Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Kenyans, and one of the hardest hit communities is the Maasai. Traditionally, the Maasai are herders, who keep large herds of cattle for subsistence. The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best-known local populations due to their residence near the many game parks and their preserved culture.
Since time immemorial, the Maasai have had rich indigenous knowledge about their environment and how to monitor and predict climate and seasonal cycles through observation of behavioral characteristics of biological components and other traditional, socio-cultural methods. They still use the same knowledge to model weather events and livelihood management. However unpredictable weather variations have become so common that drought that used to occur after some years is now occurring every two years or less, and the trend continues to worsen.
Due to changes in weather and rainfall patterns, water is becoming harder to find and in many places grass has stopped growing, leaving no food for the cattle. Cattle are the main source of food and income in this community, and they are not able to withstand longer drought. Many Maasai communities lose a lot of cattle, and have begun practicing early weaning of calves during persistent drought because cows cannot produce enough milk. During this time, the cows are weak and need to travel long distances in search for water and pasture. The beef cattle lose condition and produce less meat, therefore bringing less income.
As our Mobile Film Unit visits schools and communities, we emphasize to the communities the need of keeping smaller and therefore healthier cattle herds, and increasing sheep and goat flocks, as they require less grass to survive. Climate change is creating a need for a whole new perspective on livelihoods for the pastoralist societies.