Fair trade is a win-win

Fair trade is about acknowledging the people behind the product.  We, as everyday consumers, provide direct support to KNCU farmers and other cooperatives like it.


“When a cup of fair trade coffee is drunk in the USA, it means a lot to a small producer in Kilimanjaro,” says Amos.  “Each and every person can make a difference through their purchasing power.”  Fair trade standards, like the ones upheld by Fairtrade Africa, give financial security to farmers through a guaranteed minimum price, provide safe working conditions, and create long-term trade partnerships.   It’s the ideal win-win scenario for both producer and consumer.


But how do consumers know what to buy to make a difference?  It’s simple.  Look for the universal fair trade symbol on any store-bought commodity. “Be sure that the farmer who grew your coffee, your tea or your chocolate has been fairly enumerated,” says Amos.  “I think it even tastes better when you buy fair trade.”


Organic and fair trade – together at last

We’ve been invited to the home of a local KNCU farmer near the village of Mwika on the southeast side of Kilimanjaro.  Our host, Israel Kombe, leads us through a canopy of banana fronds, avocado trees, maize and cassava.  The interspersing of multiple crops helps provide shade for his growing coffee plants, but also acts as a fertilizer, helping the volcanic soil stay nutrient-rich.


Israel has been farming since 1991. Over the years, his one acre field has produced high yields of quality coffee.  Israel is quick to credit his productivity with a simple technique. “I don’t use chemicals,” he says.  “These trees are organic.”


Since 2004, demand from worldwide consumers for fair trade organic-certified products has steadily increased.  KNCU has seen the change and is helping shift attitudes on the mountain toward a more holistic farming approach.  Today, training is provided to members who want to learn environmentally-friendly techniques.  In 2011, the number of farmers switching to organic doubled – from 2,000 to 4,000.  “Every buyer in the US and Europe are asking for fair trade organic coffee,” says Athanasio.  “We can see the demand is growing and we are making more efforts to convert more farmers.”


Growing organic not only benefits the consumer, it helps the farmer who grows it.  A chemical-free work environment keeps health defects low.  And long-term soil fertility means higher coffee yields year after year.


But not everyone has embraced Israel’s method.  “My neighbor is using chemicals because he doesn’t have the education,” says Israel.  It will take time and investment to convince every farmer to convert, but KNCU seems equal to the task. “There’s no way we can turn back from fair trade organic,” says Athanasio.


Israel understands the value of support from cooperatives like KNCU and organizations like Fairtrade Africa.  “It’s a long-term partnership,” he says.


New technology supports coffee farmers

Coffee starts with a single seed.  KNCU coffee farmers are taking advantage of new growing methods to make the most out of their seedlings and change the way we look at organic agriculture in the process.


Today, we’re visiting a KNCU coffee nursery outside of Moshi.  Thousands of coffee seedlings at various stages of growth are arranged in tidy rows.  According to local farmers, one of the major threats to productive coffee yields is disease among their plants.  CBD (Coffee Berry Disease) and Leaf Rust are most common.  The nursery has engineered a process know as grafting to manipulate the make-up of growing coffee plants, allowing them to resist these disorders. “Grafting is a new technology,” says Christian Shoo, KNCU’s Farmers Technical Service Manager. “It has worked very well in distributing a quality seedling to farmers.”


Cuttings from the “mother garden” – a patch of already disease-resistant coffee trees – are combined with newly sprouted seedlings.  They are literally “fused” together with a few snips of the garden shear and some plastic wrapping.  These newly merged plants go straight in to the soil to take root and acclimate.  In three months they’ll mature and be ready for introduction to the slopes.


With the help of innovative cutting methods, KNCU nurseries are a prime example of how coffee can be grown without the use of pesticides to manage them.


Maisha Marefu!

What do tourism and coffee farmers have in common?  A whole heck of a lot it turns out.  Kilimanjaro has always been heavy with visitors looking to conquer the mountain, but the rural population rarely had the opportunity to cash in on the existing tourism activities in the area.  Premiums facilitated by Fairtrade Africa have allowed farmers to invest in a project all their own – one that doesn’t include schlepping a pack 17,000 feet.

KNCU’s Fair Tourism Project, Kahawa Shamba (literally “coffee farm”), takes visitors on a behind-the-scenes tour of the rural coffee production process – from berry to bean to that steaming hot cup ‘o joe.



Innovative tourism projects like Kahawa Shamba are diversifying farmer’s income, but also creating a unique experience for tourists.  “We want to be a bridge between coffee consumers and coffee producers,” says Deo Chombo, KNCU’s Fair Tourism Manager. Kahawa Shamba brings in 1,200 tourists annually, assisting 2,000 local coffee growers directly.  It’s Deo’s hope that one day all KNCU farmers will benefit. “Everybody needs to get support from this project,” he says.


We pick, pulp, grind, sift, and roast our way to the final product with our guide, Josephat Minde.  What we’ve experienced in a matter of hours usually takes weeks of meticulous labor.  Josephat explains that every berry of KNCU coffee is picked by-hand.  Harvest time at the shamba is truly a family affair.  “Everyone participates in the harvest,” he says.  Berries on the lowest limbs of the coffee trees are left for the littlest family members to pluck.  “We will get the best quality by harvesting by hand,” says Josephat.


After a prolonged roasting process over an open fire, the coffee fiends among the crew are all too eager to get their caffeine buzz on.  With a traditional “Maisha Marefu!” cheers, we clink mugs and take a swig of the potent concoction.  Fresh coffee deliciousness.


Kilimanjaro’s fair trade farmers

On the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain lies a collective of fair trade coffee farmers.  Historically, coffee in the region was grown by colonial settlers on big plantations.  Small-scale farmers just couldn’t compete.  In 1933, the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU) was established to give indigenous coffee farmers a higher stake in the world market.


KNCU is the nation’s oldest coffee cooperative and certainly one of the largest, representing 100,000 fair trade coffee farmers, many of them also organic growers.  Certified under Fairtrade Africa in 1993, KNCU was looking for a way to boost coffee sales, but also secure shared benefits for its farmers.  “When we were told that fair trade provided a minimum price and social standards, the Cooperative was encouraged to switch,” says Anthanasio Massenha, KNCU’s General Manager.


Fairtrade Africa represents the interests of 320 fair trade-certified producers in 26 African countries, working to connect them with consumers worldwide.  Their unique partnership with KNCU has resulted in social and environmental working standards, but also community programs that seek to empower and make a positive difference in the local community.



Fair trade dollars, know as “premiums”, support development programs within the community.  “We set up a premium over and above the market price that the consumer pays toward the social economic development of these communities,” says Amos Thiong’o, Fairtrade Africa’s Regional Manager.  “We want to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.”


Fairtrade Africa is triple bottom line responsibility at its best.


Pastoralism – an endangered profession

In the past, education was not valued among the Maasai.  Cattle was king.  But drought and an unpredictable wet season have forced many communities to reevaluate their pastoral professions.  Thomson strongly advocates education as a means to support the community long-term.


“Education equips people to deal with change, to decide what they want to do for themselves,” says John.


Today, the Tanzanian government makes it mandatory for Maasai children to receive a basic education.  But village schools lack infrastructure making it difficult for families to make good on this directive.  “We have the responsibility to assist the communities in terms of improving the education facilities,” says Happiness.


Emmanuel Lorru is Maasai.  He lives with his extended family in a boma outside Enashiva. “I’m proud that I’ve finished my studies,” he says. “I’ve become an influencer in the community on the issues of conservation and protection of the wildlife.”  Shortly after completing his schooling, Emmanuel was hired as a community translator for Thomson.  His education and exposure to visitors from different parts of the world made him aware of modern conveniences. Today, his family enjoys some basic, yet progressive, amenities including water catchment, solar energy and a fuel-efficient stove.


“You need to educate the communities with actions and not with words,” says Emmanuel.  He is leading by example for his neighbors. This young man will no doubt play a crucial role in ushering in development among his community.


“The Maasai are at risk of being left behind,” says John. “Hopefully with our intervention, we can give them a choice.”  The modern world has come knocking.  Time will tell if the Maasai will open the door.


Thomson’s success is the Maasai’s success

For the Maasai, the land is life.  Livestock is grazed and bomas are built here.  In recent years, families have become estranged from their nomadic existence and set up camp permanently.  But a stationary life means an increase in competition for grazing and settlement.  There’s only so much land to go around.  Fuzzy property lines and rival clans only compound the issue.  You’re left with a catalyst for conflict.

Thomson has quickly determined their place in the bigger picture.  With the help of FoTZC, the company has established relationships with villages outside of Enashiva to help manage the land, but also establish key development projects in the communities.


A newly constructed housing block for teachers at Sukenya Primary School; a borehole in Laitayak; a women’s cooperative selling beaded jewelry – these projects seek to benefit the community and set the stage for capacity building.  “We want to ensure that these communities are being empowered,” says Happiness. “They are just waking up and seeing the importance of engaging themselves in development work.”


Cooperation with the local Maasai communities compliments Thomson’s conservation efforts in Enashiva.  But the company’s message is clear – they’re here to collaborate, not dictate, the needs of the people. “We strongly believe that in order for any project to be sustainable you need to have the community take ownership,” says Happiness.  This isn’t charity, it’s a partnership.


Thomson is heavily invested in the community, and for good reason.  Without their support, sustainable tourism would not be possible. “They have their views which is to do with cattle.  And we’ve got our objectives which is conservation,” says John.  “It’s a process of education to bring the two together.”


The success of tourism at Enashiva will trickle down to the local people.  Thomson’s success is the Maasai’s success.


Empowerment through tradition

Handicraft and bead work are a traditional pastime in Maasai culture.  Thomson has helped commercialize the practice and given the women artisans of Enyijata Women’s Cooperative a stable income for their efforts.


Financial independence is a new and exciting concept for many women.  Profits earned from beading goes toward paying school fees and purchasing goods like maize and sugar for the home.  Some women are even advising their husbands on what cows to buy and sell – a remarkable shift from their traditional domestic role.  Under this roof, money talks, and women are finally finding their voice in the home.


“I really believe that change within any community starts with the women,” says Happiness Mwamasika, Community Coordinator for Focus on Tanzanian Communities (FoTZC), a US-based NGO partnered with Thomson. “When you empower Maasai women, you are empowering the whole community.”




The men are supportive of this new role, but cautious to accept true independence among their wives.  “Men marry women, women don’t marry men,” says Mzee Simat, a Maasai elder.  It would seem Maasai men still have the last word… for the time being at least.


Tourism in Enashiva

We touch down at Wasso airstrip just before the storm hits.  Thunder rumbles above as we quickly transport gear and equipment from the plane to our waiting vehicles.  Grassy savannah stretches out in all directions and a lone Maasai stands watch over the scene.  Iconic stereotypes ring true here. This is the Serengeti.

Thomson Safaris has a 30-year legacy in Tanzania.  The company has been able to blend environmental responsibility with community collaboration in to all of its tourism projects. The Enashiva Nature Refuge is the newest, and arguably most philanthropic venture, to date.  The land that comprises Enashiva has undergone many transitions over the years.  First, it was cultivated for barley by Tanzania Breweries Ltd.  Later, it was utilized as pasture for the Maasai’s grazing cattle.  In 2006, Thomson purchased the property – all 12,600 acres of it – and Enashiva Nature Refuge was born.


“The Serengeti ecosystem is more than just the National Park.  It extends right in to this area,” says John Bearcroft, General Manager at Thomson Safaris.  Over the years, competing interests from hunting, agriculture, and pastoralism greatly affected migrating wildlife’s ability to utilize this corridor.  “They really had to run the gauntlet to get here,” says John.  Thomson saw the opportunity to create a new sustainable tourism model in Enashiva that would offer guardianship over the land. “The obvious alternative land use was tourism.”


But for the neighboring Maasai, the transition from accessible to inaccessible land was not easy.  Thomson understood that their presence could be perceived negatively.  It would take an open dialogue with the community and ongoing cooperation to create true harmony here.


Bridging the gap

Before UNITE’s involvement, communities were often left out of the equation when it came to conservation.  There was no link between what was taught in school and what was taught at home.  UNITE is now bridging that gap. “Conservation cannot be successful without the active involvement of these communities,” says Tinka.

For the communities that border Kibale National Park, living in such close proximity to such a prized natural area presents some challenges.  Before given its protected status in 1993, Kibale was home to many families living off the land.  Today, the park is still utilized for small-scale resource extraction including honey harvesting and the collection of materials for handicrafts.  But abuse exists in the form of logging and poaching. There needs to be a balance. “We depend on this forest, and the forest depends on us,” says Tinka.


Teachers like Roselyn Kayesu are helping facilitate the learning curve in her village.   “In the community, teachers are very respected,” says Roselyn, a teacher at Bigodi Primary School.  “It becomes very easy to advise people on the issues.”


Conservation in the classroom

UNITE works directly with teachers to bring conservation education in to the classroom.  Through specialized teacher ‘trainings’, educators are taught the skills they need to integrate environmentally-focused lesson plans in to the national curriculum. “UNITE is here as a resource, to provide them with new knowledge,” says Michelle.


The trainings have helped facilitate conservation education in every subject.  As a result, teachers are seeing an increase in passing grades and higher test scores. “We didn’t think it was important to include conservation in everyday education,” says Kamugisha Vincent, head teacher at Rugonjo Primary School.   But today, it’s clear teachers are seeing a shift in attitude and behavior among their students and the incentive to continue is strong.


Environmentally-themed student “projects” initiated by the teaching staff are a direct result of UNITE’s influence – tree planting at Busabura, bee keeping at Bigodi, an anti-plastic bag campaign at Busiriba.  The list goes on.  “We are ambassadors of this crusade,” says Kamugisha.


UNITE casts a wide net.  Due to ballooning class sizes, one teacher can reach upward of 150 students.  At the 10 schools where UNITE is embraced, there’s the potential to connect with 6,000 children every day.


Using Kibale National Park as a backdrop to address local environmental challenges has been key to UNITE’s success.  Issues like population growth and illegal logging are filtered right back in to the curriculum.  It’s important that lesson plans stay relevant so they can have a greater impact down the line.  “UNITE looks at these children as the future leaders, the future conservationists,” says Tinka John, UNITE’s Conservation Coordinator. Seeing a value in education today, is helping shape the opportunities of tomorrow.


UNITE for the Environment

What’s worse than a 5-hour drive?  A 5-hour drive that turns in to an 8-hour one. Despite our late arrival and apparent exhaustion, the crew is excited for our next (and only!) filming in Uganda.


UNITE is a call-to-action for conservation education in the classroom.  Started in 2002 and funded by North Carolina Zoo, the program is connecting educators with innovative conservation curriculum for primary school children near Kibale National Park, in the southwest corner of the country.





Today, we join a class of 4th graders from Rugonjo Primary School for a field trip to Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary.  While not as well known as its National Park neighbor, the Wetland is still rich in biodiversity – 8 primate and 138 bird species.  UNITE provides field trips here as part of their unique student-centered learning approach.  “We’re taking kids out of the classroom and in to nature,” says Michelle Slavin, UNITE’s Director. The goal is to move away from traditional lecturing and facilitate teaching that is more hands-on.


We stick to the well-worn path of the Wetland’s periphery.  The area is so sensitive that any foot traffic disturbance within its interior might take years to recover.  But even with this limited coverage, our walk offers ample opportunities to get up-close and personal with nature – an ant nest, red colobus monkeys, tadpoles… baboon poop?  For our guide, James Katangole, nothing is off-limits for learning.


Questions are posed and children’s hands shoot up eagerly.  “When you see and touch, you will learn something,” says James.  These kids are learning at a very young age about environmental responsibility. “It’s important for students to have these opportunities,” says Michelle.  “Often times the only opportunities they have to enter a park or natural area is to take from it.”


An ancient tribe changed

Hunter-gatherer tribes known as Pygmies have occupied the Ituri Forest for centuries.  Okapi Wildlife Reserve works to conserve the culture of these indigenous peoples.  But it’s a delicate balance.


Change has been swift here.  Rapid population growth has put a strain on the resources the pygmies once found in abundance.  These groups have had to adapt out of necessity.  Many tribes are no longer nomadic, instead choosing to set up permanent camp near the road where supplies like rice, salt and cassava are easily accessible.  Their huts are not domes, but constructed with peaked roofs – an architectural imitation of their Bantu neighbors.


OCP has employed pygmies for years to collect leaves for the okapi.  “They have an incredible knowledge of the forest,” says Rosmarie.  “They know what trees to looks for and what leaves to gather.”  With this employment comes a salary (in the form of food rations) and access to basic healthcare in the village.

Without work opportunities from OCP, it’s very possible the Mbuti may be recruited for bushmeat hunting from local poachers.  Rosmarie and OCP understand that their support could potentially make the difference.


Agroforestry in Bapukeli

A human-use reserve like OWR must be managed responsibly.  “People are moving in because there’s still a lot of land here,” says Rosmarie.  Migrants from the civil conflict looking for refuge have put huge pressure on the forest in the form of settlement and cultivation.


Since 2000, OCP has taught agro-forestry techniques to the local population to alleviate the pressure that activities like unregulated subsistence farming can bring.


Today we visit a small plot near Bapukeli village, a few miles down the road from Epulu.  Before the OCP program, slash and burn techniques were common among farmers.  The cleared land was only viable for a few years before nutrients disappeared and they were forced to cultivate new plots.  Over time, this practice contributed to deforestation.


The agro-forestry methods supported by OCP allow the forest to regenerate. Today, plots are located near the road so farmers don’t disturb the primary forest deep within.  Special “fertilizer” trees are planted to keep the soil rich and productive.  Now, farmers get as many as four crops per season.


It’s the hope of OCP that everyone living in the Reserve will adopt these new practices and benefit sustainably from them.


Their forest, their future

The OWR’s “reserve” status means that it not only accommodates wildlife, but human-use too.   This brings a lot of challenges.  “By creating a Reserve that has people living inside of it, you have to deal with human issues,” says Steve.  Currently, there are 20,000 people living in OWR.


The biggest challenge is the extraction of natural resources including mining, logging and wildlife.  The Reserve is attractive to traders looking to make a quick buck.


For OCP and its partners, the key to success starts with the local people. “We realized that we need to make a really strong connection to the communities that are living in the Reserve,” says Steve.  Creating an awareness about the issues and engaging them to participate in the conservation process has been paramount.


Marcel Enckoto, OCP’s Assistant Director, has been working with the organization for the past 20 years.  He’s laid the groundwork for OCP’s education program and maintains a dialogue with the communities.  “We talk about how to use resources in the Reserve,” he says.  “They are informed about regulations, sustainable agriculture and hunting.”


Everyone is playing their part for conservation, even the youngest generation.  OCP has integrated environmental lesson plans in to the national curriculum.  “As children grow, they know the importance of plants, the importance of animals,” says Marcel.  “They are excited to learn.”


But the job certainly isn’t without challenges.  “When you are managing an area where you need perfect harmony between wildlife and people, it’s not easy,” says Josef Mapilanga, OWR Director.


OCP is bridging the gap, but the fate of the Reserve ultimately rests in the hands of the local Congolese. “They should learn how to take responsibility.  You can’t always slap them on the hand,” says Rosmarie Ruf, OCP Director.  She’s convinced that the people will benefit from this protected area.  Their forest, their future.


On the frontlines

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is a protected area, banned from commercial hunting.  But with poaching, mining, and logging decimating the wildlife on the borders, poachers have penetrated the protected zone to find the resources they crave.

Years of political turmoil left the DRC infrastructure in shambles.   Unfortunately, the governing Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) wasn’t prepared to cope with the influx of illegal activity.  “They didn’t have the resources to make conservation work,” says Steve.  OCP stepped in to help support the management of the Reserve, a crucial role they continue to play to this day.


The protection of the forest against the growing bushmeat and ivory trade is the responsibility of armed guards.  OCP trains and equips men from the local communities to become ICCN rangers and take a stand against poachers. “These guys are on the frontlines of some of the most dangerous work in Africa,” says Steve.  But all too often, they pay the ultimate price.  Three rangers were killed last year in the line of duty.


In addition to forest patrols, there are guards at border crossings on either end of the Reserve’s main road – 90 miles east to west.  These crossings are key points for people coming in and out.  “The natural resources of this country are incredible.  And this is a pipeline right in to it,” says Steve.  Vehicles are closely monitored for suspicious activity.  Ultimately, if you can monitor these entry and exit ways effectively, you can monitor the entire Reserve.

But it will take awareness from the local community about the value of wildlife to make real change.  Unfortunately, it’s not a black and white issue.  “The most important question for people is how do I eat tonight, not how do I save a species,” says Rosmarie.


Okapi. Say whaaaaat?

The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) was instrumental in helping to establish the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in order to help compliment their efforts to protect the country’s endemic okapi species.


The Reserve’s formation honors an animal that the Congolese consider incredibly special. “The people recognize the okapi as their conservation symbol,” says Steve Shurter, Director of Conservation at White Oak Conservation Center.  Steve joined the OCP team in 1987 with the task of having to bring wild okapi to Epulu for OCP’s signature breeding program.


Over the years, the country has undergone significant change. In 1992, civil conflict came to a head and armed fighting became prevalent.  The Okapi Conservation Project was severely impacted.  “The battle lines were right here in Epulu,” says Steve.  “There were mortars falling right near the okapi enclosures.”  During this time of strife, the dedicated Congolese people continued to care for the okapi, choosing not to abandon their post.

The okapi is a peculiar-looking animal.  Legs like a zebra with a long neck like a giraffe.  To say the okapi is elusive is an understatement.  “They’re almost impossible to find,” says Steve.  In the 30 years since OCP Director, Rosmarie Ruf, has been living and managing the project in Epulu, she’s caught a glimpse of one in the wild just once.


The preservation of the okapi goes hand-in-hand with the preservation of the forest.  You can’t have one without the other.  “If the forest is doing well, then the okapi must be doing well,” says Steve.


Epulu Station is home to 14 captive okapis.  They serve as a vital education tool for tourists (not too many of those these days), but more importantly, the local Congolese people.  “Seeing the okapi is a unique experience in DRC,” says Josef Mapilanga, OWR Director.  OCP is using the okapi to bring attention to the forest and the issues that plague it.


DRC anyone?

Our next filming location is by far the most remote.  Deceptively close on paper, it takes three separate flights to make the jump.  Final destination: Epulu Station in the Okapi Forest Reserve – the heart of the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


The Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR) was established in 1993 with the intent to protect the biodiversity and culture of the forest.  It’s located in the northeastern corner of the country and encompasses 13,769 sq kilometers (that’s two Yellowstone National Parks!).


From the air, the forest looks impenetrable.  Many would argue that’s exactly the case. The Reserve is only intersected by a main dirt road and a few river systems. There are clusters of trees as far as the eye can see – big, fat broccoli tops of various size and color.  This rainforest is some of the most biologically diverse in all of equatorial Africa.  Welcome to the jungle.


The struggle against poachers

Poaching comes with the territory in Africa.  But the killing of animals for bushmeat and sale is becoming all too prevalent in these parts.  Since our arrival, two elephants have been poached; their tusks taken and carcasses left to rot.  Today, gunshots were reported in the forest and a patrol team dispatched to investigate.  No poachers were apprehended in either case.


For Mount Kenya Trust, stopping poachers means men on the ground.  In 2000, the Trust established a small contingent of rangers to patrol the forest above the National Park boundary.  A second team followed in 2009, and a third equestrian unit will launch this March.   These patrol teams are the eyes and ears of the forest, but with so much ground to cover, it’s inevitable that some violence slips through the cracks.

We’re accompanying members of the Joint Wildlife Protection Team (JWPT) for a morning patrol.  The team immediately directs us to an abandoned poacher hideout deep in the forest.  The find is so recent, you can still pick out the scent of cooked meat.  A few yards away a snare is found near a tree.  “Findings like these are a daily occurrence,” says Edwin Kinyanjui, the Trust’s Senior Community Wildlife Officer.


Poverty is a big instigator of these illegal hunting practices.  “Bushmeat is cheaper than buying beef,” says Mount Kenya Trust Executive Director, Susie Weeks.  “Put people in a situation where they’re placed on the boundary of the forest and they will abuse that location.”


Many of the hired guards are from the local community and, in some instances, were once poachers themselves.  “Our work has changed people from poachers to scouts,” says Mutuma, a JWPT guard and ex-poacher.  Once given the opportunity to protect wildlife, he began to see the value of it.  Today, Mutuma is educating his family and friends on the benefits of elephants and other Mount Kenya wildlife.


The success of these anti-poaching teams hinges on Mount Kenya Trust’s continued support.  The equipment and training provided could be the difference between an animal saved and an animal lost.



Corridor and ‘underpass’ link crucial habitat

The patchwork of farms and settlement on Mount Kenya acts like an island, isolating wildlife populations. Historically animals, like elephants, had free range over the forests – from the National Park to the Ngare Ndare Forest below and northern rangelands beyond.  A protected wildlife corridor initiated by Mount Kenya Trust was the logical next step to get these populations back on track.


In addition to strategic fencing, large-scale farms like Kisima and Marania have set aside portions of their acreage for the corridor.  Of the 40km of land available, 14km has been contributed by Kisima and Mariana farms alone.  “The cooperation of these guys has widened the availability of habitat for the elephants,” says Susie.  “It’s been a real teamwork effort.”


In 2011, the construction of a concrete ‘underpass’ was the last piece of the puzzle.  The tunnel sits underneath the Nanyuki-Meru Highway – a major road that cuts off access to the elephants in both directions.  A few days after the underpass opening, an elephant named Tony wandered through.  Other elephants followed suit.  “Family herds of up to 26 elephants were sighted at one stage,” says Susie.  The corridor has logged hundreds of journeys like these and more are expected.



’10 to 4’

Mount Kenya is a mismatch of altitude and vegetation zones – from alpine to subtropical.  The ’10 to 4’ Mountain Bike Challenge aims to cover it all.  Riders are taken from 10,000 to 4,000 feet elevation and cover a whopping 70km.  This is Mount Kenya Trust’s signature fundraising event.  Only the hard-core need apply.


We’ve stationed ourselves at various points along the route, hoping to capture the action as it unfolds.   The first batch of bikers crests a hill as they make their way to the first “water station” at 9,000 feet.  Two women are among the leaders, but there’s another group right on their heels (err, wheels).




The competition is fierce.  And the terrain even fiercer.  But for these hardened athletes it’s not only about the challenge, it’s about the cause. Money raised via entrance fees and sponsor participation will go directly toward supporting the Trust’s conservation goals.  Who knew a little exercise could go such a long way?


MKT speaks for the trees

The soil found on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya is incredibly fertile.  Over the years, farmers have capitalized on this resource and quickly snatched up sections to cultivate.  The creation of farms or shambas meant entire chunks of indigenous forest were cleared to make room for agriculture.  Additionally, there’s continuing pressure on the remaining forests to provide timber and firewood for the local communities.

Mount Kenya Trust is all too aware of the impact deforestation is having on the delicate Mount Kenya ecosystem.  But in the instance of deforestation, it takes a village.


Partners like the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) are working with the Trust to pursue methods to help combat the effects of farming and illegal logging on the mountain.  Tree plantations have been established to meet the demand for humans and wildlife.


At Ontulili Forest Station, it’s a dual approach to tree planting – cypress for harvesting; red cedar for reforesting.  The balance created by planting both exotic and indigenous tree species is sustainable forestry at its best.


Seedlings grown and matured at Ontulili will eventually make their way to the mountain.  It’s the hope of Mount Kenya Trust and its partners that this reintroduction will off-set the pressure on the forests and restore habitat lost.


Farmer vs. Elephant

What a difference a three-hour drive makes.  Cooler temps, woody hillsides, and a little precipitation thrown in for good measure.  Welcome to Mount Kenya!


We’re on-location filming with Mount Kenya Trust, a small private non-profit, committed to long-term conservation of the region’s forests and resident elephant population.  The Trust has played a central role in securing a 40km wildlife corridor for these gentle giants.


The Mount Kenya region is densely populated with small farms and settlement.  Communities literally fringe the boundaries of the entire National Park.  It’s easy to see why elephants and humans are at odds here.


On the northern slope of Mount Kenya is the village of Sirimon.  Elephants are notorious for disrupting farmland in these parts and the results can be devastating. “For a small-scale farmer, animal conflict is a real big issue,” says Martin Dyer, a trustee of the Mount Kenya Trust.  “For a guy who’s put his whole life in to growing one acre and then an elephant comes and eats that one acre, it’s a disaster for him.”  Wildlife is being forced in to these farming parcels as their natural migration routes continue to be cultivated.  But Sirimon is taking action.


Mount Kenya Trust has been working side-by-side with the community in an effort to ease the tension brought on by this unique human-wildlife conflict issue.  The Trust has supplied Sirimon with 21 km of fencing.  But this isn’t the white picket variety.  Wooden beams are spaced a few feet apart and two thick wires are strung between the posts.  It might not look like much, but it certainly does the job.  The Trust has also engineered a collection of electrified suspended wires.  Affectionately called “dingle-dangles”, they can stop an elephant in its tracks by sending a quick “tickle” of electricity.  No permanent damage done, but it’s certainly a deterrent.


Fencing like this is a conservation strategy – keeping elephants out of farms and eliminating the quarrels that arise when crops are raided and food lost.  No longer will the community need to ‘babysit’ their fields.

Elephant fencing projects like the one in Sirimon have given farmers peace of mind.  And its let the elephants continue to roam their historic migration routes… minus the quick nibble.


Lights, Camera, Lions

This morning, we’re heading out for an early game drive with Niels Mogensen.  Niels heads up the Mara-Naboisho Lion Project (MNLP), another partner organization that Basecamp is supporting.


The lions have been elusive to us so far on the trip.  We haven’t spotted a single one.  It’s a strange predicament considering the high density of so many other wild animals in the conservancy.


Niels explains that the lion populations of Africa are dwindling.  Human settlement resulting in loss of habitat plus a surge in human-wildlife conflict is taking its toll.   The lions play an important role in the Mara ecosystem, what Niels calls an “umbrella species”.  Their survival is ecologically vital to corresponding landscapes and other animals.


Suddenly, the lions come in to view.  It’s two females, resting under the shade of a tree.  Niels thinks we can get closer.  A few twists and turns of the jeep and we’re within a few feet of the lionesses.  Unnerving?  Yes.  Thrilling?  No comparison.


It’s estimated that Naboisho is home to 5 lion prides, consisting of 60 individuals.  They established themselves here after the land was protected and cattle grazing became controlled – animals will naturally gravitate toward areas where there’s limited human presence.  Although the lions are free to roam the 20,000 hectares of the conservancy without human interference, there’s nothing preventing them from crossing over to Maasai-settled land.  And where there’s Maasai, there’s cattle.


“The lions urinate near the cattle enclosures, the cows panic and stampede,” says Niels.  “It’s a buffet for the lions.” These livestock killings often result in retaliation by the local communities.  Studies show that lions are increasingly being killed outside of protected areas.


Niels and his team are determined to find a solution.  They’ve set up a dialogue with the local communities, educating them on lion behavioral ecology and movement patterns.  “Without the community’s support, the lions will have no future whatsoever,” says Niels.  The MNLP is also helping to reinforce cattle enclosures, making them sturdier and more secure.  The response from the communities has been mixed, but attitudes are shifting. Our guide, Derrick, acknowledges the change: “If a cow is killed, you buy another cow.  If a lion is killed, it’s gone forever.”


If settlement continues to increase and efforts aren’t made to prevent loss of livestock, the future of the Masai lion is uncertain. The research Niels conducts in Naboisho is critical to their survival.



Education in the Mara

Until recently, basic education in the Mara was not a priority for many families.  Too few schools and not enough teachers meant opportunities for instruction were nil.  But more and more Maasai are wanting to take an active role in the future of the next generation.  Basecamp has seen the need and the response has been swift – 7 primary schools supported in villages outside the conservancy, with increased teacher assistance to boot.

We’ve traveled 40 minutes via a dirt road… criss-crossed by herds of zebra and wildebeest… to reach Olesere Primary School on the northern border of Naboisho.  Olesere was a village ripe for change.  Until Basecamp’s involvement, there was no legitimate school, no health clinic, no real infrastructure.  “Children sat on rocks and under trees, scribbling in the soil,” says head teacher, Simon Nkoitoi.


The construction of new classroom buildings and a teacher dormitory has made education accessible to everyone.  And there’s no shortage of takers.  Today, Olesere Primary enrolls over 250 students.


“But the classroom is not enough,” says Simon.  In addition to the standard curriculum of english, math, science and writing, the school is determined to let the children experience wildlife and conservation first-hand.  Olesere’s close proximity to the conservancy allows the issues to be seen and not just taught.


Today, Olesere is experiencing something of a population boom. Thanks to the construction of the school buildings and a new health clinic – all funded by Basecamp – families have settled permanently in order to gain access to these important, and often times, vital services.


Basecamp’s community outreach programs, like the ones implemented at Olesere Primary, are paving the way for real change.



Women Empowerment, Maasai-style

While Basecamp’s approach is anchored in sustainable tourism, they are quick to acknowledge that partnerships with the community and like-minded organizations are crucial in addressing the challenges of the region.


Enter Koiyaki Guiding School. The vision: to train and equip local Maasai with the skills to become top-notch safari guides, while simultaneously creating income opportunities and conservation awareness. The training is sponsored by Basecamp and the school has become the focal point for conservation education in the Mara.

Meet Agnes, a 24-year old Maasai girl from nearby Amboseli.  Agnes is a recent graduate of the Koiyaki Guiding School and the first female student ever to enroll.  Immediately following her graduation, Agnes was invited to join the Basecamp team as a guide.  She politely declined the offer, saying her family was expecting her at home… could she come back in three days?  Her instant employment is significant considering the cultural implications of what Agnes has overcome.


The suppression of women in Maasai culture is slowly becoming a thing of the past, but traditionally, women were never expected to play a significant role outside of their domestic duties.  Men ran the show.  But the times, they are a-changin’.


Basecamp has been instrumental in providing job creation opportunities for women throughout the Mara.  From handicraft projects to a community managed micro-finance group, women are finding their voice.  But more importantly, others are listening.


“These women are becoming change agents in their community,” says Dickson Ole Kaelo, Project Manager of Basecamp Foundation.  “It’s exciting to bring real solutions to real people.”  Agnes continues to educate her fellow females on sustainable income opportunities via community presentations and outreach.  Girl power – don’t it feel good.


The Basecamp concept

In Maasai, naboisho means “coming together”.  It’s a fitting name for a place that values the input and voices of the local communities.  The establishment of Naboisho Conservancy can be credited in large part to Basecamp Foundation, a non-profit organization that is revolutionizing the sustainable tourism model.

The Foundation established the conservancy in 2010 in partnership with 500 Maasai landowners.  The agreement was simple: lease Basecamp the land; earn a guaranteed monthly income.  The combined plots of land created a new conservation zone, and the Naboisho Conservancy was born.


But the Basecamp concept doesn’t end with the protection of land and wildlife.  The organization’s reach extends much farther, in to the communities themselves. 


The GLP crew is set to tackle the issues, embrace the culture… and snap some epic wildlife shots too.



Jambo Kenya!

Kenya is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa – 40 million strong and growing.  Nairobi alone is home to 4 million people.  So it’s no surprise when we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic barely a mile outside of the airport.  No complaints from the crew though.  We’re happy to take in the spectacle of the Monday morning commute.  Bikers, walkers, buses, trucks, newspaper peddlers, mothers with bundled infants, fruit vendors and sunglass hawkers – Nairobi has it all and then some.


We’re headed south in a rickety 6-seater minivan toward the famous Masai Mara.  A safari lover’s dream, the 583 sq mile National Reserve and adjoining conservancies are home to some of the world’s most impressive and iconic wildlife.


Nestled smack dab in the middle of it all is Naboisho Conservancy; the brainchild of Basecamp Foundation and our home away from home for the next 3 days.   The Foundation is a champion for sustainable tourism development in the region and works closely with the local Maasai communities.  We’re excited to dig deep in to the pivotal issues surrounding the conservancy and the region as a whole.


We hunker down for the drive.  “3 hours on flat, 3 hours on bumps,” our driver tells us.  A little vague, but we get the gist.  It’s going to be a long day.  We brace for the journey ahead, but the excitement and anticipation of what’s to come is undeniable.  This is Africa, after all.



What to wear…


Biggest challenge for this trip?  What the heck to bring!  Thankfully, we’ve left the guess work out of this one.  The GLP crew has enlisted some of the best in the biz to get us the latest and greatest in gear.


While on-location, the GLP film crew is prepared to test the limits of each product.  We solemnly swear to stomp, stretch, lug, cram, soak, sweat, chug, and squeeze the bejeezus out of each item.  Learn more about our Expedition Sponsors via the provided links and check back for a full report on how our gear performs in the field.  Yeehaw!



Africa baby!


Our film partners are confirmed for Africa and ready to rock!  We’ll be headed to truly off-the-beaten path destinations (malaria pills anyone?), but more importantly, getting up-close and personal with some amazing stories.  Stayed tuned for updates from the field and behind-the-scenes photos!



Film research (or how to become a know-it-all)


A friend recently asked me how Green Living Project “finds” the subjects we film.  To this end, there’s no simple answer.  The stories are the result of dedicated research (pouring over magazine articles, websites and collateral) and word of mouth recommendations from friends, relatives and colleagues.  Sustainability.  Conservation.  Community.  These are just a few of the keywords that pop out during the research process.  The true task is digging deep to find the real story.


Identifying film partners for our 2012 Africa filming started 8 months ago, but in reality it’s 4 years in the making.  Having already traveled and filmed in Africa in 2008 and 2009 respectively, the GLP team has picked up some considerable knowledge about the people, places and issues fundamental to the region.


There’s no stopping the flood of powerful stories from this part of the world.  Environmental education, wildlife conservation, deforestation, poaching, climate change… the list goes on.   Hundreds of hours were logged exploring the issues, but in truth, we’ve only scratched the surface!


In the end, the challenge isn’t finding the story to tell – it’s finding the great ones to share.























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Green Living Project™ is headed back to Africa to produce 6 new films across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and D.R. Congo! The team is excited to document and showcase a diverse mix of leading international sustainability-related initiatives that will complement GLP's award-winning production work to date. These films will focus on important local and global issues including sustainable tourism, wildlife conservation, environmental education, fair trade, and community development.

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Rob Holmes
Director/Producer/ Host
(Chief Storyteller and Grand Poobah)


Matt ' Weathabee' Weatherly
(Magic Box Manipulator)


Jenny Ersbak
Associate Producer/Writer


Chris Low
(Hoarder of Magical Artifacts)


Chris Cella
Field Audio/Videographer
(Dubious Eavesdropper)


Basecamp Foundation
Mount Kenya Trust
Okapi Conservation Project
North Carolina Zoo
Thomson Safaris
Fairtrade Africa

Goal Zero
Kenya Airways
Pro Bar
Horny Toad
Royal Robbins

Mountain Khakis