Maasai women in Kajiado central have benefited from making mats and beads as a way to diversify from the pastoralist way of life that they have been used to.
The current adverse climate change has made it all the more necessary to adapt with many women indulging in modern ventures that yield more income.
Depending entirely on livestock keeping has become unsustainable due to prolonged drought, indicating that the mat-making initiative serves as a drought mitigation strategy.
Selling milk, which is the only source of income to many women in the community, is no longer profitable. Reports indicate that milk production has dropped by 50 percent in the last six months.
More than 1,000 women drawn from Enkinye village in Kajiado Central subcounty, under what is being called the Ilaramatak (loosely meaning herders) project, have joined hands in the venture dubbed “an extra coin for Maasai woman.”
Here, women both young and aged, make modern bead artifacts for commercial purposes after three months of free but intense professional training.
Using locally available materials, including gunny bags, the women make door and car mats and carpets for living rooms with a variety of designs and colours.
A normal size gunny bag cost Sh30 before its decorated with beads and wool stiches to make eye catching mats.
Some mats are beads decorated and are supposed to be more durable and easy to clean compared to normal mats.
At their Enkinye Resource Centre, the smallest mat ranges in price between Sh750 and Sh10,000 a piece. It takes two days to complete a single mat as these women are at resource centre half a day for five days in a week.
The project began in June 2018.
The women, who initially used to stay at home, say they are able to earn Sh300 or more in a day from selling the artifacts.
“We have been upgraded from village women to enterprise women, making a living from locally-available materials. Days for idle sitting at home depending on livestock are far gone. At least we can provide for our polygamous families. This a wake-up programme for Maasai women,” said Josephine Tiampati, a beneficiary of the programme. The women are trained on commercial bead work targeting the international market instead of just hawking them cheaply in major towns.
However, they lament a shrinking market for their produce, which has limited their daily output because they are currently depenent on the local market.
According to Ilaramatak director Agnes Leina, professional training of the women has enabled them make unique attractive artifacts which can be sold internationally.
She said training the women on value-addition and beautification of bead products will boost their economy as well as the livelihoods of pastoralist families.
“Adverse climate change has over the years affected the Maasai community. Livestock keeping is no longer tenable in most ASAL areas. The beads value-addition initiative assures the community of daily bread. These women have transformed lives in this region. The county government need to fund more women to join the trade,’’ said Leina.
The programme is targeting more than 2,000 beneficiaries in the entire county in the next one year.