Real stories: Maasai tribesmen adopt irrigation system to prevent food shortages

Real stories: Maasai tribesmen adopt irrigation system to prevent food shortages


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Joe Mason, a ONE regional faith organizer in Missouri, recently traveled to Kenya to document the work of a church utilizing smart development practices to change its community.


Traveling along the Great Rift Valley in Southwest Kenya, I’m reminded of the origins of this incredible place. Lava rock accentuates the roadways like an ancient decorative welcome mat, remnants of a violent explosion of natural gases some centuries before.

Soon I begin to see the bright crimson outlines of shepherds tending to their flocks, the way their ancestors have done in ages past. For most of them, their entire life savings lies in the herd. For this reason, a Maasai tribesman never leaves his animals. He will sacrifice himself and his own well being for the herd, because once he loses his livestock, he has lost everything: his vocation, his food supply, his very existence.

With the help of Convoy of Hope, Jackson, a local African pastor of a Pentecostal church nearby, wants to change his village’s dependence on weather systems for survival.

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I ask him if last year’s drought had affected this area, and he mentions that it had. “Harvesting water is a very big problem, especially at the top of the mountain, during the drought season,” he states with a look of concern. “The drought has been killing almost all of the Maasai cattle. They depend on their cows, sheep, and goats. If they sell, then they eat. When they are swept away by the drought, they are left with nothing. So it is now teaching them [the Maasai] how to plant something. We have greenhouses where they can plant tomatoes and cabbages.”

We arrive atop Mount Suswa, where Pastor Jackson is eager to show me an invention that is transforming his village and changing the lives of nearby semi-nomadic Maasai tribesmen. Because this community is located on volcanic ground, there are natural steam vents, similar to geysers, located all around. We walk over to a system of piping, designed to take pockets of steam, trapped in the earth, and condense them into a source of drinking water.

The first structure is a bit crude, but he soon shows me that as more piping is added, more condensation occurs, resulting in more water. This condensation unit, he says, is saving the village an entire day’s journey down the mountain to the closest source of drinkable water. Pastor Jackson adds that Convoy of Hope is helping in the development process by providing materials for the units.

Located a few feet from the condensation units is a greenhouse, utilizing the same steam source, this time redirected to feed into a drip irrigation system. Pastor Jackson explains that because of this new development, his church is able to grow crops during the driest seasons, providing food and nourishment for the village. As the news of this successful project travels, an excitement erupts among the neighboring communities. Perhaps more condensation units could be built all along the Rift Valley.

By freely distributing emergency food and water to Maasai shepherds and local villagers in times of drought, the church is meeting an overwhelming need on this mountain. Documenting the progression of this small gathering of believers, nestled among the flowering cacti and leaping gazelles, brings me great joy. I’m once again encouraged by a determined group of people, motivated by faith and a concern for their fellow man, making a difference in a community.

Development projects like this are the first step in eradicating poverty in a country that faces uncertain environmental conditions from day to day, and year to year. As places of worship are also utilized as community centers, a fresh vision for the future can be realized. It’s not hard to imagine this crater that once evoked images of a barren, moon-like landscape transformed into a valley of life-giving resources — an oasis for the weary. I can see an excitement in the hopeful eyes of the brightly clothed nomadic shepherds who desire to see their people and their land continue to thrive.


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