MaMaSe field trip: learning about soil and water conservation, wastewater treatment and rangeland management

Written by Emma Meurs, on 7 September 2015

As part of the Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water Initiative’s (MaMaSe) annual meeting in August 2015, partners and beneficiaries visited five locations in the Mara River Basin in Kenya to learn about recent activities that have been developed in the MaMase programme. Various themes were discussed among the participants, such as soil & water conservation, business planning, data collection, agroforestry, holistic grazing management and constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment.

Caring for the water and soil on farms

The group commenced the field trip with visiting Merigi, a demo site showing a piece of farmland on a steep hill that suffers a lot from erosion in the rainy season. By using a ‘dig & mound’ technique at regular intervals, erosion can be controlled.

Mr Langat from the Merigi Horticulture Cooperative explained to the group that farmers have benefited already from training in farm planning and soil & water conservation.

“We are helping the farmers to draw up a farm plan and they are now ready to implement it. This helps them to consider what their aim in life is. Do they want a better life for their family? Together with them we look at the economic viability. Is investing beneficial? Will that generate income? We are teaching farmers to keep records of their expenses and those of their family. Training is still needed on preparation of land, planning, correct application of fertilizer, weeding and proper application of pesticide,” explained Mr Langat.

In addition, there is a need to store water in the soil, have permanent soil cover and be able to harvest water. Water from paths and roads can be directed onto farms to increase soil moisture in fields, or directed into small reservoirs for later use. These pathways created by cattle walking down to the river, facilitate all the rain water running straight to the river instead of it being absorbed into the soil. If farmers are empowered to create small reservoirs around their homestay, the animals would not have the urge to go down these paths.

John Katam from the Merigue cooperative society delivered a passionate speech about how the new farm plan is helping the community: “The MaMaSe team taught us that we have been doing more harm to the soil than good. The top soil is being washed away by the rain, resulting in poor yields. The soil is our livelihood, but we were doomed. There was not enough food for ourselves nor to bring to the market. The farm plan helps us to produce the best food crops, food for the animals and shows where we can best plant trees”.

Mara River Water Resources Users Association (WRUA) weather station

At the weather station in Mulot, data collection is being done both manually and automatically. James Okiro from the Water Resources Management Authority presents the different equipment to the group: “Data collection is very important for us: without it we cannot do planning for water projects. We need data for water supply and irrigation and it enables us to allocate water to our users. It also enables us to assess water resources in terms of quality, quantity and distribution”. The water level in the Amala River is monitored by a low cost acoustic measuring device which is sending data to an open source website every 30 minutes.

Planet positive forestry

The group continued its journey to Mara Farming which is a private partner in the MaMaSe consortium. Mara Farming produces vegetables, such as avocado, beans and corn on 1100 acres of land. They export mainly to Europe.

Christian Benard, Director of Mara Farming: “We have started agroforestry projects within the MaMaSe programme. With these projects we have a good base to reach out to the communities around us. We appreciate MaMaSe's involvement, because with more partners, we can address problems happening upstream. We want to initiate commercial projects so things can speed up. Our main focus is to improve the livelihood of farmers upstream. We want to bring change, water is a main concern”.

Mara Farming is promoting the idea of agroforestry to the small-holder farmers in the area. The demonstration site the group witnessed, consists of one acre of land with 400 blocks. Each block represents different types of trees in a farmland and has nine different species. Every block has at least one indigenous tree and in total 400 indigenous long term species are growing there. In between the trees, maize and cover crops are planted and the plan is also to grow dry beans.

Agroforestry practices have been proven good for growth and sustainability. Results of this demonstration project will be compared with another section and growth will be monitored.

Sustainable Rangeland Management in Mara Conservancies

Two passionate Maasai farmers, Moses Kiseer and Wilson Ngatuny, shared their experience of introducing wet and dry season grazing plans in the Enonkishu conservancy. They have divided 6000 Acres of land into 14 blocks, for which natural boundaries are used. The goal is to maintain a minimum of 60% grass cover and 5 cm in grass height, which will increase water infiltration and storage.

Moses Kiseer: “Two seasons have passed since we started with the grazing plan. The communities are benefiting already; cows have improved in weight. The knowledge and education we received through the MaMaSe programme is very useful. We can now become a role-model for other conservancies. We are moving ahead, but there are still some challenges to overcome. One of them is the grazing of cows as well as goats and sheep in one area. We are managing 336 cattle at the moment. However, lots of animals were lost because of disease. Water is also still a problem, the river is small so there is not a lot available for the cattle”.

In addition to grazing plans, the conservancy is also working on forage assessments in every block. They are calculating how much one animal needs to graze for one day. In the future, the aim is to set up a training centre for communities to learn about grazing plans and other related topics. Up to now, the local community has been very cooperative. Only the sheep and goats still pose a problem, as they graze in an uncontrolled way, and reduce the groundcover too much resulting in reduced water infiltration besides a poor recovery of the grass.

Moses and Wilson are working with the community on commercializing their cattle. By keeping the numbers lower, they will fatten faster. This can be an issue however, as a large group of cattle is seen as prestigious. Wilson: “We also believe that milking cattle on a small scale produces better quality animals. So this can be achieved by every household having five cows at home for domestic use”, and then not milking the commercial herd so that calves get a better start in life, as there is more milk for them.

Cost effective wastewater treatment for hotels

The final stop of the field visit was the House in the Wild, Naretoi, a private guest house where a MaMaSe demonstration site has been set up for wastewater treatment using constructed wetland to treat wastewater from the lodges among others. It showcases how black and grey wastewater can be turned into clean water by using the bacteria which grows naturally on the gravel and plants. At the outlet, the water can be re-used for irrigation, flushing toilets or returned to the river as it meets water quality standards.

More information on MaMase: visit our website www.mamase.org

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