Morogoro region of Tanzania.

Alex Wostry was extremely surprised when in March 2016, Maasai people knocked on the door of the training centre for organic agriculture to ask for advice. “We would have cooperated with the nomads long ago if we had known how eager they were for new knowledge,” says the co-founder and codirector of “Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania” (SAT), a partner organisation of Biovision.

The Maasai in the Morogoro region lost large numbers of animals during the drought of 2015/16. They were forced to let their herds eat maize leaves in the fields of arable farmers. This led to violent clashes and even to armed conflicts. The nomads then considered stockpiling hay for extremely dry periods, and thought about starting to grow corn and vegetables – both epochal breaks with their tradition. They approached SAT with these ideas.

Cooperation instead of confrontation

After a participatory project planning process, training courses for the Maasai started at SAT in 2017. Even women took part – a novelty in the patriarchal nomadic society. Among other things, exchange meetings between the two population groups were held to resolve conflicts between nomads and farmers. Students were also present, firstly to learn and carry out research, and secondly to offer knowledge. In one of the discussion groups, a student of agronomy asked why the Maasai never crossed their local livestock breeds with higher-yielding modern breeds. Surely this would make it possible to have smaller herds and reduce the risk of losses during periods of drought. The question set the ball rolling.

A win-win situation for nomads and the authorities

In mid-December 2017, 15 Maasai people visited national research centres for livestock and small livestock breeding as well as grass and pasture management. The researchers were very pleased, as this was the first time they had cooperated with the Maasai. And the nomads became euphoric at the sight of the magnificent breeding bulls and billy goats. On 13 March 2018, a cattle truck drove up to SAT and delivered 15 Mpwapwa bulls and 10 Malya goats, both Tanzanian breeds adapted to harsh living conditions, but considerably more productive than traditional breeds.

The real test will come next year

Since then, more than 350 descendants have been born to the Malya goats. “The kids are more resistant than the old breeds,” smiles Shee Kangai, who is participating in the breeding project. “They grow faster, become heavier and therefore generate more income.” The Maasai have also suffered setbacks with their livestock: one breeding bull fell victim to hyenas, a second to a crocodile. Nevertheless, over 300 Mpwapwa crosses are still thriving today. At the beginning of 2021 the eldest will calve and give milk for the first time. There is great tension on all sides as to whether expectations will be fulfilled.

«Cooperation between the Maasai and arable farmers»

The Maasai are developing new strategies to adapt their way of life to the consequences of climate change and to reduce conflicts with arable farmers.

Objectives of the current project phase:

  • Meetings and direct exchanges between the Maasai, farmers and authorities
  • Introduction and breeding of highperformance, robust cattle and goat breeds
  • Sustainable use of resources through pasture management and the cultivation of drought-tolerant fodder crops
  • Cultivation of vegetables to improve food security

Project budget 2020: 

  • CHF 366,630

Impact of the project: 

The Maasai have already made a great deal of progress and begun to adapt their old traditions to meet new challenges. In particular, this includes the participation of women in training courses for vegetable cultivation and the development of new sources of income.

The Maasai and us: 

The people of East Africa, and especially the pastoral tribes, are already suffering from extreme dryness and drought. Unlike us, however, they hardly contribute to the causes of climate change.

Partnership with SDC

Biovision is an official partner organisation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA.

Biovision’s international projects are supported by the SDC.



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