Maasai Women Abandon Charcoal Burning for Sustainable Methods of Generating Income

Rhoda Makoi was once known as the ‘commander’ for charcoal burning in Melili, Narok County. Not anymore. Now she is the ‘commander’ of the Maasai Women Environment Conservation Champions (MWECC). The group brings together 2,000 women from Melili, Narok, who abandoned charcoal burning for sustainable ways of generating income like beading, knitting, catering, and making briquettes from agricultural waste. We met Rhoda, a mother of nine, during a visit by the Center for Social Planning and Administrative Development (CESPAD) — working in partnership with Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Society Network (KEWASNET) —, to monitor the group’s progress after some members underwent on training Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). The training was conducted by CESPAD, an implementing partner in the Water Governance Support Programme (WGSP) funded by the Embassy of Sweden in Kenya.
“Before burning charcoal was banned in Narok County in 2018, I used to cut down a lot of trees to make charcoal for sale. After the ban, I changed to making and trading charcoal during bizarre hours like 1:00 am. I continued because I could not think of anywhere else to fend for my family”- Said Rhoda
Charcoal Burning, A reason for Reduced Forest Cover in Narok For a long time, Narok has been among the most extensive charcoal sources for both urban and rural households in Kenya.  This has adversely led to environmental degradation. Consequently, the area has experienced changes in climate patterns like poor rainfall and prolonged drought.
“Honestly, before, people respected the forests. When I was young, while taking walks with my father, he would encourage me to protect trees. However, as family responsibilities increased, I turned against the same trees. I am remorseful about my actions”- added Rhoda.
Eventually, Rhoda, and her group, stopped burning charcoal. The trade was not sustainable anymore. It had become life-threatening. With nowhere else to earn income, they turned to Hon. Rahab Kenana, who initiated the community support group focusing on water resources management issues. Restoring ‘Mother Nature’
“When the women approached me, I was touched by their stories. We started by having a strategy on how they could generate income while still conserving the environment. Admittedly, we could not walk alone; we had to knock on doors. Thankfully, one of the doors that opened was CESPAD’s who worked in partnership with KEWASNET. Through CESPAD, we have been trained on managing water resources which has positively influenced how we run MWECC programs,” Rahab explains.
The MWECC Programme is anchored on the pillar of promoting the role of women in environment and water resources conservation. The group works towards this goal by not only practising but also advocating for the production of fuel from alternative materials like biomass and improved stoves. Also, they engage in tree-planting to conserve the environment.  In terms of alternative income-generating activities, MWECC members have ventured into knitting, beading, making briquettes, and catering.
Some MWECC members beading at the resource center
Reaping Big From Conservation
 “Before, when I saw a tree, I salivated over how much I could get from making charcoal out of it. Now I plant as many trees as I can.  When I reflect on the income I got from selling charcoal, it was so little, yet I was immensely destroying the environment. For example, I sold a sack of charcoal for as low as 50/-. Here, I make as much as 500/- by beading a necklace at my comfort. No cutting trees. No immense smoke from burning charcoal. No trouble with authorities. No worries over diseases due to smoke,” Rhoda joyfully exclaims!
MWECC members making briquettes through a machine from prepared maize cobs
MWECC is a perfect example of the involvement of every stakeholder in the management of water resources. Effective WRM can lead to sustainable livelihoods.  By putting the interest of their water resources first, the group created sustainable solutions to support their livelihoods while still conserving the environment.  
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