Global Slow Food Youth Network Academy Experience
BY Carson Kiburo
Pastoral Animal Farming
I am an Endorois, a young farmer on the baby steps of agro-pastoralism.
So, let me give you some background, why I am here…
I am going to use simplified language.
This year, I coordinated the registration of two Slow Food Communities with the Endorois. These were: Bogoria Endorois Beekeepers and Sandai Endorois Agro-Ecology that is a step towards creating a sustainable clean, good and fair food courtesy of Slow Food and Indigenous Terra Madre.
After joining Slow Food Agro-ecology Academy, my consciousness of sustainable food practices linking heritage and culture was strengthened. The question has always been how our people can avoid overproduction and overconsumption models that have been inappropriately entrenched through ineffective policies – while we should be establishing sustainable, subsistent and culturally sensitive food that helps preserve and transmit heritage.
Who are the Endorois?
The pastoralist Endorois community have practised transhumance indigenous cattle rearing since time immemorial. The Endorois are predominantly pastoralist people, though moving towards agro-pastoralism. According to our customs, different animals, plants and ecosystems are attached to totemic significance as enshrined in the community biodiversity protocol.
Some of our participants might know of the precedent-setting land rights ruling that we won at the then African Commission Human and Peoples Rights. The Endorois is a minority group evicted from their ancestral lands in the early 1970s by the government of Kenya to pave the way for the creation of Lake Bogoria, thus losing their spirituality and heritage.
The Endorois and most people in dry parts of Baringo County have always practised small-scale mixed farming. We live in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands in the lowlands of Baringo County, some in the highlands of Mochongoi and in Laikipia County. Until the early 1990s, the Endorois led a full-time pastoralist lifestyle, keeping the indigenous Zebu and Sahiwal breeds of cattle and small ruminants, majorly goats and sheep. It is important to note that these species are very resilient and have adapted to extremely harsh climatic conditions. We also practice apiculture, though, since ancient times, it was for subsistence purposes and with cultural significance.
These meat farming practices are central to our cultural heritage -that is, for dietary needs and use of the by-products such as hides and skins.
You might be asking yourself, what is the size of our herds or flocks?
The Endorois herds of cattle or goats since time immemorial have been pegged on the pride of having a large size for prestige, meaning you could own as much as possible. However, subsistence farming of maize or corn began with an increased population and exacerbated by diminishing grazing fields. Nowadays, it is not even sustainable to have a large flock.
Global warming and its effects have hit the Endorois hard with the disrupted rainfall patterns. Their swamps and grazing fields shrink by the day; livestock numbers have drastically reduced since most of them die during the dry spell between January and April. Due to changing livestock breeds and unclear government policy support, these weakened hybrids die en masse, thus leaving the farmers poorer. But, back in time, our pure species could survive the harshest draughts even with transhumance because of its adaptability.
Nonetheless, we have a comprehensive grazing method that utilizes community land and takes care of biodiversity. Grazing fields, swamps known as sawaiti, are closed in a ceremonial event during the rainy season and are supposed to be respected as such. Libations are poured, milk, honey, traditionally brewed drinks and herbs. If someone’s livestock accidentally enters the closed fields, they have to report themselves to the elders for a cleansing. The calves are separated from the main herd until they’ve grown old enough to join.
Our livestock enriches our diet with the mursik as one that stands out -sour milk made from our own indigenous tech. Apart from offering regular meat, a goat is slaughtered to honour visitors to a mother who has just given birth.
Cows and goats are part of the bride price in dowry during the traditional wedding process.
These lifeways are increasingly getting dynamic due to Western culture and education, and government policies. It worries me because we risk diminishing the preservation and transmission of our traditional knowledge systems.
What kind of meat production do we want to preserve?
With capacity development on technical and other resources such as access to land and tailor-made affordable credit facilities to undertake and be part of the value chain, the farmers who are livestock-based and with indigenous breeds can sustainably secure a socio-economically stable future. This starts with the meaningful engagement of the largely youthful generation of our time.
The major inspiration is a paradigm shift in our food systems, and I am no scientist or a doctor – but the statistics speak loudly on the nutrition-related health challenges in our region as seen, which were not there before. If we produce clean meat and other proteinous food, we will have healthy societies and a sustainable future.
Remodelling for sustainability
With a major improvement especially avoiding the transhumance part, the Endorois way of animal farming can offer a sustainable future. For example, the county government of Baringo with other partners is in value addition to these lifeways by creating a large abattoir and a tannery that will spur meaningful livestock keeping.
With the support of IFAD and Slow Food, we are the tail end of a pilot project to address the sustainability of the traditional Endorois cow. The main objective is to enhance agro-pastoralists resilience amongst the Endorois youth and women towards indigenous food sovereignty.
This project, therefore, aims to attach great importance to the indigenous Zebu cow among the Endorois people through the introduction of household fodder farming within homesteads. The grass will be in the form of indigenous Pokot and Star grass which is resilient to long droughts. The project further aims to sensitize the target group on how to appreciate their pure breeds of cows and grass while adding value to product quality with increased fodder and modern management.
The group will be empowered on the significance of destocking and further grazing their cows within enclosed farms where they will grow grass. The women will be able to get sufficient milk to feed their families throughout the year from well-managed herds. Traditionally, the Endorois womenfolk and youth left by their families to herd emaciated cattle throughout the day between almost empty community grazing fields and dams and sometimes drying river beds. During the drought, each family loses many livestock, mainly cows, due to diminishing grass. At the onset of the rains in May, the grazing fields will be full of grass, and the Endorois will begin the efforts of restocking and replenishing their indigenous cattle with the remaining stock. Notably, the intensity of the drought varies from year to year.
The project will further achieve other positive effects, including ensuring environment conservation since empty land will have grass vegetation, thus controlling erosion.