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Adapting to changing ecosystem-what works for Ogiek

Anticipating rains, preparing land for growing maize and potatoes and finding a market for the produce is what defines the present means of survival for Zakayo Lesingo, a member of Ogiek Community.

Lesingo born in Logoman Forest within the Mau Forest Complex in 1971 considers it an alien economic aspect in the community. The forest was his home and the land where his parents gathered food for the family.

He had grown in an environment where his clansmen went out to the forest to hunt for wild meat and collect fruits and berries from indigenous trees inside the forest.

Honey was in plenty too.Log hives were erected on trees and the bees produced honey throughout the year because rain was never a scarcity and nectar-producing trees were rarely off-season.

This was a perfect life for the community until 1992 when Lesingo said they were evicted from the Logoman forest following a bedevilment of conflicts on land acquisition and ownership in the area and its environs.

The conflicts caused them sleepless nights due to the disharmony that took over peaceful co-existence of people residing within that region.

It is at this time that the reigning regime then extended refuge by allocating them pieces of land at Nessuit,a block of Mau Forest Complex;where Lesingo and some of his fellow tribesmen live.

This is where they began the new journey into farming.They had been moved away from structures supporting their livelihood.But they had to survive and so farming was the only available means of survival.

 “Farming is strange to us. We did not know anything about growing maize or potatoes but circumstances have forced us into farming,” said Lesingo.

“We now have to plan our planting season depending on weather patterns and look for a market once we harvest.This is something we were never exposed to in the forest.We lived on honey,wild meat and berries,” he said.

In the past decade, Mau Forest Complex has undergone heavy degradation stirring concern over the environmental stability of the ecosystem among local stakeholders and international community.

Between 1991 and 2011,an estimated 107,000 hectares out of the total 400,000 hectares of the expansive forest were lost,according to United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Despite their disconnect from their original systems of survival, the community has upheld their traditions exhibited by their continued rearing of bees in the log hives.

Lesingo said, they still have traditional beehives although they are few compared to previous years.

Also, they have embraced modern apiculture which involves use of designed wooden or metallic boxes.

However, Lesingo said the new method yields little honey attributing the resultant to a decline in trees producing nectar and unpredictable rainfall patterns. He said the two factors determine honey production.

He wishes they would revert to their forest life since it was less strenuous, peaceful and plenty of honey.

“Life has really changed. Now you have to talk about drought and struggle to grow maize,” he said.

Nevertheless, the community would live in peace if the government ensured they were legally resettled and issued with genuine title deeds to safeguard their land ownership, Lesingo noted.

 “We have no peace without the title deeds. We cannot be guaranteed of land without them and that endangers our livelihoods and future of our children,” he said.