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Monday, 18 January 2016

Climate Smart Manyatta

By Isaiah Esipisu
In a tiny village called Eluai, in the heart of Maasai land in Kenya’s Narok County, Nkika Ole Mututua and his family of ten children are living a city life in a Manyatta (Maasai or Samburu traditional house).
Ole Mututua’s Manyatta the traditional version, but it has been crafted to be climate friendly. The typical manyattas are made of a particular type of sticks that bend when fresh and harden as they dry without snapping.
The roof and walls are made of a mixture of cow dung, ash, and earth found at the base of termite hills. A traditional Manyatta has very poor ventilation with two or three small holes serving as windows. The windows are made small to keep out wild animals.
This makes the inside dark even during daytime forcing occupants to use kerosene tin lamps throughout the day and night. The smoke from the lamps mixes with that which is produced during cooking using firewood worsening the air inside the Manyatta.
Benefits of the climate-smart Manyatta
From a distance, Ole Mututua’s Manyatta, looks exactly like a typical Manyatta, the climate smart Manyatta also known as Eco-Manyatta is a permanent structure constructed using interlocking brick blocks.
It is fitted with a solar panel to produce electricity that illuminates the Manyatta at night while serving other power needs such as charging of mobile phones. Children can therefore study using solar energy instead of carbon emitting tin lamps.
Eco-Manyatta fitted with tank to harvest rain water.PHOTO:Isaiah Isipisu
The structure is well ventilated and connected to a biogas digester that produces cooking gas from cow dung. It is also is fitted with a 2000-litre water tank that harvests rainwater.
The Eco Manyatta is climate-friendly because no trees were used to construct it. In addition, if millions of people in Africa who use trees to construct their houses would turn to using the interlocking blocks, then billions of trees will be saved.
“We are also looking at a bigger picture in terms of climate change mitigation,” said Sheila Boit, the Project Manager for Eco Manyatta Housing Limited, which built Ole Mututua’s house.
“If at all millions of households in Africa, which currently use kerosene for lighting and firewood for cooking would turn to solar for lighting and biogas for cooking, then we will save the world of millions of litres of kerosene burned each year for lighting, and save several tons of tree biomass used for cooking,” she said.
Kerosene produces black carbon, which is known to be a very powerful absorber of sunlight, thus a contributor to global warming. “It is a blessing for a Maasai woman like me,” said Joyce Mututua’s wife. Under normal circumstances, it is the sole responsibility of a Maasai wife to construct and maintain the Manyatta.
“Before this new Manyatta was constructed, I used to wake up at night whenever it rained to ensure that my husband did not get rained on as he slept,” said Joyce.
It has also saved her from trekking several kilometers in search of water and firewood.
“I find it more comfortable to do my evening studies using solar lamps,” said John Keko, Ole Mututua’s nephew, a secondary school student at Olasiti Secondary School in Narok.
Origin of the innovation
The Eco-Manyatta was a dream of Sarah Tunai, the First Lady for Narok County, and her friends. The initiative is supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) in collaboration of the County Government of Narok together with the International Labour organisation. The project is implemented by a company known as Eco Manyatta Housing Limited.
According to Boit, Ole Mututua’s Manyatta is a learning platform, now helping the company to better understand how such structures can be improved at an affordable cost.
“We are working closely with different architects with a view of making construction cost effective. We are also working with financial institutions so that we can find a way where locals can finance the construction by installments after selling livestock,” said Ms. Boit.
Community members from many parts of Narok stream to Ole Mututua’s compound to learn about the Eco Manyatta.
“I think it is a very good idea. Even though construction of Manyattas in our community is the duty of a woman, I have been challenged and am willing to sell some goats to have my Manyatta turned into an Eco Manyatta,” said Daudi Koekae, a friend to Ole Mututua’s.
Source: Joto Afrika Newsletter
Isaiah Esipisu is a science writer based in Nairobi; he can be reached through

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