A Maasai Steward of the Serengeti
Mara River Basin
Mara River Basin
Meyasi Meshilieck Mollal
Serengeti Preservation Foundation, Director
Alison M. Jones
NWNL Director and Photographer
All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.
Meyasi kindly visited NWNL in Nairobi to share transboundary concerns vis a vis the Mara River. Flowing from Kenya’s degraded Mau Forest, across Tanzania and into Lake Victoria, the NWNL case study Mara River is a lifeline to all iconic and lesser-known wildlife in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Immediately following our interview, we met with the East African Wildlife Society and about 2 dozen stewards and scientists to discuss transboundary impacts of Kenyan proposals for multiple dams on the Mara River.
NWNL Hello, Meyasi. Thank you for coming for this interview as your first stop on your trip this week to Kenya. I am anxious to hear all you are doing to support conservation of Tanzania’s ecosystems, wildlife and natural resources. Let’s start with your background.
NWNL That’s a powerful name for an organization. What are your goals?
NWNL What is the benefit of taking children to Tanzania’s National Parks?
MEYASI MOLLAL This is my belief: if we empower the young kids in primary and secondary schools, these are tomorrow’s villagers, tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s decision-makers, and tomorrow’s politicians. The right time to catch them and install conservation concepts is when they are at primary schools. Then they understand nature. In few weeks’ times, I will be taking more than 180 students to Serengeti National Park. We empower them and their communities surrounding Serengeti National Park to protect the nature.
NWNL Does Serengeti Preservation Foundation have other programs?
MEYASI MOLLAL We have a radio program broadcasted at Loliondo FM Radio, so we can further share our conservations knowledge. Our program is called “Community and Conservation,” which we broadcast in Swahili and sometimes Maa [the language of the Maasai].
NWNL Do you have other forms of outreach to spread the understanding of conservation?
MEYASI MOLLAL We say, “We cannot talk to politicians. We cannot give them attention, but media can.” So, we also have a category called “Conservation Journalism,” for reaching the politicians, who have the say and who have the technology for conservation.
We came up with a project where we train journalists to become ambassadors of nature. They will write and report issues about conservation; and they will talk to politicians on behalf of those of us who are concerned – that includes me, Meyasi.
NWNL Those are inspiring and worthwhile projects. I wonder what inspired you? Was it how you grew up or the area of Tanzania in which you grew up? Did you have easy access to water? If not, perhaps that led you to an appreciation of our natural resources?
MEYASI MOLLAL I grew up in Arusha in a village called Kisongo. I remember very well that rainwater was the drinking water. I drank rainwater a lot of the time, and I never got sick. Where I grew up there was no tap water. I never saw tap water for my first 10 years. Then we started walking 10 or 20 kilometers [6 to 12 miles] to get water from a tap.
And up to now, in my village they still have to walk 12 to 15 kilometers (7 to 9 miles) to fetch water. My mom used donkeys. But this year I removed the donkeys and all the cattle from home because she’s aged now and alone because I went to town. My sister is in the university, so we had to find a houseboy for her.
NWNL Where does your mother’s water come from now?
MEYASI MOLLAL World Vision came to our village with a program. They dug an underground borehole, and they handed the project to the village. So if I were a villager and had to fetch 20 liters [5 gallons] of water, I would have to pay 50 shillings [2 cents] per jerry can.
But the project did not last because to pump water, you need electricity. Because of the poor management of the people, they failed in running the meter that pumps the water. Somebody had to collect those 50 Tanzania Shillings and use them to load electricity to pump water, but it never worked well.
NWNL So what are you doing for your mother now?
MEYASI MOLLAL I’ve been building a house for my mom; but ,unfortunately there is no water. Yesterday when the builders arrived, they had to leave because there is no water. So now I have to take $30 to my mom for water fees so they can do building and construction.
Fortunately, I’m changing the environment of my mom. Like the Serengeti, [land around] my mother’s home is bare and eroded. But I wasn’t applying conservation approaches I’d learned in the Serengeti to address soil erosion at home.
NWNL So how did you deal with the soil erosion at your mothers?
MEYASI MOLLAL Every time I went home, I asked, “What can I do as one person?” I said, “Okay, charity starts at home. Let me start with my mother.” My dad is married to three wives. One is dead, so there are now my mom and the other mom. So said, “I’ll start with my mom. Then I’ll duplicate those actions to the other mother and then to the entire village.”
NWNL What were those actions?
MEYASI MOLLAL First of all, the trees have been cut down completely. There’s no tree. When I look at this place, I say, “Wow.”
So the first step is to teach the communities to plant trees. At my mom’s, I’ve started planting fast-growing fruit trees. When they mature, somebody will come take a fruit. When they eat a mango fruit from my mother’s compound, they’ll ask, “Wow, is this possible?” Yes, it is possible. So that is how I’ll start telling people, “Plant trees. You can get fruit, you can get shade.” And trees also bring rain. So that is one approach I’m using.
NWNL What else did you doing for your mother’s situation?
MEYASI MOLLAL Maasai people have been considered very rich people when they have a lot of cows. But cattle are not a sustainable economic base. So, it is the right time now to transform Maasai families to have the smallest number of cows – just enough to feed them, get milk and sell it for cash. They can sell one liter of milk for around $0.5 U.S. If somebody produce 10 liters [2.6 gallons], they earn $5 U.S.
So I removed all my mom’s cows and bought her one Boran cow [a popular Zebu beef breed in eastern Africa]. That cow can produce 10 to 20 liters [2.6 to 5 gallons] of milk. That means, we can produce milk, sell it and get income. Now, her environment is safe again.
NWNL Is there fodder in your mother’s compound for this one cow?
MEYASI MOLLAL Yes, and we will buy vegetables to feed the cow.
NWNL What about water for the cow?
MEYASI MOLLAL Now, that’s the challenge. I, personally, have to break these barriers as an example. Since God blessed me with knowledge and a small income, I have to be a role model in getting the Boran cow.
I believe there are always solutions if we look for them. So the solution I’m looking for – since there’s no water – is to buy water from far away to feed this cow, since I am able to. That can transform the entire community.
NWNL How much do you pay for water for that cow?
MEYASI MOLLAL I pay $25 for two weeks for water. I’ll pick a cow which give 10 liters per day, so I’ll get $70 in two weeks.
NWNL So, minus the $25 for water, your profit for two weeks is $55. Where do you get your water from for that cow? Is it delivered by a bowser?
MEYASI MOLLAL There’s a little suburb where there’s water for the Army.
NWNL Meyasi, your plan is a great, local role model. Do you see similar changes within the Maasai community – or even throughout Tanzania – regarding improvements in water accessibility so women and children don’t have to keep walking long distances?
MEYASI MOLLAL Yes, there is a big change. The government is trying to provide water for every village. But provision of water is a political thing. They stand and say, “We will do this;” but at the end they are not doing it. The government is in a position to do this; but it’s not happening because of politics. But we are seeing organizations going to remote villages and building boreholes for water…
Oh, and there is a tap that passes our village and takes water to another village in Monduli district. But our village is not given water because of politics. That kind of thing is very terrible. And unfortunately, in the area of my village, according to the research, there is no underground water. But from our village, there is a borehole if you walk 14 kilometers [8.6 miles]. There you can dig underground and get water, and then you have to pump the water to the village.
NWNL Walking 14 kilometers [8.6 miles] each way is a long trek! Can the village pump water 14 kilometers?
MEYASI MOLLAL Yes. That is possible.
NWNL Do Tanzanian cities provide piped water?
MEYASI MOLLAL Yes, I’m living at the center of the city, and I have the water in my house. I have a tap. Every day I get water.
NWNL But what about rural Tanzanians? What percentage of rural households still have to walk for water? Has that improved compared to 20 years ago?
MEYASI MOLLAL Most of the villages don’t have water.
NWNL When you say, “most villages,” do you mean 60% or 80% or 90%?
MEYASI MOLLAL I think we are talking about 90-something percent.
NWNL What was it 20 years ago? It would seem it really hasn’t changed.
MEYASI MOLLAL It has changed now in the cities. I can go through the budgets of the ministry and find the data for our rural areas.
NWNL Oh, thank you. It would be interesting to know the percentage of rural villages with water 20 years ago versus today; and of urban homes 20 years ago versus today. Meyasi, thank you very much for sharing your story and your conservation vision with me. I congratulate you on your determination and wish continued success for your Serengeti Preservation Foundation.
Posted by NWNL on April 26, 2018.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director.
Our Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.
All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.