Fellows Update: Team Kenya
Fellows Update: Team Kenya-US West
By Hannah Gosnell, February 28, 2017
“Cultivating an International Pastoralist Network to Identify Common Conservation Challenges and Share Collaborative Landowner-Led Solutions in Kenya’s South RIft and the U.S. West”
Team Kenya-US West has grown and flourished! A little over a year ago, Rick Knight contacted Johnny Sundstrom and me and suggested we might qualify as a “researcher-practitioner” team eligible for a CCC Team Fellowship that would enable us to build on the research my former graduate student (and Johnny’s son), Shiloh Sundstrom, was conducting in Kenya before his life was unexpectedly and tragically cut short in November 2015. Shiloh was a force of nature and left some big shoes to fill, with a grand vision to develop a lasting bridge between pastoralists in Kenya’s Maasailand and ranchers in the US West in order to collectively address some of the most vexing problems facing communities in both regions (and in many places around the world), e.g. loss of access to pasture and mobility for pastoralists and increasing human-wildlife conflict due to land fragmentation, land tenure change, and outdated approaches to wildlife conservation that exclude people from the landscape.
Johnny and I gamely welcomed the challenge to build on Shiloh’s work even though neither of us had ever been to Africa. We did a lot of homework and recruited some key Kenya experts to help us, including Paul Meiliara, Shiloh’s good friend and Chairman of the Board of the South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO), Nickson Parmisa, another close friend and Chief of the Maasai in the Athi River Basin, and CCC’s own Robin Reid, who knew Shiloh and shared our interest in building on his research, which aligned in many ways with her longstanding research on pastoralist-led community-based conservation in Kenya. We were fortunate to be able to recruit OSU Humanitarian Engineering Professor Kendra Sharp to join us, as well as Denny Iverson, a rancher from Ovando, Montana and board member of the Blackfoot Challenge; Brett Kaufmann, a Professor of Anthropology in Beijing (and Shiloh’s best friend); OSU graduate students Meredith Apfelbaum, Julia Thurber and Rachael Davee; Deadwood photographer Kate Harnedy; Corvallis middle schoolers Phoebe Schneider and Fiona Hill, daughters of Hannah and Kendra; and the all-important Mama Tchanan (Shiloh’s Mom).
In all, we comprised a group of 13 good-natured and intrepid travelers and in February we crossed the bridge Shiloh built to Kenya’s Maasailand. We spent 10 days interacting with pastoralists, Kenyan conservation leaders, Governor David Nkedianye of Kajiado County (Robin’s former PhD student and a past CCC Fellow), and an assortment of other kindred spirits who shared our interest in sustainable rural livelihoods and integrated livestock-wildlife systems.
We visited with communities in the South Rift where Shiloh worked, near Magadi, Bisil, and Amboseli National Park, and engaged in a continuous exchange of ideas about current and future research and practical needs and presentations and ground-truthing of central findings from Shiloh’s dissertation research regarding the emergence and development of new forms of landowner-led community based conservation in the South Rift region.
Led by the Humanitarian Engineering team, we also conducted two afternoon workshops with Maasai community members in Magadi and Bisil to frame areas of opportunity for potential engineering design solutions, as identified by the communities. Some of the challenges we feel could be addressed by technology development include human-elephant conflicts in crops, depredations of livestock by leopards and lions, waste and recycling, livestock breeding and marketing, training and planning tools for livestock management, and challenges related to milk marketing and transport. The workshops represented the first steps towards potentially prototyping solutions that address community needs, and Kendra and Robin and I are eager to follow up on this momentum with future grant proposals to National Science Foundation and USAID.
We also visited the Womens’ Milk Co-operative in Bisil, in their brand-new Collection and Cooling facility, and Shiloh’s Memorial Fund will be helping them with a gift of $3,000 to finish the final stage. It will be dedicated the first week in March. A high point of our visit was the dedication of the Shiloh Classroom at the Meidenyi Village School. Shiloh had promised to add this so the school could have another level in its program, and his family, relatives, and friends raised the necessary $9,500 to complete and furnish the building. There are other plans to follow up on the many connections we made, and, over the next few weeks, each of the 13 members of our expedition will share their experiences through this blog.
We all share a collective sense of gratitude to the CCC for helping make this experience possible and we look forward to building on the successes so far. Thank you!