Maasia Camp

During a recent trip to Kenya, I encountered a range of environments and situations which highlight how adapting to changing environments can help you survive.

One example was Leonard, a Maasai whom I met, whilst staying the night at his bushcamp near Selengei, in the Kajiado county which is a very rural part of southern Kenya. To give you an idea of how rural it was to reach his camp I’d cycled 65Km along what started out as a rough stony road, but which became deep dusty sand for the last 30Kms. Leonard, our Maasai host for the evening, told us his story of how he has adapted and changed his way of life and business as a result of his changing environment.

Back in the droughts of 2005, he started to consider the impact that the unpredictable weather patterns were having on his livelihood. At that time, as is traditional within the Maasai tribes, he owned and milked cattle (cows, sheep and goats). During the droughts, he had to walk further to try and find grasses for his cattle to graze on – indeed this required following a nomadic existence to relocate closer to water/grass. The droughts of 2005 were more severe than in previous years, and he started to consider an alternative to cattle. Around this time, he bought his first few camels, an animal that I certainly didn’t associate with being milked until I met him. Initially he only bought a few camels, and still kept his original cattle as he tried out farming with the camel, tasting the milk, and seeing how resilient they were to the climate and environment that he lived in.

Whilst weather patterns can’t be predicated, he said that there was often a 5 year cycle between the most severe droughts – so over the next 5 years he continued with his trial of camels and found that during the extended dry conditions that the camels fared much better than the traditional cattle. They continued to produce milk throughout the dry seasons. Since then he has found that while his neighbours lost cattle during droughts, his camels were able to survive during the harsh conditions and support him and his family with milk.

Kenyan hut

Kenyan hut in barren countryside

Over the following years, he expanded his herd of camels and now has a large herd which he milks and sells across the region.

Adapting to this change has been culturally very difficult, and has been a large change from their traditional way of life. To the Maasai, their cattle are central to many aspects of their life providing both two of their staple foods (milk and blood) as well as being the source of stories which form part of their entertainment. According to Leonard, it’s harder to make up and tell stories about camels as they are all the same colour and shade whereas cattle come in many different colours and shades. However, he and his family appreciate the benefits that the change has brought.

Following his successful transition from farming cattle to camels, he is now starting to work on irrigation approaches to capture water and enable him to grow crops, such as tomatoes and capsicums. As I travelled and met other Maasai families it became really clear to me that this too is a big change from their traditional lifestyles. He is obviously a maasai businessman and entrepreneur willing to try new ideas.

Through making these changes, Leonard has enabled his family to maintain their lifestyle and live within their traditional environment whilst making it easier for them all to survive during harsher weather conditions.

His stories of change may be very different from many of our business environments, however his experiences of adapting to survive in a changing environment certainly ring many bells with me personally and I hope will do with you too.

To survive into the future, it’s important for us all to consider our situation, reflect, adapt and change.