Tool of Communication: Visual recording of stories told by Maasai men

Tool of Communication: Visual recording of stories told by Maasai men




Due to their nomadic origin, agricultural practices are a recent introduction in the Tanzanian Maasai community. Historically, grazing has been the predominant way of feeding livestock. There is a shortage of land for grazing livestock caused by urbanization, desertification and the new trend of acquiring private land. The need to feed livestock in different ways and strategically to get through the dry season without vast amounts of land available is a major concern in this community.

In the Maasai community in Orkolili, families own an average of 5 cows and up to 30 goats. Indigenous cows produce very little milk (around 0,5 litres per day), but can endure the long months of migration during the dry season. The "exotic" (foreign) breed produces much more milk, but needs high grade feed material and proper stable conditions.

Cows have a high stand in Maasai culture. They are valued as wedding gifts and are regarded as sacred. The more cows a Maasai family does possess, the wealthier it is seen in its community. A lot of design tools were used to record this data and communicate in the community.

Calculation on a banana leaf. We calculated the efficiency (milk) of an indigenous cow and an "exotic" goat throughout the dry season where Maasai usually migrate. Migration serves the main purpose of feeding the livestock by grazing. During this time, migrating men drink the milk but can usually not sell it. The calculation should help to show how much value both would create if they could sell the milk.

Initial practices such as hay making and basic feed processing are starting to become established in the community right now. In a co-design approach, we developed a mechanical hay baler as well as a dried feed cropping wheel, both out of local materials. We tested it with different groups in the community and also in the neighboring village and gathered feedback.

Design Process


The community decided on taking the hay baler further. They identified improved storage and potential business opportunities as the key properties to decide for this prototype. 

The prototype was presented at Nane Nane Agricultural Fair in Arusha, Tanzania. The community is currently building more of the hay balers to test them and develop them further.

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This project was a co-design workshop executed through the International Development Design Summit, sponsored by USAID and organized by MIT.


Credits: K. Unger, M. Odhiambo, J. Sansom, D. Hines, A. Raut, B. Anderson