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Work with Kenya’s Maasai shortlisted for Responsible Tourism Award

Tribal Voice Communications’ work in Kenya towards helping Maasai communities develop an ethical and sustainable source of income from tourism has been shortlisted in The Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2009, organised by responsibletravel.com.

Launched in 2004, the Awards aim to celebrate those individuals, companies and organisations in the travel industry that are making a significant commitment to the culture and economies of local communities and are providing a positive contribution to biodiversity conservation.

It is great that TVC’s work in Kenya with the Maasai tribe has been recognised in these awards in the ‘Best for Poverty Reduction’ category. We have been working in Kenya’s Masai Mara since 2006 overturning decades of exploitation of the Maasai cultural villages there by Kenya’s driver guides. Many of these villages are now benefiting from tourism for the very  first time since setting up their tourism enterprises over 30 years ago and as a result are now lifting themselves out of the poverty trap through their newly acquired tourism income. They have to date built their own schools, rain water harvesting and sanitation systems.

The shortlist was selected by a panel of 13 prolific judges at a recent judging day held at The Royal Geographical Society, London. Dr Harold Goodwin, Chair of the Judges and Professor of Responsible Tourism Management at Leeds MetropolitanUniversity said :

 “Working our way through this year’s long lists, we were impressed by the willingness of so many organisations to take responsibility and to do what they can to help make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. This year over 140 submitted detailed responses to our questionnaire and we received hundreds of references. Despite the economic difficulties being faced by the travel and tourism industry, responsible tourism continues to move ahead and I’m continually impressed as more is achieved by more people. As judges we are all very aware of the great work that is being done by so many and our decisions are often very difficult and sometimes long debated”.

To learm more about TVC’s work with the Maasai in Kenya click here. For further information on the Awards, which will be announced on November 11th 2009 at World Travel Market in London, view here.

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Alternative Fuel Initiative, Kenya and Zambia

Tribal Voice Communication’s alternative fuel project in Kenya received a mention on BBC News today ‘News – Africa – Africa’s burning charcoal problem’. TVC was approached earlier in the year by the Maasai women in the 5 villages we are working with on the ‘Maasai Villages Initiative’ asking if we would work with them to find alternative fuel sources to firewood for their daily cooking and heating needs. Reason for this was two-fold. The women recognised that their use of firewood was becoming unsustainable as it was causing deforestation in the area as evidenced by their daily firewood forays taking them ever greater distances from their villages. Secondly, they were increasingly coming into conflict with elephants whilst collecting firewood.

TVC went away and looked into the issue and our investigations brought us into contact with the Nairobi-based Millennium Fuel Project run up by the now late Dr Christopher Wood. In collaboration with the MFP, and with a small amount of seed funding from the Travel Foundation, TVC had briquette making machines made and trained all women in the 5 villages to make fuel briquettes out of cow dung, waste paper and water. Each Maasai village keeps several hundred cows so there is no shortage of cow dung! The women have also experimented with elephant dung. 6 months later the women in each village are producing circa. 400 briquettes in a morning (5 briquettes are sufficient to cook a meal for a family), and their firewood consumption has reduced by 75% helping reduce deforestation and CO2 emissions, contributing to the fight against climate change. The reduced need for firewood forays also means the women have more time for other activities, including crafting beadwork curios for sale to tourists.

Importantly, in an area where many live in abject poverty, some of the briquettes are also being piloted by the Mara Conservancy and &beyond’s Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp for use by their staff instead of charcoal or firewood, along with heating water for client’s showers. It is hoped that these 2 organisations, and other lodges in the area, will begin to purchase the women’s briquettes creating a valuable source of income for the women.

Funded by the High Five Club, TVC has recently introduced this alternative fuel project to another rural wildlife tourism area, Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, where the same issues of deforestation, human/wildlife conflict and the need for alternative livelihood strategies for the rural poor exist.

In August 28 women in Mnkhanya Chiefdom were trained by TVC to make briquettes out of dried leaves, waste paper and water and together we formed the Malimba Women’s Alternative Fuel Enterprise. The women take 50% of production for their own use with the remaining 50% available for purchase by the safari lodges in the area. The Luangwa Safari Association is firmly behind this initiative and are supplying the waste paper and currently piloting the use of the briquettes in their lodges.

TVC is looking for small amounts of funding to expand this innovative initiative to other rural villages in Kenya and Zambia. If you would like to get involved please contact cheryl@tribal-voice.co.uk

For further information on this initiative view here.


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Responsible Safari Guiding Initiative – Masai Mara, Kenya

Tribal Voice’s Manny and Cheryl Mvula are currently in Kenya working on safari guiding and poverty alleviation initiatives. Over the last 2 days we have delivered two guide training workshops in the Masai Mara aimed at improving the safari guides’ game viewing etiquette. This is the second such training event that we have undertaken in the Mara to capture some of those guides that missed out on the previous popular training that we conducted last year with 50 resident Mara Triangle guides and 50 from private operators at Kenya Wildlife Service’s HQ in Nairobi. There are several irresponsible guiding practices in Kenya that are impacting negatively on wildlife, habitat and the communities that live in wildlife areas. Key issues and areas of concern include the crowding of wildlife, approaching too close, off-road driving, the relentless pursuing of animals displaying avoidance tactics and indeed, sadly, an infectious tendency of over-dependency by guides on the Big 5 and the resultant use of radios to communicate such sightings, all in the name of tourism and to give clients a good time.

The use of radios on drives has shown to be one of the main reasons propagating the lack of initiative and use of guiding skills in some guides. This in some situations has resulted in congestion at sightings hence attracting the attention of the Mara Conservancy’s Anti-Harassment Unit’s Cheetah 1, 2 & 3 vehicles sometimes ending up in friction and a unprecedented build up of tension between the Mara Conservancy and some of the guides. Impacts resulting from this behaviour are a decline in key wildlife species, including lion and cheetah, as their natural feeding and breeding behaviour is being severely disturbed. The conservancy however report that there has been a significant change in attitude of guides in the triangle at cat sightings where whether in the presence of Cheetah patrol vehicles or not have maintained the minimum approach distances and vehicle numbers at a sighting. This in itself is a great sign In Amboseli, for example, cheetahs are finding it increasingly difficult to hunt during the day due to the numbers of tour operator and lodge vehicles crowding them, at times up to 30 vehicles at a sighting. This has led to a decline in cheetah numbers. In Tsavo National Park, most lion cubs starve to death as tourist vehicles are disturbing their parents’ breeding and ambush hunting strategies.

Tribal Voice worked in collaboration with the Mara Conservancy in delivering this year’s workshops, which shared with 40 guides in the Mara Triangle photographs of tourist vehicles carrying out these irresponsible practices and discussing with them the reasons why. Reasons given by the drivers were the belief that tracking down the big cats meant bigger tips from tourists, the fact that there are many untrained guides operating in Kenya as there is no compulsory safari guiding qualification that guides need to have to take tourists on game drives in Kenya’s protected areas, ‘client pressure’ to find them cats, irresponsible marketing by some tour operators whose brochures show vehicles very close to animals or that guarantee Big 5 sightings, lack of management support when they behave responsibly and turn down client requests to move ever closer to animals and then client’s complaining that they couldn’t get the photograph they wanted, and finally a lack of control by the drivers themselves of the game drives.

The workshops equipped the guides with knowledge of how to bring the smaller things in the bush to life thereby reducing their dependency on the Big 5, how to conduct effective client briefings so that they set the game drive up in a responsible way from the very start thereby helping clients have realistic expectations of their safari and hence reducing the pressure on them to deliver what they can only do in an irresponsible fashion, and finally gave the guides a checklist to enable them to self-assess their own performance in relation to conducting responsible game drives and hence take responsibility for their own self-development in this area.

The first workshop held at &Beyond’s Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp was very well attended and supported by &Beyond and Mpata Safari Club guides reflecting these companies’ commitment to Responsible Tourism. The second workshop held at Mara Serena Hotel got off to a very shaky start with few guides from Serena turning up for the training. Tribal Voice and the Mara Conservancy hence rallied the management of Serena and urged them to take their responsibility to support such guide training events seriously and hence after a later than planned start to the workshop, and a very late finish, 9 guides from the lodge successfully completed their training.

A key outcome of the workshops was that the guides and lodges in attendance agreed (some reluctantly!) that the use of radios to announce to all and sundry big cat and rhino sightings was the one issue that was responsible for many of the problems in the Mara. The new Senior Warden hence agreed that a new park rule would be introduced banning the use of radios in the park except for in emergency situations. So a very rewarding 2 days!

For further information on TVC’s Kenya responsible guiding initiative click here.


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Masai Mara – Wildlife Decline

You might be interested to have a look at a BBC TV clip which has been published on BBC World about the recent ILRI report on declines in wildlife numbers in the Mara eco-system. The declines reported are extremely high and one of the reasons given is the conflict between wildlife and the local community (Maasai pastoralists) living on the borders of the park as they both compete for the same scarce resources. It also highlighted the success of the community wildlife conservancies at Ol Kinyei and Olare Orok within the same Mara eco-system in addressing this issue. All the wildlife footage was shot in these two conservancies and there is an interview with ole Tongoyo, one of the Maasai landowners at Ol Kinyei who is a ranger there.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8129816.stm   

Gamewatcher Safaris are involved with the conservancies and are using their tourist camps there to generate income to pay for the management of the conservancies and to fund community projects in the area – projects that provide a ‘hand up’ to these Maasai communities rather than the unsustainable model so often witnessed in tourism areas of hand-outs and kind donors.

The Gamewatcher Safaris business model is one to take a look at as they are using the community wildlife conservancies to attract tourism business that not only allows them to achieve their own profit targets but also creates an income for conservation and improves local livelihoods. See http://www.porini.com/ for info on Gamewatcher Safaris.