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Earlier this year, while visiting the Laikipia Plateau, Kenya, I saw some of the worst erosion I’ve yet witnessed, while also experiencing a variety of growing oases. The three oases I’ll describe are:

1. The capture of rock water (runoff from a large bedrock outcropping) into a cistern and plantings below
2. Twala Cultural Manyatta—a Maasai women-led culture and ecology program
3. Managed livestock grazing in wildlife preserves

1. The capture of rock water
The rock-runoff cistern has a capacity of 79,000 gallons (300 m3) and was built in 2009, thanks to Catholic Sister Katia’s fundraising and organizing work with the Naatum Women’s Group in the Soit Oudo region of Lapikia District, Kenya (figs. 1-4).

Before the tank was built, area women would walk 20 km to get to water that they would dig out of the sand in natural drainages before carrying it back home. The more the watersheds of those drainages were degraded, the less water the water flowed in the creeks, and the farther the women had to walk.

Animals are not allowed in the cistern’s catchment so as to reduce the chance of animal droppings contaminating the water. And sediment traps precede the inlet to the tank (figs. 1 and 5).

Figure 5. Two sediment traps preceding the inlet of the cistern. The upper sediment trap drops out sediments before water spills down onto the lower, steeper part of the catchment. After a rain the sediment traps can be cleaned out by hand.

Figure 5. Two sediment traps precede the inlet of the cistern. The upper sediment trap drops out sediments before water spills down onto the lower, steeper part of the catchment. After a rain the sediment traps can be cleaned out by hand.

Joseph Lentunyoi of Laikipia Permaculture Centre has since worked with the Naatum Women’s Group to enhance the potential of the system. He secured funding from LUSH Cosmetics to help repair the cistern’s plumbing, repair the land below the cistern by fencing out livestock, and plant rain and runoff via water-harvesting earthworks (fig. 6) to support native aloe secundiflora and other plantings (fig. 7). The aloe is used by the women to make soap and other products, and it is sustainably harvested and sold to LUSH for some of their products. The leaves can also be fed to chickens and used to treat malaria. Production is enhanced with beekeeping (fig. 8) and the capture and reuse of on-site nutrients such as those harvested from a newly-built compost toilet (fig. 9).

The women of Naatum (fig. 10) manage the cistern, its water catchment, and the fields below. While we were there they were in the process of building a traditional home (figs. 11 & 12).

Enough water is currently captured within the cistern to provide 80 liters of water per family per day. Water is free for the women of Naatum, while non-members must pay 50 shillings per month for access to cistern water. Another, upper cistern is desired on a different part of the rock catchment so it can be used for domestic purposes, while the lower cistern can be used for the growing farm.

You can help by attending a workshop with the women of Naatum and the Laikipia Permaculture Centre, and/or making a donation. Information on both can be found here. Donation button is on right-hand side of page.

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The story of the other two Kenyan “oases” continues on Brad’s Drops in a Bucket Blog, first with the Maasai women of the Twala Cultural Manyatta, who convinced the area men to give them land to steward and develop for the benefit of all—a coup in this male-dominated society. Components of their success include crops such as aloe, and a new constructive way of relating to the local baboons—who are modeling the harvest and consumption of huge cholla-cactus buds! The third “oasis” is an observation that can serve as a seed for further observation and oasis-style solutioneering. Read on here

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