Climate change – Why the Maasai send me to Rotterdam

With climate change sweeping around the world, Maasai and other pastoralists are forced to change their way of life. On behalf of all these pastoralists, some prominent Maasai send me to Rotterdam. To professor Verkooijen, director of the Global Center on Adaptation. To bring him gifts and ask him to cooperate. “We have been working on climate adaptation for decades.”

—   Lees dit verhaal in het Nederlands —

Maasai-bijeenkomst Nairobi
My meeting with eminent Maasai. From left to right: Mzee Michael Kibue, myself, Dr. James K. Kandagor and CEO of the Climate Smart Pastoralists Limited*, Isaac Nemuta

On a cool but sunny morning in what’s actually the rainy season, in the small, simple office of Dr. James K. Kandagor on the busy Ngong Road in Nairobi, I am welcomed with all due respect, including a cup of English milk tea and white bread with margarine. Besides this Doctor Kandagor, director of the Kenya Anti Cattle Rustling Program and chief founder and secretary of the Climate Smart Pastoralists, two other Maasai are present: my friend Isaac Nemuta, who is now CEO of the Climate Smart Pastoralists Limited*, and the Elder Michael Kibue. I’ve been invited because they have an important request for me.

This is not just another encounter with traditional Maasai, which I happened to experience a few times before. A visit with shepherds who own almost nothing but their cattle, who sleep in a corral of mud huts on a mattress made of cowhide, and who live on a diet of cow blood mixed with milk. Sometimes, at a wedding or other important event, they slaughter a cow or a goat and eat meat.

Traditionele Maasai in kajiado county, Kenia

No, these are the elite among the Maasai. Men who have studied, use a Christian first name, wear western clothes and no longer follow their cattle. Which doesn’t mean they deny their origin. On the contrary: Rather they form a coalition to protect the Maasai and all other pastoralists (indigenous herds people) from the effects of climate change.

Doctor Kandagor, for example, was a surgeon at the hospital, but always remained connected to his community. And not only with his Kenya Anti Cattle Rustling Program. “But I quit my job at the hospital because this is more important. My people suffer. Family and friends are dying as a result of climate change.”

Maasai in kajiado county
Pastoralists such as the Maasai contribute almost nothing to climate change but are the most vulnerable

Respect for nature

The situation is dire. Indigenous populations, including these pastoralists, are the most vulnerable to prolonged droughts. And it is also unfair because those inhabitants of origin are the least responsible for climate change. Herdsmen who do not eat wild animals but only their livestock, prove that they have respect for nature and climate. But it is precisely these people who are directly threatened in their existence by climate change.

Already in January, shocking images of dead, emaciated giraffes appeared on tv. At that time, the fourth rainy season without rain had yet to begin. Climate change is now killing 20 times more elephants than poaching.

Even in the busy streets of Nairobi, you will encounter Maasai with a large herd of lean cattle

But this is not only the habitat for the big five and other wildlife but also the home of some 20 million ranchers, many of whom see their livestock dying of drought and find themselves adrift. In search of greener areas, they migrate with their animals. Even in the busy streets of Nairobi, you will encounter Maasai with a large herd of lean cattle.

“It’s terrible,” Isaac Nemuta tells me. “When we met ten years ago, we worked hard to be prepared for climate change, but what we are facing now is a disaster.”


Isaac Nemuta in a classroom of the school for pastoralists

It was in 2012 when Isaac took me to the Maasai and showed me how they were already being hit hard by the prolonged droughts and heavy rainfall. A year of no rain means the death of millions of cattle.

That’s why Isaac, together with SNV, already in 2007, started a school for pastoralists in Oloirien, Kajiado county, home to traditional Maasai families. A school the Maasai from Kenya, but also Tanzania, and for all other herdsmen. Even Turkana from the far north of the country attend this school.

At the cattle market at the Maasai slaughterhouse, less than 30 kilometers from Nairobi city center

In three simple classrooms with instructions painted on the wall, almost 200 shepherds are taught every year about social and economic topics, but especially about climate change and how to deal with it. Grassland management is demonstrated on a plot: recovery, harvest, and storage, as well as water conservation. In this way, the nomads learn to withstand the drought for longer and they do not have to migrate to greener regions as often, or even not at all.

In the Keekonyoki Slaughterhouse


Not far from the school is the Keekonyokie Slaughterhouse, with a large cattle market. Traditionally, Maasai and other nomads do not want to sell their livestock. Yet more and more herders today see the benefits. With the earnings, their children can attend school and in dry times they do not have to see their cattle die senselessly on the barren savanna.

Michael Kibue is the technical advisor who has helped the Maasai pastoralists grow their meat enterprise over ten times. The slaughterhouse is today a best practice of community-owned enterprise, with a Green Meat Project where no waste is lost. Thanks to a biogas plant everything can be used. This was foresight to develop a conservation meat industry that restores the rangeland from where the livestock is removed.
The slaughterhouse supplies a third of all beef and goat meat to Nairobi. Maasai from afar, hundreds of kilometers away, know to find the slaughterhouse. The ten years have started to count for Michael. Today he is regarded as a wise elder among the Maasai, or Mzee, as it’s called in Swahili.

Michael Kibue bij zijn slachterij in 2012
Michael Kibue at his slaughterhouse in 2012


The school and the slaughterhouse are still a great success. Perhaps because the need has never been this high. During the meeting in the office, Michael takes the lead. “Waiting for the rain to come, is no longer sufficient,” he has noticed. “Sometimes areas are so dry that grass will not grow, even when it rains. What is needed there is new grass seed. And trees. Acacia grows very well on grassland, and it protects the grass. It’s a symbiosis.”

Livestock is not the problem. Not even the large numbers. “Livestock is actually a resource. They help to restore grassland. But you have to know how. That is why we teach herders about planned grazing.”

Maasai op een veemarkt in Tanzania
Maasai on a cattle market in Tanzania


They go out to teach pastoralists. They visit them all over Kenya, Tanzania, and far beyond. As far as Sudan and even Namibia. “We work together with the University of Cape Town.”

It’s all about a holistic approach, improving grassland, improving seed, and ultimately water retention, right down to the aridest areas. “The chemical-based farming methods are good in the short term, but in the long term they are disastrous,” says Michael. “We destroy nature for short-term gain.”

Global Champion

The complete agricultural system has to change. We totally agree on this. And this is where the reason for this meeting comes in. A printout of a news item from the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) comes on the table, entitled: ‘Global Leaders Welcome President Kenyatta as Global Champion for the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program’.

GCA’s article is full of praise for the president, who, just before the national elections, was named Climate Adaptation Champion for his key position behind the AAAP, an African climate adaptation initiative dedicated to food security, resilient infrastructure, employment, and financing through 2025 for which he personally committed.

The message uses terms such as greening, resilience, and global community. And there is a quote from Patrick Verkooijen who says: “Africa is tired of waiting — I am deeply honored to continue working alongside President Kenyatta for Africa to build forward better by financing a greener, more resilient, and prosperous continent that puts people in the driving seat.”

Isaac Nemuta bij een waterbassin
Isaac Nemuta demonstrates a water basin


The Maasai barely allow me the time to read what the article is about. Verkooijen’s name is almost unpronounceable for them, “but what he says is exactly what we are doing”, says Michael Kibue. “We are working on his ideas about climate adaptation. In practice. At grassroots level.”

GCA works on this at an international level for local initiatives, with public-private partnerships. The projects of this Maasai are exactly in line with this, the men believe. And there are offices in West Africa and Asia. “We can form the office in East Africa”, suggests Kibue.

Mzee Michael Kibue met een cadeau voor Klimaat-CEO professor Patrick Verkooijen in Rotterdam
Mzee Michael Kibue met een cadeau voor Klimaat-CEO professor Patrick Verkooijen in Rotterdam

En passant, they point in the article on the amount of 25 billion dollars for climate adaptation that GCA, together with the African Development bank, has raised for the AAAP, an African initiative for climate adaptation, especially for food security, resilient infrastructure, employment, and financing until 2025.


And then the presents come on the table. For me and my family, but especially for Professor Patrick Verkooijen in Rotterdam. “Please be the voice of the pastoralists in Europe. And”, they ask me, “please go to Rotterdam as our ambassador.”

Because there is a lot to do. The regenaration of grassland and the schooling of pastoralists are just a few of their goals. The organisation is still to small to cope them all. The nomadism needs to be decreased, or even stopped. Because pastoralists don’t migrate for their pleasure, but because of scarcity of pasture. For this, there needs to be water in every pastoralist communuity. They even want to plant 5 million trees in all 23 pastoralist counties of Kenya. Eventually, modern and safe houses need to be build, so pastoralists can settle.

It’s a long list that Isaac sent me by email (see down here). So I made a promise. As soon as I am back in the Netherlands, I will contact his office in Rotterdam.

To be continued…

© Marc van der Sterren

* Climate Smart Pastoralists Limited (CSPL)

Climate Smart Pastoralists Limited (CSPL) is a registered Pastoralist organization in partnership with Borders Community Peacenet Africa, a NGO that champions the values, rights, plights, needs and economic empowerment of all pastoralists in Kenya.

Pastoralists inhabit eighty percent of the arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya where natural resources as pasture and water are insufficient. This forces them to migrate  continuously during dry and rainy seasons. During this nomadic movement they lose livestock through harsh climatic conditions, diseases, livestock-wildlife conflicts in the game reserves, cattle rustling and severe hunger and thirst.

To support pastoralist communities in Kenya, CSPL runs the following projects:

Pasture production for livestock

The CSPL promotes the production of pasture in all pastoralist counties in Kenya for:

  • the production of quality livestock
  • continuous availability of pasture and to reduce shortage
  • the reduction of loss of livestock during long droughts
  • decreasing and possibly stop nomadism due to scarcity of pasture
  • resolving or reducing conflicts among pastoralist communities
  • economic empowerment among pastoralist communities
  • environmental management and rangelands regeneration
  • reduction, prevention and management of floods
  • recycling and producing green energy (biogas production)

Water development

Provision and supply of clean water into pastoralist communities, due:

  • sinking of boreholes in all pastoralist communities
  • construction of water dams and pan pan-dams in pastoralist communities
  • desalination and purification of water for pastoralist communities for livestock, domestic and irrigation use
  • helping in harvesting rain water into water tanks for use by pastoralist communities during wet and dry seasons

Capacity building to pastoralist communities

Peace building and reduction of conflicts through:

  • a change of mindset
  • improvement of livelihoods
  • regenerating rangelands and improving environment

Value chain addition of livestock products

Support communities with

  • producing dairy products
  • developing a leather industry
  • recycling of other livestock products, such as bones, teeth, hooves, horns, and blood
  • turning cow dung and slurry into commercial products

Peace building and prevention of conflicts


  • economic stability
  • the development of pastoralist counties in Kenya
  • the accessibility of good markets

Food crops production on arid lands

Cultivation of arid and semi arid lands being occupied by pastoralist communities for food production, but also to manufacture livestock feeds

Minerals for peace

The support of pastoralist communities to collect, store, analyse and market local minerals available to them without conflicts in partnership with the national, the county government and the pastoralist communities

Economic empowerment program

  • restocking of livestock to replace stolen, raided or lost livestock from the severe effects of climate change
  • the prevention of livestock rustling
  • improvement of livestock breeds (cows, sheep and goats)
  • breeding programs for increasing stock of dairy
  • purchase of milk coolers and transport facilities for delivery to dairy processing
  • production and sale of hay and farm products

Promotion of innovation among pastoralist communities

Livestock Boarding Schools is an act of innovation for solution to SDGs, Vision 2030 and the Kenya President’s Big Four Agenda

Promotion of Livestock Boarding School Model

Modern Community Group Ranches and combined boarding schools

  • for change of harmful cultural practice
  • for reduction and prevention of the perennial livestock rustling
  • for production of quality livestock
  • for construction of modern boarding school facilities for combined communities
  • to separate children from livestock occupation
  • to reduce children soldiers from the society
  • to increase literacy of pastoralist communities into formal education
  • to eradicate poverty among pastoralist communities
  • for integration of livestock production facilities like census, quality breeds, fattening, curling, branding, tracking devices, milking, weighing, marketing, security of both livestock and human beings
  • for solutions to SDGs 1-17, Kenya Government’s Vision 2030 and the current Kenya’s President’s Big Four Agenda

Improvement of livelihoods

  • settlement of pastoralist communities into modern, permanent, self[1]contained and furnished housing (improvement of the simple manyattas)
  • attachment with CCTV cameras into the improved villages for improved security and prevention of terrorism
  • construction of interlink and accessible roads among pastoralist communities

Promotion of Partnerships

Partnership with the Government, private organizations and pastoralist communities as well as with investors for a speedy development in pastoralist communities

Environmental development

Promotion of community forests:

  • through an annual target of planting 5 million trees of all varieties in 23 pastoralist counties in Kenya in the Livestock Boarding Schools (10% coverage)
  • through the production of biogas from cow dung and grass in every pastoralist county for a green energy supply and prevention of daily cutting of trees for cooking
  • through the promotion of grass planting in all pastoralist counties for regeneration of rangelands
  • for carbon credits in every pastoralist county in Kenya

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