One major challenge facing concession areas at the time of establishing Grumeti Reserves company more than 20 years ago, was how to make the business thrive in an environment where livelihood options were few and thus most people heavily depended on unsustainable use of wildlife resources (poaching) as their main means of survival.
The prevalence of illegal hunting had exacerbated the environmental issues and posed a significant conservation challenge to the long term wellbeing of Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves and associated lands, which had been entrusted to Grumeti Reserves Company for privately-run tourism operations through an agreement with the Government.
Thus, there was need for an alternative source of reliable incomes, meaning an urgent solution had to be sought for successful conservation, which largely depends on the support of local community members.
Among other things that include providing employment opportunities to people living adjacent to the Concession Area, in order to significantly reduce their reliance on illegal hunting, Grumeti Reserves company, in collaboration with the government and other development and conservation stakeholders, particularly the Grumeti Fund, established the Grumeti Horticultural and Marketing Co-operative Society (GHOMACOS) in January 2010, according to a senior official of the Grumeti Fund.
“Such positive measures brought about remarkable results, while a market for the farmers’ produce is the company itself and its stakeholders, whereas more than 900 workers, visitors and tourists coming to this area, are the main consumers of the fruits and vegetables produced and distributed by the cooperative,’’ says the Grumeti Fund senior official.
Prior to the commencement of the GHOMACOS support programme, the beneficiaries attended agribusiness training which also equipped them with the techniques of managing cooperative groups. They were also initially assisted with agricultural inputs and in recent years, there has been additional improvements on the programme, and now includes entrepreneurship, how to improve income generating activities and enhancing sustainable business skills for development.
This support has enabled GHOMACOS to grow into a large-scale farming organization, comprising a number of small, highly sustainable and environmentally-friendly businesses that ensure productivity, sustainable use of resources and the financial independence of its members who now lead a different life.
“I’m proud of GHOMACOS. It has changed my life and enabled me to build a decent house for my family. My income from horticultural produce keeps growing every year and I’m grateful to the founders of the co-op,’’ says Chacha Mwita, who admits to have been a poacher in the past.
Anna Mohammed, a mother of several children is one of GHOMACOS members enjoying the fruits of the cooperative society. Anna is a resident of Natta village which borders the Serengeti ecosystem in Mara Region.
“I joined GHOMACOS in 2010 and my interest is vested in vegetables and fruit farming. Thanks to the co-op, I have been able to educate all my children and three of them are now employed while others are still in school,’’ says Amina.
Amina insists she can never forget Grumeti Company for their great support and having changed the lives of many through the GHOMACOS.
“We sincerely thank the Grumeti Company. Today, we are assured of enough food at home and have no worries where the next meal might come from,” she notes.
Community leaders also, including the councilor for Natta- Mbiso, Juma Porini, say the GHOMACOS has changed the lives of many in the Grumeti zone.
“Many members in GHOMACOS are now capable of sending their children to school from their income activities,’’ says Porini adding that the co-op is not only beneficial to Natta- Mbiso but also to neighbouring villages of Kyambahi, Nagusi and Isenye.
According to the councilor, Grumeti Reserves company in collaboration with Grumeti Fund have contributed immensely to the empowerment of GHOMACOS beneficiaries and in the running of their coop profitably.
“GHOMACOS is expanding. The coop has recently bought a flour packaging machine and members are planning a visit outside their ward to get market from other hotels in the Serengeti National Park,’’ says councilor Porini.