A group of Maasai women have changed their lifestyles with the establishment of a centre that they hope will earn them tidy sums and at the same time, protect the environment.
This borne out the realisation that habitat change is not sparing the mainly pastoralist community.
At the forefront is a group of 120 women who came together 15 years ago to start Twala Women Cultural Village in Laikipia North.
Last week, they marked a milestone when the first secretary at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Mr Michel van Winden, inaugurated two guest cottages at the centre near Dol Dol and a resource centre build in traditional Maasai styles using eco-friendly materials.
The manyatta commercialises the maasai culture while promoting environment conservation. For instance, food at the village is cooked using biogas generated from cow-dung.
“The resource centre is for information sharing, training, meetings workshops and seminars. With this being an election year we hope to make some good money from meetings that will be held here,” said chairperson of the group Ms Susan Meshami.
For the ordinary Maasai herdsman driving cattle to the pastures, this could be nothing more than a culture. But the group has turned this age-old tradition into a tourism product that could generate more income if it is marketed well.
The idea behind the venture is to have tourists experience the tradition of pastoralism by having them spend some time with herdsmen and trying their hand at the activity.
This is one of the three eco-walks tourism products that the group has developed. Visitors could also opt to take a walk with and in the midst of baboons.
The women embraced this activity with the help of Dr Shirley Strum of Uaso Ngiro Baboon project which has been carrying out research on the primates in the area for the last 40 years.
Also on the menu are plant walks which are aimed at exposing visitors to ecology of the area and those that are medicinal.
Apart from the cottages and resource centre, the group has diversified income through other activities such as beekeeping, aloe plants, bead work, campsites and harvesting of a highly nutritious cactus sap. Much of their income goes to the education of their children.
“Diversification of income is extremely important in such an arid and marginal area where women are overburdened with responsibilities for children and daily life. There is also a crucial link between livelihoods and conservation,” said Dr Strum.
According to Ms Meshami, the group’s turnover is about Sh1.2 million annually though this is likely to rise with the completion of the cottages.
Marketing of the cultural village is a major challenge for them since many are semi-illiterate. In addition, the centre is not within the tourism circuit. Occasionally, the neighbouring Ol Jogi Ranch takes its guests there for traditional dances and to buy artefacts.
“They need a lot of help in marketing the product. They must be supported in this project because when a woman develops the entire family develops,” area district commission, Mr Paul Kinyanjui said.