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Kenya: Masaai herder turns from cattle to fish (by Sawa Pius, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Kenya)

Ole Tolu Kamango has never eaten fish in his life. This may not be surprising, since Mr. Kamango is a Maasai man in his 70s. More unexpected is the fact that Mr. Kamango raises and sells fish. He has abandoned the traditional Maasai livelihood of herding cattle in favour of fish farming and growing crops.

Mr. Kamango lives on a group ranch located south of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. The land is communally owned by Maasai people. The main activity here is livestock keeping. But raising animals has become more difficult. The population on the ranch is rising, putting pressure on grazing lands. The changing climate has only made matters worse.

The drought that devastated eastern Africa in 2009 was a turning point for Mr. Kamango. He lost hundreds of cattle. He determined that there wasn’t enough pasture for his animals, and knew he needed to find an alternative. Mr. Kamango decided it was time to learn how to live a settled life.

As a member of the communal ranch, Mr. Kamango received a fertile piece of land by the river. Three years ago, he settled there permanently and started growing crops. He also learned about fish farming from agricultural extension workers. Soon, he was able to build his own pond to raise fish. His lifestyle had changed completely.

Mr. Kamango still doesn’t eat fish. But, he says, “I can now produce very big tilapia and other fish varieties to sell to those who eat them.” He sells his fish at a trading centre on a neighbouring ranch.

He grows a variety of crops on his three hectares of land. Paw paws, mangoes, and okra are some of the crops he grows alongside staples such as maize, bananas, and beans. Mr. Kamango sells his harvest in Nairobi and other nearby cities.

His diversified enterprise has been very successful. Mr. Kamango earns more income now than he did as a pastoralist. His university-educated sons help manage the farm. They also grow commercial crops on their own land.

Mr. Kamango no longer has to worry about finding grazing land. But his new activities do present challenges. He complains that the roads between his ranch and nearby cities are poor. And it can be difficult to find vehicles to take his produce to market.

Another challenge is access to water. With more ranch members turning to crops, demand for irrigation water has increased. Some farmers have dug trenches to direct water to their farms, at the expense of other farms.

Mr. Kamango says efforts are being made to overcome these challenges. Some farmers have bought vehicles to transport crops to market. And an irrigation subcommittee was created on the ranch to ensure proper water management and avoid water conflicts.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Kamango and his family are committed to their new livelihood. He says that the diversified enterprise is more rewarding to his family. Mr. Kamango recently started trading his products into Tanzania, a move he hopes will make his business even more profitable.