What you need to know:
- Wildlife in northern Kenya is a major income earner for communities here.
- Elizabeth’s mother is among the finest beaders, it is through income from bead craft sales that she is able to keep her daughter in school.
- The social enterprise also supports the farmers through training in sustainable coffee farming and processing.
Elizabeth Riwa, a 12-year-old from Laresero village in Samburu County, counts herself lucky to have gone to school.
In this pastoralist community, boys have a higher chance than girls of getting an education. So, when Elizabeth’s mother came home one day with a pair of school uniform and announced that she would be joining a nearby school, the young girl was ecstatic.
“I was so happy that day! For me, being able to go to school is a dream come true,” she says with a smile.
Elizabeth is one of many children that have benefited from social enterprises that are equipping women in northern Kenya with skills that enable them to earn a living and provide for their families while, at the same time, conserving the environment.
Wildlife in northern Kenya is a major income earner for communities here. The other is pastoralism. However, while men own livestock and can take advantage of opportunities brought about by tourism, women have no source of income, hence most of them are left behind economically.
Without a promising economic activity, women have turned to charcoal burning, which is destructive to the environment.
“Women are the main resource users. They fetch firewood, water and herd livestock. This makes them important stakeholders in conservation. The big question we grappled with was how to bring them on the table,” says Dr Elizabeth Pantoren, the programmes director at Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT), an NGO that supports 39 community conservancies in northern and coastal Kenya.
To empower these women economically, NRT begun a social enterprise, Northern Rangeland Trust Trading (NRTT) to not just help women make better beads, but also monetise their work, thus earning them an income to provide for their families.
Apart from identifying the best beaders and using them to train other women, the social enterprise provides women with beads and other raw materials. It also buys their finished products for sale in local and international markets.
Elizabeth’s mother is among the finest beaders, it is through income from bead craft sales that she is able to keep her daughter in school.
To prudently manage their earnings, these women have formed savings groups that enable them to take advantage of economic opportunities and, in the process, cushion themselves against the effects of drought.
About 40 per cent of the bead craft sales goes towards conserving wildlife and habitat in the community conservancies, while the rest goes directly to individual beaders, who have since abandoned charcoal burning.
Across the border in Uganda, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), yet another social enterprise, is working to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to the famous mountain gorilla, but bordering the protected habitat are the isolated and impoverished communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods.
Besides this putting them on the path of conflict with the gorillas, the close proximity is also said to be responsible for the spread of preventable infectious diseases among humans, gorillas and livestock.
“This, along with habitat encroachment, poaching and economic instability is threatening the existence of this iconic species,” Dr Gladys Kalema, the founder of CTPH, says.
In an effort to reduce the dependence on the national park by the farmers, CTPH decided to support them grow coffee productively and more profitably.
“We learnt that farmers were not being given a fair price for their coffee and were struggling to survive. This ideally forced them to use the natural resources in the national park to meet their food needs and wood fuel,” she says.
Known as Gorilla Conservation Coffee, the business model for this Arabica coffee ensures that farmers are paid a premium ($1.5 per kilo) above the market price. With better earnings from coffee, Dr Kalema says, the farmers have stopped destroying the forest.
The social enterprise also supports the farmers through training in sustainable coffee farming and processing.
This helps to improve the coffee quality and increase output, additionally helping to protect the critically endangered gorillas and their fragile habitat, with 20 per cent of the net profits of each bag sold donated directly to support CTPH’s work.
Since making her first sale in December 2016, so successful has been the coffee venture that Dr Kalema says they are struggling to meet demand from their niche markets in United States, Kenya and Uganda.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is meeting demand. Due to limited finances, we can only buy a certain amount of coffee from farmers for processing, yet demand has been growing. We’re looking for a strategic investor though it has to be someone who believes in the social and environmental impact of the business,” Dr Kalema says.
Speaking during the recently concluded Tusk Symposium that brought together conservation champions and enthusiasts from 17 African countries, Tusk Trust CEO Charlie Mayhew expressed concern that Africa’s wildlife and its wild habitat is under increasing pressure due to exponential human population growth and man’s demand for more land for settlement or cultivation.
The survival of wildlife particularly outside national parks, he said, depends on its ability to compete against alternative land use.
He stressed the importance of having conservation make economic sense.
“We have to find ways in which wildlife provides jobs and security, and helps to improve livelihoods through sustainable tourism and other nature-based enterprises so that communities living alongside wildlife see tangible benefits from preserving biodiversity and their natural heritage.”
The two projects in Kenya and Uganda were presented as an example of how local communities can derive economic benefits from conservation thereby reducing harm on wildlife and habitats.