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Updates from the Last Chance to Paint team

Precious Africa - Day 8 Today it’s all about the plants

Today we set off on the 3rd leg of our journey. This time to Meru National Park on the eastern side of Kenya.

The road was bumpy and quite uneven and at a certain point we had to turn around and take another route because there was a demonstration blocking the road. Luckily for us Martin is a fantastic driver and got us there safe and sound. We are now 269 miles (433km)  from Amboseli! No wonder we are starting to feel a little tired!

Today’s project was for us to meet up with some local farmers, listen to the issues they have with the wild animals in this area, and problems with water irrigation. While chatting with them, John wanted to talk to them about their crops and paint them. We discovered there were mangos, papaya, lemons and limes, oranges, kale, chillies,

The group of men and women farmers met us in a shady spot in a central area amongst their farms. As a group they are particularly upset about the situation with the wild animals because their crops are being regularly ruined and the water isn’t reaching all the crops.

The situation with the water is that there isn’t enough to go around the farms and the animals. Born Free are helping them to understand what they can do to help with the situation. For example, instead of illegally using gullies from the main source, encourage them to use pipes, which not only use less water, but stop the fast evaporation of it in the open gullies. They also try to teach them how to create rewilded areas around the natural springs and have helped plant thousands of trees. As soon as an area is fenced off and no longer farmed, the undergrowth grows back quickly, shading the water, which then becomes more readily available for everyone to share. It means that hopefully all the water isn’t used up before it reaches the animals in the park, otherwise the animals are encouraged out of the park to look for water.

The dry weather is yet again causing problems in this area too. There are so many crops in the fields which dried up before they have finished growing. I was shown an area of tomato plants which were dry and withered. This is what is called a “cash crop” because it is a crop which is sold to make a living. When cash crops start failing then the economy of the farmers collapses.

The human animal conflict is especially tricky in this area. Over time Born Free have helped educate the local population on how to deal with elephants and what to do if they come across them. One of the ways of teaching the community how to help themselves, is by doing drama sessions with them. This enables those who can’t read to be educated on this too. Born Free have also helped install lights on the border of the farmers’ properties that flash, confusing the elephants who arrive at night.

Did you know that elephants can be frightened away by bees?

There is a trial going on whereby the farmers are given bee hives. These beehives hang on wires surrounding the crops. If an elephant were to walk into this wire, it will shake the hives, causing the bees to swarm out. Elephants don’t like bees! It makes them change direction! Like our guide Charles said - elephants and bees are not friends!

We must always remember that these elephants aren’t just out to get the farmers, there are reasons for them to be wandering around. The chances are that the farms have been built on a wildlife corridor and that it’s a natural place for an elephant to be walking.

A bigger problem the farmers here are faced with is the baboons. Some of the farmers are particularly passionate about this subject! Sadly the baboons will eat everything and anything - farmers have to literally guard their crops from when they are planted, to when they are harvested. There is nothing anyone can do to protect the crops from these baboons; unlike for elephants who can be deterred by electric fences and flashing lights, bitter tasting crops and bees. Sadly the farmers have to guard their crops all day, and if they are too busy, their children have to help them, instead of going to school. This is not a good solution.

John and I were lucky enough to be given a tour of a couple of the farms. We were shown the crops, the fruits and the hives and John was allowed to paint on the farm.

It was another interesting day during which we have learnt even more about the trials of living in this hot climate, alongside the wild animals in this area. Watch our video to enjoy finding out all about our day on the farm!

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