Alternative livelihoods for Ex Poachers, Kenya

Aug 15, 2013

GVI supports ex-poachers in planning an orchard

Dear friend,

Kasaani village in Kenya is located right between the borders of the famous Tsavo West National Park and the foothills of the Kilimanjaro on the Tanzanian border. GVI have been working for years with the Kasaani group for the protection of animals which is made up of members of the Kasaani community. Most members are reformed poachers or bush meat traders, who gave up these activities several years ago to look for safer, alternate sources of income.

Several months ago the group became inspired after conversations with Tsavo Pride – a very successful locally operating NGO that sprung from previous GVI efforts – about an orchard. Not much grows in the very dry and dusty grounds around Kaasani and agriculture rarely proves a viable option, but trees are a different matter. With the right knowledge, planning and a lot of physical labour, orchards that are planned and laid out well have a chance to sustain and conquer the heavy winds, the droughts and the blistering sun.

After a briefing and communications with Kasaani, a group of 7 GVI volunteers bundled efforts in preparing a long term plan for the area. The plan included everything from composting to selling fruits and ecological windbreakers to transferring knowledge. With these ideas, the GVI team prepared workshops, with the goal of transferring as much knowledge as possible while leaving enough room for input from the group itself using specific expertises. The workshop covered a participatory mapping exercise, fence construction and maintenance, energy cycles (mulching and composting), the basics on seedlings, nurseries and planting trees, inter-cropping, a farming calendar creation exercise and the basics of water harvesting.

If all goes well, in the middle of the dust right on the Tanzanian border there will be a Kaasani orchard within 10 years from now that grows enough fruits to sell and parents are teaching their children about growing fruit trees, composting and wind fences. Honesty compels me, however, to say that all rarely goes well and 10 years is a long time. But if one approach fails we try another, get-up and try again and again.

GVI has supported and continues to support the Kasaani group and two other groups in the area on their long term objectives to learn new skills for alternate livelihoods. Already, plans for the future include a tree growing education centre, from which people from the group can provide information to the community members and setting up a tree nursery in such a way that seedlings can be sold to community members and other people in the area.

As the late Wangari Maathai, Kenyan founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate says: “It’s really amazing, you plant a seed; it germinates and looking so fragile, in a very short time it becomes a huge tree. It gives you shade and if it’s a fruit tree, it gives you fruit, to build and transform lives.’’

Thanks as always, for your kind and generous support for this program.

All the best

GVI Kenya


May 22, 2013

New community library and resource centre

Working in partnership with Tsavo Pride, GVI assisted a Mahandakini community conservation organisation to set up and establish a community library which will provide access to information and improve employment opportunities for the local community.

For the past six years GVI have been running community development expeditions in four villages located close to Tsavo West National Park and the Tanzanian border. The area is home to a variety of wild animals including giraffes, elephants and zebras as well as innumerate species of birds. As is becoming increasingly common throughout Africa, where there are wild animals there is illegal poaching activity. The focus of our work in this area is to assist communities to generate income through alternative and sustainable livelihoods and as such promote conservation of the area. 

In February this year, 8 GVI volunteers spent a week working in the small, dusty village of Mahandakini with a local community conservation group. The Mahandakini Network for Animal Welfare and Rights is a community based organisation which aims to promote conservation efforts in the area. Group members include former poachers and those involved in the bush meat trade who now want to work towards protecting wildlife and promoting conservation.  The group are incredibly motivated and have so far built a workshop and grain store (to improve food security in the area) and make a range of products which they sell to generate income under the Poachers2Protectors label. One of the aims of the group is to improve employment opportunities for the youth in the area to prevent them from returning to illegal poaching activities. Furthermore, they want to improve access to information for everyone in the community.  This has successfully been achieved through the establishment of the new community library.

GVI volunteers spent a week assisting the group to set up the library in partnership with Tsavo Pride.  The group received around 200 books which were donated. Our first task was to catalogue, categorise and organise the books onto the two bookshelves in the library. Once completed, volunteers trained group members how to do the same and the importance of keeping the library organised.  This was followed several workshops on how to handle, care and repair books, how the library could operate, how to promote the library, what activities could be run from the library and how to get as many people as possible to come and utilise it. 

The workshops have given the group a foundation to work from as to how to operate the library, how they can market, advertise and promote the library, and ideas as to how the group can generate income through the use of the library and various activities that could be run there.

“After only a few days of workshops with GVI, we now have a lot of good ideas about how we can run our library.  This library is an amazing resource for the community and will benefit adults and children and ultimately aid the conservation of our home.”  (Daniel – Chairman of Mahandakini Network for Animal Welfare and Rights)

GVI continues to work towards its long term objectives to promote sustainable alternative livelihood options and conservation in the Tsavo West area.


Feb 26, 2013

Candle making in Tsavo West national park

During the workshop
During the workshop

In 2006, three communities bordering Tsavo West national park who were well renowned for their reliance on illegal bush meat, made the courageous decision to give up poaching for the protection of wildlife. Their move away from poaching, was initiated with an intervention from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) trying to extirpate inhumane ways of killing animals. WSPA has strongly supported the formation of several officially registered community based organisations. In 2006 GVI started assisting these groups in partnership with the WSPA. At the end of 2012 GVI was up in Tsavo supporting the community group in Kaasani a village of not more than 100 people. The group in Kaasani for instance, has a classic set-up and consists out of key players within the community, mostly former poachers themselves who are well able to be factors of change.

Most former poachers and their families have never been involved in activities other than poaching or farming. They have little knowledge or skills relevant to other income generating activities and are aware of few other economic opportunities besides poaching. With a high level of poverty, the development of alternative livelihoods is the only resilient way to protect and conserve local wildlife. From this realisation in 2006 there came an economic development strategy which now includes alternative livelihoods that vary from bee keeping to an eco-tourism centre. From 2007 until now, GVI volunteers have helped the Kaasani community group to teach basic English, write proposals, develop business skills, promote organic farming methods, beekeeping, sunflower farming chicken farming. Those initiatives have had varying success; the level of English and basic trading has improved much, but the bee-hives were destroyed by a herd of over 150 elephants in 2010 and the chicken farming stopped as chicken feed prices climbed with the recent world food crisis in 2011. Candle making, perhaps one of the more out-of-place initiatives, is however becoming a big success.

Recently the Kasaani group had a large order for candles. The handmade candles are sold in tourist gift shops along the coast of Kenya. The candles have a distinct natural feel and look and once finished they are packed in a small cardboard box made out of a mixture of elephant dung and old paper. The flattened out and dried elephant dung mixture is cut it into labels and then attached to the candles as well. The materials are costing next to nothing but the cards and boxes – and quite likely the explanation on the flip-side of the label – seem to add crucial value to the finished product.

“The money we have raised through this order will be divided amongst the families of Kasaani and will provide us with food and water for some time to come. Thank you to GVI for showing us how to make these products in a much more effective way. Next time we will complete such an order in two days!”- John Mandu village chairman

The Kasaani group is already beginning to receive more orders, and the market for such handicrafts seems sustainable enough, for now at least, to keep the bush meat trade at bay. Thank you sincerely for all your support you have given to this project!


Dec 13, 2012

Poachers to Protectors! Tsavo Community Rangers

Recently our former poachers turned community rangers have had resurgence! Members of all four communities GVI works with along with other ex-poachers from the region have come together with KWS and Tsavo Pride to form a co-ordinated group to cover the entire southern sector corridor which runs between Tsavo West National Park and the Tanzanian Border, a hotspot for the trans-boundary Bush-meat and Ivory trade. It's a huge and extremely tough job, not to mention a dangerous one! But this group of forty extremely passionate and hard-working volunteers are eager to get into the bush to protect wildlife from inhumane deaths at the hands of their former colleagues.

Within six months of forming the group they have completed fourteen patrols, some lasting up to three days. They have successfully; recovered a total of twenty-eight snares from the bush, confiscated six Dikdik carcass whilst in pursuit of poachers, rescued an orphaned Suni, assisted KWS to successfully track down two poachers, mapped and reported the location of 2 fresh giraffe and 2 fresh elephant carcass.

KWS is very impressed with their efforts so far and a formal partnership is on the way! The rangers have recently received donations of camera’s, GPS units, binoculars, hand-held radios, torches, wire-cutters and a ten man tent from well wishers in Europe, Kenya and even from other grassroots organisations within Tsavo West. They have had a 3 day intensive field operations workshop from a Belgian Policewoman and GVI volunteers have given lessons on Operating GPS and digital cameras and undertaking data collection using “MIST Patrol” methods.

We wish to thank everyone who has assisted the rangers on their journey so far. They have come such a long way, but if they are to reach their aim of being the best community ranger organisation in East Africa, they have a very long way to go! They are currently seeking donations for uniforms and the establishment of three semi permanent camp sites from which to base their operations. The base camps will be manned 24 hours a day and will be placed near known poaching hotspots and routes enabling them to be ready to take action as needed and to establish a presence in the nearby communities to assist with Human-Wildlife conflict. Once they have bases they will also be able to start up income generating projects which will provide wages for these hard working and inspiring former poachers. 

Sep 20, 2012

Tsavo West Sustainable Development

The most recent donations from the GVI CT, provided the bulk of the funds to connect and install 3-phase power to the Mahandakini Centre for Animal Welfare and Rights. 

The wiring and digging of trenches to facilitate the power connection was completed on September 12th 2012.  The group members have presented all of the necessary documents and certificates to Kenyan Power and the installation charges have been paid in full as required by Kenya Power. The group is now in negotiation with Kenya power as to when they will be able to install the mains power and meter. It is anticipated that this will be completed by the end of October.

The donations has enabled the Mahandakini Centre for Animal Welfare and Rights to connect 3-phase power to their centre. This is the first and only 3-phase power connection in this remote village and will reduce the cost of running value addition machinery for this farming community. Previously the community was relying on diesel fuel to operate generators and heavy machinery. Not only is diesel an expensive fuel, its exhaust fumes emit nitric oxide, an air pollutant which is detrimental to human as well as environmental health.  

The connection provides opportunities for modern technology based business to open up within the centre, improving services available to the entire community and revitalising the local economy. The group will create  opportunities for their members as well as the wider community to run small business from the site. The rent produced from these small business will pay for on-going electrical costs and to go towards the groups future projects.

The group is working towards opening an education centre to train craft skills to youth in the community who did not make it to higher levels of education. These include: welding, carpentry and joinery, mechanics, Information Technology just to mention a few. These skills will empower the community to start village small enterprises in future thus adapting our government policy to eradicate poverty and job creation. The education centre will also aim to improve human-wildlife relationships and curb poaching by showing educational videos to the community and helping to provide solutions to situations of conflict. All of these future goals require this electrical connection

As outlined, this connection of 3-phase power to the Mahandakini Centre for Animal Welfare and Rights will impact not only the group members but the entire community of Mahandakini by creating opportunities, access affordable technology and by building the skills of local youths. It should have a positive impact on the environment and public health by reducing nitric oxide emissions and providing a space where conservation values can be shared with the community.

All of the members of the Mahandakini Network for Animal Welfare and Rights wish to thank GVI CT for facilitating this donation. This connection is a leap forward for the village of Mahandakini.

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Project Leader

Sophie Birkett

GVI Charitable Trust Manager
St Albans, Herts United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Alternative livelihoods for Ex Poachers, Kenya