The sound of singing and chanting carried across Kalama Conservancy on Friday 23rd September, as the community celebrated a momentous day. Warriors, women and children each had their own reason to party, and in true Samburu style, the gathering was awash with colour, music and the smell of roasting meat.
For the children of Kalama Primary School, it was the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of two new classrooms. The building will be funded by the Kalama Community Development Fund, a kitty contributed to by both the community, and NRT's principal donors - USAID, The Nature Conservancy, DANIDA, and the Royal Netherlands Embassy.
One of the community groups contributing to the Development Fund is the women of the Kalama BeadWORKS business. They handed over a cheque for over Ksh. 100,000 - revenue earned from selling bead craft through NRT Trading to international markets. This is in recognition of the structure, logistical support, and peaceful platform that the conservancy provides; an environment that has given them access to NRT Trading and allowed their business to flourish.
"NRT is focused on strengthening environmental sustainability, rehabilitating rangeland grazing, and economically empowering local communities" said Chief Programmes Officer Tom Lalampaa, who attended the celebrations. In 2015, USAID supported the launch of a moran's economic empowerment programme. This was targeted at morans (young warriors) involved, or likely to become involved, in cattle raiding and fighting. The programme offered business training, and gave out small loans for the young men to start businesses. It proved successful in reducing conflict and boosting local economies, and is now being rolled out in more conservancies with continued USAID support.
On Friday, it was the turn for the Kalama morans to receive their loans, amounting to about Ksh. 16,000 each. As Tom explained to visiting journalists, who attended the ceremony with support from The Nature Conservancy, even getting the young men to accept the loans was a challenge. "The fear of being taken advantage of is a universal fear, but the Samburu are particularly afraid of loans; they are afraid of having what they hold dear carted off." But it is these same community values that ensure very few of the warriors default on their loans. "If even one of them defaults, the community itself will take corrective measures even without our prompting” says Ture Boru, NRT Trading's Business and Community Director.
Sharin Lepeta, was one of the Samburu warriors gathered at Kalama to receive his small business loan. He described how, just a year earlier, he and his friends had been regular cattle rustlers. "That is our culture. If you have no cattle except your father's, you go to your neighbour's and take their animals," he said. "But because of what Lalampaa has told us, we can see that there are other ways to earn an income so you can start to build your own livestock without rustling." Already, he had noticed fewer raids against his Samburu people by their traditional rivals, the Borana. "They were taught about microfinance last year," Lepeta said. "We suspect that they are now too busy with these activities, and making money, to come to fight us. We need to catch up."
"If you look at communities' traditional natural resource management, it used to work well, but today what we are seeing is deteriorations in the natural environment. We're talking about overgrazing, destruction of our forests, destruction of riparian vegetation." Tom Lalampaa explains. "Things started going down, and we're at the point now where as conservationists we are trying to get back to those traditional systems, trying to revive planned grazing, grazing banks, improving the health of rangelands for both wildlife and livestock. If we manage the land properly, we can start healing the land."