Picture losing your phone and having to search for it throughout your house… Now imagine if you had to search for it, not only in your home but in 6,000 other homes as well.
This is the scenario that pastoralists are faced with everyday as they search for pasture and water for their animals. 6,000 because in Kajiado area alone, the grazing area is 6,000 acres and getting it right is a combination of many uncertainties.
Failure means certain death for their animals. February 2016 and the Enchula resort in Kajiado County was a beehive of activity. It was a great day for the pastoralists’ community as PCI in partnership with Google.org officially launched AfriScout, the mobile app that is helping pastoralists find pasture and water in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
The Masai women sang in high pitched voices, and deep hums from the men filled the air. They wove through the tables dressed in colourful Masai regalia. The men carried their rungus (clubs) and spears occasionally jumping, while the women gracefully swayed their necks and shoulders in the customary Masai manner.
No longer would they have to walk for miles searching for pasture and water; no longer would their animals die as they watched in despair. The AfriScout app had changed all that, simplifying their lives tenfold and reducing associated risks to almost zero.
And so they danced celebrating a brighter tomorrow. 62 year old Peter Kakanyi, a pastoralist from Tanzania was in Kenya, not in search of pasture, but as living proof that indeed the app had transformed their lives for better.
Mr Kakanyi has three wives and numerous children and relies on his herd of 200 cows to take care of them. He no longer has to walk for long distances searching for pasture but relies on AfriScout an app that uses community defined, custom grazing maps overlaid with satellite vegetation data that is continuously updated.
He accesses the app via his mobile phone and it helps him guide his cows to water and pasture with amazing accuracy.
“My father had a lot of cows which I inherited and I have kept the herd growing”, says Peter “Ten to twenty years ago persistent droughts were unheard of and pasture was not a problem; but today it has not rained substantially in five years and grass is scarce,” he adds.
“This app has saved me a lot of money and time because I used to spend well over kshs10,000 scouting for pasture. I had to pay my travelling expenses and lodging fees, and would be on the road for many days.” he tells me
“While scouting for grass I would walk to different areas searching for a “Llomon” (a meeting of elders where each person gives a report of the area he comes from). It is in this forum that one would sit waiting to hear if it has rained in a certain area and if there is pasture,” says Peter.
“One had to exercise great patience as everyone had to speak without interruption and a person would sometimes talk for as long as five hours and if there were five men, they all had to have their say, and it could be four days before the llomon ended ”, he adds “The Llomon was not pre-arranged, but a meeting of chance and if the report disclosed that a certain area had pasture the other scouts would visit the place and look for Clan elders (Ukoo) then look for the leader of the community (Rika) and request for a meeting with him. It is the leader who grants permission allowing you to bring your herd.”
Peter tells us “The elder will tell you where to keep your animals. If they have little pasture they will take the portion of your herd which you will leave with them as you continue with the rest of your animals. You go back for them later when the drought or pasture is over”, he tells us. “When the deal was agreed upon the scout would then go back to his home and pick his herd and take them to the place where he had secured pasture.
It was not uncommon to find the neighbours quietly following him with their cows because they were sure he would lead them to pasture and water,” he says with a smile.
Peter comfortably shows me the working of the app from his phone. His home is in Longido, Arusha and currently, his cows and sheep are stationed at a place called Lepurko.
He has employed a Moran to herd and guard his animals. The Moran moves with a family member and is paid a monthly salary. “I no longer worry because when the pasture gets finished in Lepurko, I only need to look at the maps in my phone to identify other areas with water and pasture. I will then direct my Moran to the most favourable area, advising him on the safest route and so my cows will move with precision and not guesswork.” Peter concludes Isaac Ole Kayei is a 47 year old Kenyan pastoralist from Uasu Kidong.
He has one wife and six children and his first born has just completed his secondary school education and is set to go to college. Isaac has 92 cows, 242 sheep and 143 goats and he too relies on the Afriscout app to find pasture and water for his animals.
At the time we spoke to him he showed us using the app on his phone, where his cows were feeding, 23 kilometers away in an area known as Susu.
“The goats stay in the homestead because they are hardy and can survive pretty well in times of drought. But my cows and sheep have to keep moving to areas with pasture otherwise they will die” says Isaac
“I too used to find pasture by searching for a Llomon and it was expensive and took time”, he adds “Nowadays our young generations are impatient and rarely will you find them able to sit at a Llomon for days waiting for each person to give their report.” he says as he shakes his head from side to side.
The Masai are one of the few communities who still hold their values and practices close to their hearts. As I interacting with them, I am struck by the level of integrity and respect they have for each other.
“It is an unspoken rule amongst pastoralists that one must always extend a helping hand in the midst of a drought to his fellow pastoralist regardless of area or country of origin, after all today we may have rain but tomorrow it will be you who has it,” Isaac tells us.
“Despite the conflict that may be there between communities and clans, the welfare of our animals comes first. Even though you are sworn enemies with your neighbour, when it comes to drought enemity is put aside and he will give you his grazing grounds until the drought is over and then we can go back to being enemies after the crisis is over”, Isaac says as he laughs For sustainability a pre-agreed annual charge will have to be paid by each user in order to access the app.
The amount is to be settled upon after consultations between PCI and the pastoralists’